In the years to come, recounting the story of how the Eagles hired Chip Kelly to be the franchise’s 21st head coach will be impossible without the memorable preface.
It was the famous nine-hour meeting in Arizona that allowed the Eagles’ search party – comprised of Chairman/CEO Jeffery Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and president Don Smolenski – to meet with Kelly and really understand him as a coach and a person.
As one-third of that party, Smolenski’s role was to ensure that Kelly understood the demands of the position beyond the day-to-day life inside the walls of the NovaCare Complex. That involves the business side of the team, but it also involves understanding and connecting with the lifeblood of the franchise – the fans. Smolenski said that there wasn’t a whole lot of selling necessary. Kelly knows what a good fan base looks like.
“He knows an intense, supportive fan base. He’s coming from the University of Oregon and sold out stadiums,” Smolenski said. “We felt it was important to make sure that he knew that the passion for the game of football; the support of the fan base in Philadelphia, was as strong, if not stronger, than any NFL city in the country. That’s evidenced by the fact that the fans bleed green and the games are sold out.
“You’re trying to paint a picture. You’re trying to share with him, in a short time, who you are and what you represent. So to not talk about great fans, great facilities, great stadiums, you’d be selling yourself short. And we weren’t going to sell ourselves short.”
Then again, "a short time" is relative. That meeting in Arizona famously lasted long into the evening. The conversation was multi-faceted and dealt with every aspect of the Eagles organization. It was going so well that Smolenski likely wouldn’t have been able to tell you how long the meeting actually lasted.
“You’re so engaged in the dialogue that you never once looked at your watch,” he said. “You just walked in (to the hotel); it was light. You walked out; it was dark.”
While reports indicated that Kelly closed the door on the possibility of coaching in the NFL for 2012, that wasn’t actually the case. And to the Eagles’ credit, they didn’t let the deafening noise of social media opinion sway them. Instead, they stayed true to the process they had outlined. Looking back, Smolenski said the process of hiring a coach was a lot like selecting players during the draft.
“At times, Howie used analogies as it related to trusting your draft board,” Smolenski said. “(We said), ‘Trust the process. Let’s stay true to the process, just like we’d stay true to the board.’ And that would help in terms of just talking and debating and trying to find the best person.”
When Kelly said he needed time to think about his decision, the trio didn’t back down or give up. The Eagles’ brass to continued their search, but ultimately left an open invitation for Kelly. Once he decided that an opportunity to coach in Philadelphia was the right decision, that openness allowed the Eagles to land the man and the coach they coveted.
“Because the door was still open, Coach had time to think about it,” Smolenski said. “He said he’s not a public person, so he wanted to think about it privately and not have all his thoughts out in the universe. We kept moving forward with the process because we were being so thorough and talking to so many people. It afforded him time to get into a different place. And it all came together.”
With a new coach on board and the Eagles looking forward, the process shifts gears. For Kelly and the front office, it’s now a matter finding the right players and the right staff to ultimately bring Eagles fans what they crave more than anything – the Lombardi Trophy. Smolenski absolutely believes the Eagles have found the right coach to lead the team in that direction.
“(Fans are) getting somebody who is passionate, high-energy, a tremendous football mind, an innovator and a hard worker,” he said. “He is committed to winning.”
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