With a week remaining in the 2015 regular season, the Eagles announced they relieved Kelly of his duties.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the 49ers made the decision to fire Jim Tomsula after Kelly was let go by Philadelphia. ESPN's Darren Rovell added that Kelly figures to be making at least $12.5 million for each of the next two years between his new deal with San Francisco and what the Eagles still owe him. Paul Gutierrez of ESPN reported Kelly would be getting a four-year, $24 million deal from the team.
Following the 49ers' announcement of the hiring, San Francisco CEO Jed York released a statement courtesy of the team's official website:
We are thrilled to announce Chip Kelly as the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Chip has a proven track record at both the college and NFL levels that speaks for itself. We believe strongly that he is the right man to get this team back to competing for championships. I look forward to watching Trent and Chip work closely to build a team that will make us all proud.
General manager Trent Baalke also heaped praise on Kelly, per the team's official website:
Chip possesses all the qualities we were looking for in our next head coach. He has demonstrated the ability to be innovative everywhere he has coached and has had great success throughout his career. Chip’s passion for the game and vision for the future of this team clearly stood out to us during the search process. He is an extremely driven individual that I look forward to working with.
While Philadelphia went 26-21 in Kelly's three years, his firing didn't come as a major surprise. The 52-year-old struggled as a talent evaluator, which in turn made his job as a head coach more difficult.
Former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy also painted Kelly as more of a totalitarian, which rubbed some players the wrong way. Another former Eagle, Emmanuel Acho, painted the same picture when news of Kelly's firing broke:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) December 30, 2015
While his offenses weren't quite as electric and innovative as first expected—especially as time went on, as seen in the chart below—Kelly did turn Nick Foles into a Pro Bowl quarterback, and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and McCoy also had career years under his watch.
|Season||Total Offense||Scoring||Passing Offense||Rushing Offense||Time of Possession||Offensive DVOA|
|2013||417.2 YPG (2nd)||27.6 PPG (4th)||256.9 YPG (9th)||160.4 YPG (1st)||26:24 (32nd)||22.9% (2nd)|
|2014||396.8 YPG (5th)||29.6 PPG (3rd)||272.2 YPG (6th)||124.5 YPG (9th)||26:40 (32nd)||1.0% (13th)|
|2015||359.7 YPG (15th||22.8 PPG (16th)||251.5 YPG (14th)||108.2 YPG (15th)||25:58 (32nd)||-13.1% (27th)|
Sources: Football Outsiders, NFL.com
Kelly has shown in his years at Oregon and Philadelphia that he knows offense, but his downfall with the Eagles began when they reworked their front office to give him more control over personnel moves.
Running back DeMarco Murray and cornerback Byron Maxwell were two of the biggest free-agent flops this year. Letting Jeremy Maclin go after the team released DeSean Jackson the previous season also severely depleted the receiving corps.
Pro Football Talk pointed out Kelly will not have control over San Francisco's roster:
Chip Kelly doesn't want personnel control with the 49ers. Then again, he claimed he didn't have it in Philly, the day before he was fired.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 14, 2016
One decision Kelly will have control over, per Dianna Marie Russini of ESPN, is if he wants to retain offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini as holdovers from the brief Tomsula regime. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Ryan Day, who spent a year as a quarterback coach with Kelly, is a "name to watch" for the 49ers' offensive coordinator job.
Another big decision awaiting the 49ers this offseason is what to do at quarterback, though Bleacher Report's Matt Miller noted if they stick with their top two options from last year, there is a clear favorite:
Blaine Gabbert is a better fit with Chip Kelly than Colin Kaepernick, based on 2015.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 14, 2016
The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows shed some light on the team's quarterback picture with Kelly in the fold:
Chip Kelly told #49ers in his interviews (plural) that he likes both Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. Team, Kelly keeping options open.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) January 14, 2016
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News, citing a source, reported Colin Kaepernick is "unsure" of how to feel about the addition of Kelly because he doesn't know if "Kelly sees him in the 49ers’ future."
Inman did note that Baalke stated late in the regular season the team was not planning "to part with Kaepernick."
Rapoport did note that Kelly was keen on Kaepernick if he was able to find another NFL job this offseason:
As he plotted potential moves & his next @NFL stop, Chip Kelly was trying to figure out how to trade for/sign Colin Kaepernick. No need now.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 14, 2016
Rapoport added that Baalke met with Kaepernick before the season ended, which "may prove incredibly valuable going forward" with Kelly leading the team.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock is high on the hiring of Kelly for Kaepernick, saying it's "one of the best things that's happened for him," per Rapoport.
Another oft-injured 49ers player in 2015 who should be happy to see Kelly arrive is running back Carlos Hyde, as Kevin Patra of NFL.com noted the former Ohio State star seems like "a really fun fit" in Kelly's system.
Kelly will need to help himself too if he wants to stick around for the long haul, particularly with regard to his general demeanor, a point argued by Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier after the Eagles fired him:
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.
Eagles safety Brandan Bishop shared a letter Kelly sent him after being fired by Philadelphia:
It's not as if NFL head coaches are incapable of seeing their own flaws—especially early in their careers—and overcoming them. Plus, three years is far too small a sample size to make concrete judgments about whether Kelly will succeed or fail in the NFL.
The MMQB's Peter King pointed to two other head coaches who recovered from rough starts:
Chip3. Factoid of the Night First three years: Chuck Noll: 12-30 Bill Belichick: 20-28 Chip Kelly: 26-21— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) December 30, 2015
This is unquestionably a gamble for the 49ers. Hiring Kelly also means committing to his scheme, which isn't nearly as revolutionary as it was during his time at Oregon but far from the NFL norm all the same. In the event this proves to be a failure in a few years, transitioning to a new head coach won't be easy—an issue the Eagles are quickly learning.
But if Kelly fixes San Francisco's offense, he could end up being lauded as a great hire down the road.