Offensive linemen are tasked with offering protection and support on the football field, but right tackle Lane Johnson certainly didn’t offer any supporting words for former head coach Chip Kelly on Wednesday.
The Philadelphia Eagles released Kelly on Tuesday near the end of his third season with the franchise, but the first player he picked in the 2013 draft (fourth overall out of Oklahoma) had plenty of harsh criticism for the former Oregon Ducks lead man.
Marcus Hayes of Philly.com passed along the comments, including Johnson’s take on what prevented Kelly from achieving more in 2015:
Maybe the ego got in the way," Johnson said. "Too much power. Control. Not being human about things; not working together, with the team, instead of being a dictator."
Johnson said Kelly's assumption of general-manager duties in January after his successful "power struggle" with former GM Howie Roseman created anxiety felt from the front office through the locker room.
"Just a lot of tension up there that didn't need to happen," Johnson said, "because when you throw it up there, it does trickle down to the team, and the team knows what's going on . . . We always knew there was a little bit of tension - knew it wasn't just sunshine and rainbows."
Hayes also noted Johnson said Kelly “ignored complaints of overwork in practice,” which was particularly tiresome for larger linemen. The coach apparently didn’t accept much input from the team as well.
Perhaps most interestingly, Hayes gleaned from Johnson’s comments that “Kelly preached a culture of self-sacrifice and professionalism, but he created a culture in which players and assistant coaches did not dare question anything, lest they be sent away as stars DeSean Jackson, [LeSean] McCoy and Jeremy Maclin were.”
Considering Kelly was often criticized for his personnel moves (including the release of Jackson and the trading of McCoy), this offers some potential context for the decisions beyond McCoy's implications that race played a factor in some of Kelly's moves.
Johnson responded to a question of whether Kelly created a culture of fear, per Hayes: “To be honest, yeah. We'd tell our position coaches, but I don't know if it ever leaves that room. ... Maybe there was an intimidation factor. ... After Shady and all those guys were (subtracted), it opened up some eyes.”
The criticism from a player Kelly drafted is even more intriguing when juxtaposed with Kelly’s insistence in his statement following his firing that “my players mean the world to me,” per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet
Ex-#Eagles coach Chip Kelly has released a statement, saying among other things, "My players mean the world to me." https://t.co/VGIPoaXaGZ2015-12-31 01:35:24
Johnson complained about Kelly’s style, but he also offered some hope for the rest of the team as it looks toward the future, per Hayes:
Get back to a more traditional style of offense. I've been running this tempo (bleep) since college. I'm pretty damned tired. It takes a toll on you. You do it over a period of time, a lot of guys in this league aren't going to last . . . Bigger guys, it's harder on your joints. A lot of pounding. Your hips. Your back. All you're doing is torquing all day.
Johnson also touched on a problem that may have arisen this season as the Eagles lost five of their last seven games, per Hayes: "Practice here is pretty much the same, from (voluntary springtime) OTAs through training camp to the end of the season. No other guys in the league go from April through the end of the season. It takes a toll on you. At the end of the year, I feel like I'm going to fall apart."
The Eagles won a combined 20 games in 2013 and 2014, but they failed to capitalize on a vulnerable NFC East down the stretch. Washington is only 8-7 but already clinched the division crown, while the disappointing Eagles are 6-9 and still in second place.
Perhaps if they had more energy at the end of the season following the allegedly grueling practice sessions, they could have finished with a strong playoff run.