Eagles head coach Chip Kelly met the media at the NFL's Annual Meeting on Wednesday, part of the NFC head coaches' obligations. His table was heavily attended as the media -- a constant throng -- considered every word and tried to extrapolate every sound snippet.
Certainly, the buzzing around the Eagles in recent days has been significant, and that added to the interest. But, let's be honest here: Chip Kelly has an aura about him, and his approach to his job and every facet of it fascinates observers who have seen business conducted a certain way, with little variance over the years.
Kelly handled the early questions about the recent speculation regarding wide receiver DeSean Jackson and offensive guard Evan Mathis directly and, from this perspective, without any concern. This is business in the NFL, and as Kelly said numerous times, he wished every player could make a billion dollars, but that's just not the way it is.
More interesting was a chance to listen to Kelly's philosophies for a full 60 minutes. He is a captivating football expert and while he has a rock star aura created by his success at Oregon and his first-year playoff experience with the Eagles, Kelly is really quite simple and literal to figure out.
He has his basic tenents that he follows. First and foremost, he will do anything that he thinks will give the Eagles an advantage to win. In some cases, when Kelly creates a program that we have never before seen, such as the sports science he introduced when he was hired in 2013, a titled eye is cast. What, the question was asked many times, is this sports science stuff all about and how does it make the Eagles better?
A second Chipism is that he is not about labels, ones that the sports media has made so main stream through the years. For example, and as a point of clarification into what Kelly is all about, the idea of the "franchise quarterback" again was asked in relation to Nick Foles on Wednesday, and Kelly's answer was funny, but telling.
"Nick is our quarterback. He is the quarterback of our franchise. He is our franchise quarterback," said Kelly.
How long will that be the case? How many times has Kelly been asked the question about Foles and the future and how many times has Kelly said he is not interested in answering "hypotheticals," although he did allow in Orlando that Foles would be the starter here for the next "999 years" (down from "1,000 years" in 2013).
Kelly very much lives in the moment. He is a football coach in love with the game and he's in the NFL because winning a Super Bowl for a coach is the ultimate challenge. Kelly does not crave the spotlight nor does he ask for credit. He spends his days and nights consumed with the quest for greatness for the Philadelphia Eagles.
He believes that the team comes before any individual and he wants everyone united in the singular mission of winning a Super Bowl. The Eagles, at 10-6 and winners of the NFC East in 2013, took a positive first step in his first season as a head coach. There is more work to be done, though, and Kelly made it clear talking to the media that he is not one to fall head over heels with what he has on the current roster. Competition will always be added at every position.
Along the course of his 60 minutes, Kelly was asked about the nose guard spot on defense, one manned in the second half of the season by then-rookie Bennie Logan. Kelly turned the opportunity into something more than about a single position and expounded on his approach to the entire roster when asked if the Eagles were "fine" at the nose guard spot.
"I thought Bennie played really well for us," said Kelly. "I don't think we're fine at any position, so if we have a chance to get another outstanding nose guard we would. But what you want and what's available are also two different things. There was no one in free agency specifically out there that we said, 'Hey, we think that guy's going to be a great addition to what we have,' ... Am I excited about the future of Bennie Logan? Yeah. There's a chance that we're picking at No. 22 and arguably there's an unbelievable nose guard at 22. We wouldn't look at him and say, 'No, we'll pass because we already have Bennie.'
"I think every position we're always going to look to improve whether it's quarterback, running back -- we arguably have the best running back in the league (LeSean McCoy) but if there's another opportunity to go get another elite running back, we wouldn't just say, 'Nah, we're not going to do that.' We're going to look at every single position that helps us improve the Eagles."
Some looked at Kelly last year as a revolutionary to the NFL. Would what he did in college work in the NFL? Could the Eagles play offense effectively if the personnel didn't match what he used at Oregon? Would his up-tempo approach help or hinder the team?
We've learned a lot since then. Kelly adjusts to what he has -- the Eagles scored a franchise-record number of points last season and led the league in rushing and in explosive plays and had as balanced an offense as possible -- using three quarterbacks. Foles does not fit what many thought as the prototype Kelly quarterback -- big, mobile, accurate and intelligent. Foles has enough of the ingredients, though, along with a tremendous work ethic and a burning desire to win, to throw 27 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions in a season.
Kelly also knows that there are holes on this team and there are some intangibles that must sort themselves out. The Eagles released wide receiver Jason Avant and saw quarterback Michael Vick sign as a free agent with the Jets. Those two players were leaders in the locker room for the Eagles last year. How do the Eagles fill the void?
"I think that's part of what everybody's always striving for, that dynamic of leadership," said Kelly. "I think as coaches we set the boundaries in terms of how it happens, and then within those boundaries your leaders emerge and show the younger guys how things are done. We had two great (leaders) in Jason (Avant) and Mike (Vick), but I think there are some younger players that are ascending – like Connor Barwin who's going into year two, Jason Kelce. After the short time I met with Malcolm Jenkins, I can see him moving into a role like that, and same with having a guy like Darren (Sproles) from listening to what everybody in the (New Orleans) Saints organization had to say about him.
"There's always a certain amount of who's staying, who's going, who's new to each team. Last year everybody was new, we were all new. Now it's 'you're going to lose a couple guys here, but you're going to add a couple guys there.' Leadership is always a big component, and it's part of what we look for in our evaluations of players when we're adding them to our team."
When it was over, 60 minutes, Kelly pushed away from the table, thanked the reporters and moves on. Why not? There is a football team to build, and not a single minute to waste making the Eagles the best they can be.