Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie acted swiftly and decisively, after some long thinking and consideration of the "trajectory" of the Philadelphia Eagles, when he made the move to release head coach Chip Kelly on Tuesday evening and immediately begin the search to build for the future.
Lurie met the media on Wednesday afternoon and outlined the decision on Kelly, who compiled a 26-21 record here, including a 6-9 mark in 2015 with a disappointing second-half slide at 2-5 heading into Sunday's finale against the New York Giants.
"It's important to really carefully evaluate and analyze, not to be impatient, not to react to a series of games, so every season I have to carefully look over everything," Lurie said. "This was a three-year evaluation of where we are heading, what is the trajectory, what is the progress or lack thereof and what did I anticipate for the foreseeable future."
For only the second time in team history, an interim head coach – offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur – will oversee the team in its final game of the season. It happened back in 1984 when defensive coordinator Fred Bruney replaced Marion Campbell and led the Eagles to a 37-35 win over Minnesota. Lurie and the search team, including team president Don Smolenski and executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, are in the process, the very early stages of hiring the 23rd head coach in team history (including Bruney and Shurmur) and the fourth hire of Lurie's tenure, which began in 1994.
Lurie's message on Wednesday was about changing the direction of the football team and again making the Eagles a force in the NFL. The Eagles haven't won a playoff game since 2008 and have missed the postseason the last two years. The expectations for 2015 were very high after an active offseason of revamping the roster, and 6-9 constitutes a tremendous letdown for the team and the fans.
"It's been one of the most disappointing seasons I've ever endured," said Lurie, who spoke for about 22 minutes at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday. "But I didn't feel, if you remember what I said when I spoke to you in August, that the success we had in the preseason would have anything to do with our regular season. I've never believed that at all. It was surprising because I thought we were on the verge of something that could be very, very special but it wasn't where you could count on it based on the preseason.
"My expectations were confident and high, but not sky high, and I'm realistic. It's a league that teams, talent-wise, are close together. Sometimes there's a culture within an organization with players that create a momentum, an energy, a fluidity and we never achieved that. It was too inconsistent. The difference between winning the division and not might have been slight, but this was not a strong division and you've got to look at things outside of just winning the NFC East. I think it's a bigger situation than that."
What happened with Kelly, who was hired in 2013 after a four-year head coaching career at Oregon and then started with a bang in Philadelphia as the Eagles went 10-6 and won the NFC East that season? Lurie wasn't specific, other than to say he evaluated the three seasons of Kelly's reign and felt the team was moving in the wrong direction.
Lurie gave Kelly control of the personnel department following the 2014 campaign, knowing there was significant risk involved and also making Kelly accountable for the football team. One year later, Lurie now prefers a more integrated and collaborative approach to the personnel-evaluation process, thus the move. Veteran personnel man Tom Donahoe will run the day-to-day personnel operations with Roseman overseeing the personnel department.
Inside the locker room, the players expressed surprise upon hearing the news on Tuesday night, as well as regret that their lack of consistency on the field led to Kelly's ouster.
"We weren't playing good football. I think that's what it comes down to," tight end Brent Celek said. "We weren't successful as a team."
"I knew we hadn't played well enough this year. I knew, obviously, we weren't going to the playoffs and I figured there would be big changes, but I didn't know what exactly would happen," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "I didn't know it would be Chip or not. It's disappointing to get to this point. I had a good relationship with Chip. On a personal level, you feel for people. On a professional level, we have to prepare for the New York Giants on Sunday. That's got to be our focus."
"I think everyone is surprised," tight end Zach Ertz said. "There are a lot of emotions. I've already viewed this season as a failure, so this is putting an exclamation point on it. It's been a roller coaster of a year. Nobody is happy with it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform at a high level and I think I've had some ups and some downs. Chip, as the head coach, felt the brunt of it."
The Eagles move on now, in multiple directions. Lurie, Smolenski and Roseman have a list of potential head coaches to contact. Donahoe has all-star games and draft evaluations and player reports to polish. The football team, headed by Shurmur, goes into its finale on Sunday hopeful to end a downer of a season with a victory.
"Of course this is a weird day for everybody," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "I think everybody was fine at practice, the energy was good and the guys are focused on going out and winning this game. I told the guys that this is the last time we're going to be together, as a group, so let's go out for each other and win this game. The year has been disappointing. I felt like we were going to make a huge jump and it didn't happen, so that's very, very disappointing for all of us."