At the end, the Chip Kelly era got weird.
Granted, the Kelly era was always weird: surprising, sometimes exhilarating, often shocking, always fascinating as a grand football experiment. But in the end it got Moby Dick weird, burn-the-documents weird, mad-general-ordering-a-bayonet-charge-at-the-cannons weird.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie stepped in and fired Kelly on Tuesday night before things could get any weirder. "We appreciate all the contributions that Chip Kelly made and wish him every success going forward," Lurie said in a brief press release. The Eagles announced that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will serve as interim head coach while front-office stalwart Tom Donahoe will take over as senior director of player personnel until the smoke clears and the damage is assessed.
The Kelly roller coaster rolled off the rails in a surreal Monday press conference in the wake of an ugly Saturday night loss to the Redskins. Kelly, who began the 2015 calendar year by wrestling personnel control from former general manager Howie Roseman and positioning himself as the final decision-maker for the Eagles organization, spent much of the conference engaged in a strange semantic backpedaling from the term "general manager."
"I'm not the general manager, so I don't run our personnel department," Kelly said Monday. "I'm not in charge of scouting. I didn't tell our scouts where they are going. Ed Marynowitz does a great job with that."
"I don't negotiate contracts," Kelly added. "I don't do any of that stuff. I just have a say of who is on the 90-man roster, as opposed to the 53-man roster."
Marynowitz, who was also fired Tuesday, was technically the Eagles general manager and vice president of player personnel. Marynowitz certainly told scouts which colleges to visit and made sure the third-day draft picks were signed in a timely fashion. During Marynowitz's groundhog-like moment with the media in April, he stated several times that his job was to "support the head coach and his vision."
Marynowitz has been a functionary behind a curtain since before the draft. His name rarely came up during long months of high-profile personnel decisions. Yet suddenly, with questions about DeMarco Murray and a disappointing draft class over-boiling, Kelly was just a guy with a "say" on how decisions were made.
Sad. Shifty. Weird.
Kelly also indicated Monday that he planned to play his starters to the bitter end in a meaningless season finale. "I think everybody has an opportunity on a daily basis to show us what they can do and whether or not they merit playing time," he said. "But it's also not fair to a guy that's playing and saying, 'Hey, you're not going to play just because I want to take a look at this other guy.'"
It's also not fair to a veteran like Jason Peters (hobbled by quad and elbow injuries for months) or Sam Bradford (injury prone, about to become a free agent) to say, Hey, go out there one last time and show me your school spirit. If there were any pride left for Eagles veterans to play for, they would not have gotten obliterated by the Redskins when the playoffs were still possible, or by the Cardinals the previous week, or by the Lions on Thanksgiving. Evaluating youngsters is the one meaningful thing the Eagles can accomplish Sunday. Kelly wasn't keen on doing it.
Stubborn. Shortsighted. Weird.
The seeds of the weirdness have germinated for months. After his coup, Kelly was quick to point out which failed draft picks were selected by Roseman (oft-injured pass-rusher Marcus Smith) while asserting how clever his own decisions would have been (Kelly claimed Odell Beckham Jr. topped his 2014 draft board). Transactions were handled unprofessionally: contacting LeSean McCoy about the LeSean McCoy trade was an afterthought, Frank Gore wriggled off the free-agent hook after widespread announcements that the Eagles had signed him and the simultaneous DeMarco Murray-Ryan Mathews courtship turned into a farce, with Mathews on standby in one room while Kelly cooed at Murray in the next. Evan Mathis' release over a contract dispute became a drama for no good reason. Most of the transactions were controversial in and of themselves; Kelly's handling of each situation just poured a little accelerant on the embers.
Kelly sometimes acknowledged mistakes, like his handling of the McCoy trade. More often, he brushed off criticism or descended into solipsism like a politician who just wanted to confuse the issues. By the time Murray's complaints to Lurie overshadowed what should have been the greatest moment of the Eagles' season (the Patriots upset), Kelly was reduced to denying the meaningless details of the media report—stressing that Lurie and Murray just happened to be sitting together in first class, as opposed to an office or something—while sidestepping its very substantial substance.
That seemed to be as weird as Eagles football could possibly get...until Kelly tried to tell us he wasn't really the general manager.
Lurie clearly heard enough of the weirdness. Lurie is patient, but he got used to Andy Reid over his 13-season tenure as head coach. Lots of things went wrong under Reid: endless playoff losses, years of frustration as Donovan McNabb declined, the failed 2011 Dream Team experiment. But except for Terrell Owens' driveway workouts, things never got weird.
And Reid never, ever contributed to the weirdness. Players never made sideswiping racial allegations about Reid. Superstars didn't complain to Lurie on team flights about their roles. And even tacitly passing the buck to a subordinate was just about the last thing Reid would ever think of doing.
Kelly now joins a long list of successful college coaches—such as Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino—who could not adapt to the NFL culture. Kelly tried to upend that culture. That wasn't his mistake. His mistake was what he replaced it with. The NFL really needs a ground-up kick in the butt to challenge complacency and conventional wisdom. Kelly had the intelligence and insight to provide it. He just lacked the patience, self-control, interpersonal skills and, ultimately, the character.
There are dozens of great football ideas lying in the charred rubble of the Kelly regime. Smart coaches and organizations will pick and choose the ones that work for them. That's what is so depressing about how the Kelly era ended. The Eagles will probably make a hard left turn from Kelly's approach. They will hire traditional coaches and executives (Roseman, bright but conventional and still within the organization as a glorified equipment manager, may re-assume personnel control). Quarterbacks will lead huddles, then line up under center. No more protein shakes, sleep monitors or scientific journals shared among assistant coaches, even if those things are beneficial.
That's what happens after things get too weird: You yearn for the familiar and the normal. Lurie is no different. And frankly, the Eagles could use a dose of normal.
Kelly owed it to himself, the Eagles and his own ideas to go out better than he did this week, bickering over job titles and ordering veterans to go through the motions. He never adjusted to the NFL because he thought he could adjust the NFL to him. The weirdest thing is not that he thought he could do it. The weirdest thing is that, for a while, it looked like he would pull it off.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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