On a day when five NFL teams set loose coaches (six, including Houston) and looked ahead to uncertain futures, the Eagles made plans to play New Orleans in Saturday's NFC playoff game. It's an exciting time for the Eagles under first-year head Chip Kelly, who was hired in January and immediately set out to change the culture in the locker room and within the organization.
Kelly brought with him a new way of looking at the game and at building a program. A dynamic and highly successful head coach at Oregon, Kelly won over his players instantly with his high energy and immediate bond. The goal, Kelly said from day one, was to have a great day of preparation.
"I think people too often look way down the road -- you know, 'I want to do this, I want to do that, I want to be a conference champion, national champion.' If you don't take care of Tuesday, that's not going to happen." -- Chip Kelly, The Tao Of Chip Kelly
Understand that we have not seen Chip Kelly satisfied, so to suggest that the Eagles have accomplished their goals, finished their mission, is far from correct. The Eagles have a gigantic challenge on Saturday when New Orleans and quarterback Drew Brees come to town, and Kelly thrives on challenges. Making sure his team is at its best on Saturday night is the mission for Tuesday, for Wednesday, Thursday and so on.
In a season's time, the Eagles have gone from worst in the NFC East to first and they've restored the winning culture that has marked the tenure of team Chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Lurie. The Eagles changed their coaching staff, introduced new schemes and changed out many pieces of the roster for 2013, and the moves paid off with a division title.
There is much more to accomplish.
A man on the go, Kelly barely pauses to reflect on what has been. He is focused on what will be, dealing in reality and staying away from hypothetical scenarios.
"I don't deal with that," Kelly said early in his time here when asked about the what-ifs of the quarterback situation. "I just deal with what the reality is."
The reality, when Kelly signed to be the head coach here, was that the Eagles were a 4-12 team in 2012, unable to play at a consistently high level. The discipline lacked, the confidence level waning, the ball security among the league's worst and the talent level sagging.
Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman put together a strong offseason plan and filled some immediate needs in free agency, particularly addressing the defensive side of the ball, and then dug in with gusto on NFL draft weekend. Through the course of the season, the unique mix of veterans and young players, of holdovers and newcomers, bonded together through some challenging early times and got hot in the second half of the season, winning seven of eight games to finish 10-6, atop the NFC East.*
**As much as Kelly excels on game days, it's in the every-day process when his methods really make a difference. Practices are crisp and challenging. Conditioning is an entirely different process than many of these players have ever experienced. The schemes are innovative and challenging, and every corner of the roster has been called upon to aid in the cause. In fact, what you hear most from the locker room is talk of the "team approach" to winning games, whether it's a late-game Donnie Jones punt that flips the field or a Brandon Boykin interception that seals a victory or a 6-yard touchdown run from Bryce Brown that scores the winning points.
"Chip made it clear from the start that everyone was going to have to contribute and was going to be expected to contribute to our success," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "That attitude creates a lot of competition. What happens is that we have a lot of confidence in everybody on the roster. Everybody has helped make plays and help us win games."
By the time the Eagles landed in Philadelphia after the win on Sunday night in Texas, in the wee hours of Monday morning, Kelly and his coaching staff were already pointed toward the Saints and their prolific offense and very strong defense. Kelly knows the Eagles are going to play hard and they're going to be poised and disciplined, and he also understands that an "A" game is required to beat a team as formidable as New Orleans.
The essence of Kelly is that he believes in total preparation, doing anything he can discover to make his players more successful, and dedicating himself and those around him to the cause of winning football games and remaining focused on the immediate task at hand. We've learned in Year 1 that Kelly believes that "big people beat up little people." We know he has a good feel for the capabilities of his players' skill sets and adjusts with great success within the context of each game. Kelly, clearly, isn't afraid to think outside the box and take his chances because, he says, "I thought it would work."
The Eagles are back in the playoffs after a two-year hiatus because this is a good football organization. The mark of the best programs in sports is their ability to sustain success and to bounce back quickly from the inevitable down times. The cycles in sports are predictable. Up and down the wins and losses go. How long a team rebounds is the trademark of the best organizations.
Well, here the Eagles are preparing for the playoffs, while nearly a fifth of the league meets to decide on a new head coach. The good times are back for the Eagles, and the foundation is in place for many years of playoff-caliber football.
Kelly, meanwhile, isn't in the mood to speculate about the future. He is too busy excelling in the moment and making sure those around him are doing the same. The Eagles have a playoff game to win on Saturday, a process that began the moment the Eagles beat Dallas to get in. Now that they are in it, they aim to win it, with Kelly leading the way.