To be a coach on Chip Kelly's staff, you need to have an understanding that the way Kelly does things isn't necessarily the way coaches have been taught before. As Kelly works diligently learning everything he possibly can about the Philadelphia Eagles, there are no preconceived ideas about what he has on the roster. Every man has to prove himself to earn playing time.
And this is the way it will be with a coaching staff that has a very nice blend of coaching experience at the NFL level and in the collegiate ranks. It was important, for example, that Kelly have coordinators with NFL ties, and he's got that with Pat Shurmur as the offensive coordinator, Billy Davis overseeing the defense and Dave Fipp as the special teams coordinator. Shurmur, of course, is in his second go-around with the team and returns after spending time with the Rams as their offensive coordinator and then moving to Cleveland to become the Browns' head coach. Davis has 21 years of NFL coaching experience and he comes from coaching trees that include Bill Cowher, Dick LeBeau, Dom Capers, Vic Fangio, Wade Phillips, Marvin Lewis and many others. Fipp spent two seasons in Miami as the Dolphins' assistant special teams coach and in those two years Miami ranked in the top five in cumulative statistics in the NFL.
There are a lot of new faces for Eagles fans to get to know and some you already know -- Ted Williams, who returns to coach the tight ends after 16 years of working with the running backs, and Duce Staley, who is promoted from special teams quality-control coach to running backs coach.
What you want to know, of course, is why the Eagles chose who they chose and what it means for schemes and for the players on every side of the football. Kelly will answer the questions in his Monday press conference. I can tell you that he's obviously a very thorough head coach who thinks thing through, and that he brought in coaches he wants to have here. And there is almost no chance he is going to commit to any "starters" or "schemes" just yet. If you've listened to Kelly since the Eagles hired him, you know that he is going to go about his personnel evaluation process just as diligently as he did his decisions to take the head-coaching job and to build his coaching staff.
We know that Shurmur is a highly regarded coach in this league who seemed to have the Browns heading in the right direction before new ownership in Cleveland pulled the plug and went in a new direction. We think of Shurmur as the tight ends coach and quarterbacks coach for 10 seasons in Andy Reid's West Coast offense, and so the idea of how his offensive perspective blends with what we think Kelly's offensive views are is pretty doggone fascinating. Where are the Eagles going with this scheme? How will we ultimately define the offense the Eagles run?
Ultimately, it's the idea of the "label" that may be most unfair to Kelly. Certainly it is at this point. To suggest that we know the kind of offense he is going to design is way too premature. Kelly is very much involved in the evaluation process with his current personnel, and then there could be significant changes to the roster and then he wants to see how it all comes together on the field. Kelly is going in with an open, objective mind. He wants to see what he has. He wants the players to prove themselves in practices and in the daily grind.
On defense, Davis has experience running both a 3-4 scheme and a 4-3, so maybe it's best to expect -- if you must -- some kind of hybrid look. The truth is that teams in the NFL show both three- and four-man looks in various situations, and maybe that is the direction the Eagles will take.
Davis was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco and in Arizona for a total of four seasons. The Eagles have some building to do on defense, as anyone who watched this defense play last year will attest, and Davis is responsible for matching his scheme to the strengths of his personnel.
For anyone concerned about the "sexiness" of Davis' hiring or the previous experience he had, I remind you of the track record of one Jim Johnson, the beloved former defensive coordinator who is now in the franchise's Hall of Fame. Johnson was a long-time defensive coach in college and in the NFL, but had never really distinguished himself to the casual NFL fan until Reid hired him in 1999 to come to Philadelphia. Only then did Johnson's reputation match his limitless brilliance running a defense.
"Billy is a great man and a great coach, one that I have a ton of respect for in the coaching ranks," said LeBeau, Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator. "He has a tremendous work ethic and knows how to get the most out of his players. Philadelphia hired a great coach in Billy and I wish him nothing but the best."
"Billy Davis is an outstanding coach. Everywhere he's been, people have recognized that," said Phillips, who coached with Davis in Atlanta. "He's got a great feel for players, how to utilize players and he's very smart. I think he'll do an outstanding job."
Said Ken Whisenhunt, who worked with Davis in Arizona and who is now the Chargers' offensive coordinator: "“I am excited for Billy and I’m excited for the Eagles. I think he will be a good fit for what they’re trying to do defensively. He’s a very good football coach. I know he gets a lot out of his players. His ability and knowledge from having been in this league I think will be a great addition to Coach Kelly and what they’re trying to get done there.”
In the case of Davis, and Shurmur and Kelly, for that matter, it's far too early to judge.
It is, however, fair to be excited about how the coaching staff's past matches with what we know of the Eagles roster and what we think we know about Kelly. For example, Kelly's hiring of Jeff Stoutland is fascinating. Stoutland built a dominating offensive line at Alabama, one that chewed up defenses with power and athleticism. The perception here is that Alabama was a run-first, tackle-to-tackle, road-grading unit. Is that what Kelly wants to build here? Does that wipe away the perception that Kelly wants athletic, smaller-sized linemen like he had at Oregon?
I've spent bits and pieces of time with Kelly. He's a sharp, sharp guy. Tremendously bright. Extremely visionary. He has his idea of how the football team is going to be run. The man exhausts every angle before he makes a decision. He knows that he has been now and September to get the Eagles game ready, and he's going to make the most of his time.
So to think he's got answers about A) Who's starting at quarterback? or B) What kind of offense will the Eagles run or C) Is the defense going to be 4-3 or 3-4 is just premature.
Ride this one out, fans. Give Kelly time for his vision to become reality. We've got a coaching staff in place, one that Kelly made sure to devote time, energy and focus to put together. If he's happy, and he is, I'm happy. I can't wait to see how these 2013 Eagles come together in time to play the only games that count, starting in September. Only then will it be fair to judge, one way or the other, what Kelly has in place.