Chip Kelly is often first described as an offensive innovator, and rightfully so after his demonstrably successful four-year run at Oregon. Over the last three years, for instance, Kelly's teams finished first, third and second nationally in scoring. But Kelly is far more than some football scientist and the Eagles' attraction to the team's new head coach had little to do with any specific scheme concoctions. Rather, it was Kelly's ability as a top-to-bottom program builder that first wooed Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and team president Don Smolenski.
"I can't stress enough that this is not about Chip Kelly as an offensive mind," said Roseman Thursday. "This is about Chip Kelly as a CEO who has a vision of what he's looking for. I think you guys are all going to be very excited to see his brand of football ... He's got an incredible way of thinking about things."
When Lurie was asked the now fateful nine-hour meeting between the two sides in Arizona 12 days ago, he said that what stood out was not Kelly's offensive philosophy but his overall approach to being in charge of a football program.
"Our meeting was memorable," Lurie said. "Tremendous obsession of football, an outstanding work ethic, ability to relate and communicate, intellect off the charts, forward thinking not just about what he is running at Oregon but where the league is headed and where college is headed, how there are going to be current trends and how there would be trends off of these current trends. Just somebody who is on the cutting edge of football today, but who saw that there are going to be reactions to that and what to do going way past that. Also, someone who was a program builder. That's important because it shows the best possible leader. Chip brings everyone together at Oregon culturally in preparing themselves to be the best football players they can be. Organizationally, he just had it all. After those nine hours, it was pretty clear what we had in Chip Kelly."
So how do the Eagles begin putting the pieces together to build Kelly's program?
"My role right now is clearly defining what we want," Kelly said. "What is a cornerback? What are we looking for? What's the height? What's the weight? What's the speed? What's the makeup of each individual position here?"
"The more time we spend together and the more time we're able to spend with our staff and our scouts and our coaches about it, the easier it will be for us to do that," said Roseman. Kelly "is going to be involved in the personnel process. That's something that's very important to this organization and it's important to me that the head coach is able to see the players that we like. I term it a funnel system. You're trying to funnel the system down so that he's watching guys based on the characteristics he outlines."
And what of the talent currently assembled on the Eagles roster? Kelly is often said to prefer a running quarterback, but the head coach said Thursday that notion is a popular misconception.
"I'm an equal opportunity scorer, and we'll score any way we can," Kelly said. "It's all based on what our personnel is. I'm not married to try to take a quarterback who can't run and make him run, and a quarterback who can't throw and make him throw. It's putting your players in the best position you can to be successful, and how you can score points. That's what the offensive game of football is all about is scoring points, and how they get the ball across the line isn't the deal. It's not about style, it's about substance and how we score points."
There is much work to be done though for Kelly and the Eagles as the offseason ramps up into full swing. First, he must assemble a staff. Scouting for April's NFL Draft looms, along with the upcoming free agency period. But, perhaps most importantly, Kelly and whoever joins him will be tasked with evaluating the personnel currently on the roster. While offering specific praise about his former Pac-12 adversary
"I'm a huge fan of (Foles')," Kelly said. "He's tough. It's an attribute that I think a lot of people don't understand of how hard it is and what toughness means to the quarterback spot. To just be able to stand in the pocket and throw the football [is tough]. We hit him as many times as we could hit him and he just kept getting up and making plays. He completed a 13-yard pass left handed against us once and I remember just standing on the sideline shaking my head [saying], ‘What do we have to do to stop him?' He's a competitor, he's accurate, so I'm excited about that.
"I'm excited for everyone in this program. I want to take a look at all of our personnel and try to make an opinion of what I think of them after seeing them on tape. I don't have any preconceived notions because I don't think that's the way to go about it. So I'm at a process of studying everybody that we've got on the team right now [and] looking at the film and making and evaluation of everybody we've got here."
There was one aspect of the Eagles roster, though, that stood out to Kelly and that was likely part of the Eagles' pitch throughout the process. Yes, the Eagles are coming off a disappointing 4-12 season, but this is also a moldable roster. Last season, the Eagles were the third youngest team in the league.
"The one thing that attracts me about the roster is the youth," said Kelly. "It's one of the youngest teams in the league. You have to watch about three plays to understand the speed. Youth and speed are two things you can't coach. I'm excited about that."
For Kelly, the pieces are in place. Now it's time to get to work.
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