On Wednesday morning, at around 9 AM in Philadelphia, Chip Kelly informed Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie that he would accept the job as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Lurie and the Eagles had the man who they wanted to usher in the next era of this franchise. However, Lurie knew he had to wait a little bit longer before being able to celebrate. Kelly wanted the opportunity to inform his players at Oregon, the University’s athletic director Rob Mullens and Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight, who is an Oregon alum and huge booster for the athletics department. At around 11 AM, Lurie could prepare the official announcement that the Eagles and Kelly had agreed to terms on a five-year deal to make Kelly the 21st head coach in franchise history.
The Eagles and Kelly first met in Scottsdale, Ariz. for nine hours on January 5 just two days after Kelly's Oregon Ducks whipped Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Eagles were one of three NFL teams that met with Kelly about their head coaching position along with the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns. There was a report that the Browns were close to a deal with Kelly on Friday, but Kelly said that was never the case.
"That wasn't accurate and I don't know if it's a shock to you but sometimes things that are printed aren't always true. I met with the Browns and I was scheduled to meet with the Bills and I was scheduled to meet with the Eagles, so at the end of meeting with the Browns, they asked kind of where we were and I said my whole approach was that I was like a high school recruit; I was going to take my three official visits and then make my determination on what the best spot for me was," Kelly said.
"That was always my plan. It wasn't who gets to go first and who gets to go last. I understand how some of that works, but there was never any commitment one way or the other. I was always going to visit with all three teams that expressed interest in talking to me. I said always that I would always listen. When I did listen, it was evident to me that I was either going to go to Philadelphia or I was going to stay at Oregon. That's what the process became for me."
Kelly informed the Eagles one day after the meeting that he would return to Oregon. However, the Eagles, to their credit, never took Kelly's no "as a full no," as Lurie put it. The Eagles knew that Kelly was torn between leaving a great program that he had built at Oregon and coming to Philadelphia.
"When I met with Jeffrey and Howie and Don, obviously I thought this was the best spot. But there's so much more that goes into it and I think that's what people have to realize. If I'm leaving, what happens when I leave? Who becomes the next head coach? What happens to those players? You're not just making reservations for dinner. You're not only changing your life, but you're changing a lot of other people's lives," Kelly said. "So there wasn't one particular time. I don't know how it happened but I guess I was kind of fortunate the way it did happen because as they continued to go through their process, they reached out, and I just said I'd think about it. But it gave me an opportunity to think about it and kind of not be under that spotlight."
The Eagles looked at Kelly's love for Oregon "as a positive," Lurie said, because it showed Kelly’s human side. But the organization still had to continue the search. The Eagles' contingent of Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and president Don Smolenski went to the American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville. It was during their time there when one night at dinner, the three were discussing Kelly and Roseman decided to send him a text message. Kelly happened to be with a mutual friend of Roseman's who was able to speak highly of the organization. The Eagles continued to meet with other candidates including Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley on January 12 in Atlanta prior to the Seahawks' Divisional Round clash with the Falcons. After the Seahawks lost, Lurie said that all of the Eagles' prospective head coaching candidates were not coaching in the playoffs.
On Monday, the Eagles' search process was entering its third week. Roseman spoke with colleagues on other teams who hired coaches last year and understood that the process might take until the final week of January. However, there were reports that criticized the Eagles' search and personally attacked Roseman as a general manager. The Eagles remained strong as Lurie understood that there was "erroneous reporting" taking place with agendas aimed at tarnishing the Eagles' brand. Lurie was never worried about Roseman as he dismissed such reports as a "joke." In fact, Lurie took away from the coaching search process how respected Roseman is around the NFL.
"There is no limit to Howie's perseverance," Lurie said. "He was very, very level-headed and incredibly subsumed with going after the top tier of candidates. He wouldn't take no for an answer unless necessary. We kept the chess board active and I think analyzed correctly that in some of the cases where they were torn between coming to the Eagles to going back to a college that there was sincere question and why not keep pursuing it."
On Monday, talks with Kelly began to heat up again. The Eagles met with Bradley in Philadelphia on Tuesday. He was the first candidate to receive a second interview. The meeting lasted well into the evening and, upon the conclusion of the meeting, Lurie informed Bradley that the decision was between him and Kelly. The Eagles decided that Kelly would be the guy and began contract negotiations late Tuesday night.
"You have to act like you’ve been in the end zone before," Smolenski said about the contract negotiations. "I didn’t sleep Tuesday because I was on the phone at 1 AM, and we were on the phone at 2 AM, and we were up at 5 AM. In today’s world of instant information, Coach wanted to get a chance to talk to his players. We also were dealing with three hours of time (difference).
"There’s obviously a certain number of people who know what’s going to happen or could happen, and we wanted to be respectful and make sure Coach could do what he wanted to do, which was to look the players in the eye and tell them the message himself. We all knew as soon as he did that, the word was out. We got a sense very early on in the conversation that he wanted you to trust his word. He knew there were reports out there. He knew what information was floating around, because obviously the man’s connected to the age of information. But he made it clear to us: ‘Trust me and my words and what I say to you.’ And that’s the foundation. That’s what we went on, because that’s who we are, too."
Lurie called Bradley on Wednesday and encouraged him to take the head coaching position in Jacksonville. Roseman called new Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell to praise Bradley. The Jaguars interviewed and named Bradley as their new head coach on Thursday.
Kelly arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday evening and was greeted at the airport by Roseman and Smolenski. Kelly traveled to the NovaCare Complex where he met with Lurie. Immediately, the process of building a new coaching staff and implementing the program began. This is the third head coach Lurie has hired as owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. Ray Rhodes guided the Eagles to the playoffs. Andy Reid took the Eagles to five NFC Championship Games and an appearance in the Super Bowl. Now, it's time to see whether the third time will be the charm for Lurie and the Eagles with Kelly as their new head coach.
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