A year ago at this time, Chip Kelly was still the head coach at the University of Oregon. The Eagles had interviewed Kelly, but it wasn't until January 16 that the team officially named him the 21st head coach in franchise history.
In less than a year, Kelly has revived the Eagles program with his open-minded approach, implementation of sports science techniques and the ability to create a culture that stressed the importance of fundamentals while having the teachers to get the message across. Kelly's quick wit and entertaining press conferences were refreshing, but the results on the field invigorated the fan base. Kelly was the first rookie head coach in franchise history to win a division title. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie cited the team's improvements in 2013 as a reason for optimism moving forward now that the team knows what it can accomplish.
The disappointment over Saturday's season-ending loss to the Saints still hangs in the air, but Kelly and his staff have already turned the page. The Eagles coaches were in on Sunday to watch the game tape and map out the offseason calendar all the way through the end of the minicamps on June 19. With a year's worth of experience as a head coach in the NFL now under his belt, Kelly can attack the offseason in a way unlike last year.
"We're at a different level now," Kelly said at his end-of-season press conference on Monday.
When asked to offer a grade on his performance as a head coach in 2013, Kelly quickly shot back with the number 58.8. That was his winning percentage after going 10-7, including the playoffs. Kelly is not content with the team's results citing the same message that he gives to his players, "you've never arrived."
"We've got to move forward," Kelly said. "It's an exciting time to take the next step."
Kelly explained that he will leave "no stone unturned" in ways to improve the football team, which includes everything from scheme to personnel. Without prompting, Kelly specifically cited the Eagles' ability to convert third-down situations which ranked 12th in the NFL at 39 percent. The Eagles were actually tied for first in third-and-short conversions, but 23rd in the NFL in third-and-medium.
From a roster construction standpoint, Kelly said that it will be a "great collaborative effort" along with general manager Howie Roseman and the personnel staff when it comes to determining which players to add or subtract this offseason. Kelly is still outlining what he and the rest of the coaching staff is looking for in players from a physical standpoint. The Eagles will not be able to get the ideal specimen at each position, but it's important, Kelly noted, to not sacrifice too much along the way otherwise the team will be weaker overall.
When Kelly was first hired, he did not know whether his program would succeed in the NFL. The reason for the turnaround this year was, in Kelly's view, the players.
"It's a players' league," Kelly said. "It's always going to be a players' league. ... They're the ones out on the field."
The players' willingness to buy in from day one made Kelly's transition from the college game to the NFL as smooth as it could possibly have been. In fact, when asked what excited him most about next season, it's the players.
"I like the chemistry of this team," Kelly said. "There's an energy around these guys. If this is Year One, we can build off of this."
Armed with experience and a much more thorough understanding of what to expect, Kelly can refine his game plan and have this team ready to take the proverbial next step in 2014.