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December 07, 2015

Chip Kelly may not admit it, but his about face may have saved Eagles’ season

Chip Kelly will agree with nothing that appears in this column today – not one word.

The Eagles coach will never acknowledge that his return to New England on Sunday had personal meaning to him. He will scoff at the notion that his favorite coach, Bill Belichick, disrespected him. And Kelly will never admit that he made some major changes in his tactics during an exhilarating 35-28 win over the Patriots.

I know Kelly would never concede any of these points because I asked him about all of them during my WIP radio show on Monday morning, and he dismissed every one.

Now, I’m trying to figure out whether he’s lying to us or to himself.

For example, Kelly was a Belichick devotee long before he became the Eagles coach. From the time when Kelly was nothing more than a nondescript assistant at the University of New Hampshire, he revered the tight-lipped, dismissive style of a perennial Super Bowl contender. Eventually, Kelly even became a confidant of his mentor.

And now we’re supposed to believe that the Eagles coach –during the worst run of his career – took no special pleasure from the biggest upset of the NFL season? Chip Kelly out-coached the man against whom he measures all coaches, and he was merely relieved that the Eagles had ended their three-game losing streak? Oh, please.

Meanwhile, Belichick’s decision to try a weird onsides kick after the Pats moved ahead, 14-0, in the second quarter was the catalyst for all that followed on Sunday, triggering a stunning response by the Eagles that led to five straight touchdowns.

Was Belichick kicking the Eagles when they were down with that ploy? Kelly said it was just the opposite. The Patriots coach saw a chance to build an insurmountable lead, a chance to kill off a hungry opponent. If anything, it was a sign of respect, Kelly insisted. The Eagles took no offense at the strategy.

Except, he’s wrong. In fact, more than one Eagle player said the drop-kick that fluttered 24 yards and landed in the hands of Eagles’ special-teamer Seyi Ajirotutu provided a wake-up call for a team desperately in need of some inspiration.

“That disrespectful,” said wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who made two huge catches during the comeback. “I remember (Jason) Kelce just looking like, `OK, all right. Let’s go score now.’ . . . It was important for us to go out and score on that next drive.”

Of course, the rally could never have happened if Kelly didn’t first acknowledge some mistakes he had been making over the first 11 weeks of the season. The biggest was his use of DeMarco Murray, who looks more like a bust every time he runs with the ball. The sad truth is, Murray is the worst option of the four runners the Eagles employ.

When Kelly decided to give Darren Sproles 19 touches in the game (not including punt returns), the coach was finally handing out carries based on production, not reputation. That Kenjon Barner got more action than Murray was a strong indication that Murray’s status on the team is in serious decline, as it should be.

Kelly also milked the play clock in the third quarter with long delays before snapping the ball – something he has never done that early as Eagles coach. He tried a risky third-down throw late in the game that led to a critical first down, a throwback to his “Bill Balls Chip” college days. He even screamed at an official after a clock mishap.

The bottom line is, Kelly made some significant changes when he returned home to New England over the weekend – changes for the better – and they led to the best win of the season.

By the way, Kelly doesn’t even agree with that characterization. All wins are created equal in Kelly’s world. Beating the Patriots was just another hurdle cleared, just another day in the NFL.

Well, it wasn’t. The Eagles saved their season with a victory over the reigning world champions, who are led by the best coach and the best quarterback in football.

That’s the absolute truth – whether Kelly believes it or not.


When I was a cub reporter in New England, it was my good fortune to cover the Boston Celtics under the leadership of the greatest general manager in sports history, Red Auerbach. I learned how the very best executive ran a sports franchise, and now – thanks to Sam Hinkie – I know how the very worst does it.

Hinkie is terrible at his job as Sixers GM not just because of his historically bad record (38-147) but because he grasps no part of the position other than the numbers dancing across his computer screen. He proved his incompetence over the past week in a way that would have made the late, great Auerbach retch.

For all of his eccentricities, Auerbach understood that a GM is the face of his organization, and it was a face that needed to be seen in good times and bad. Even after winning 16 NBA championships – seven as a GM – Auerbach was available to speak on all issues, even to a kid reporter from a city 50 miles away.

Hinkie cannot grasp the notion that part of his job is to appear in public. In the midst of his biggest crisis last week, he shrank from his duties to his team and to the fans. Let’s examine his worst week as a GM, gaffe by gaffe.

His first misstep was allowing the most important person on his roster to continue playing after a nightclub incident in October during which Jahlil Okafor had a gun pointed at his head. The details of that dispute are still sketchy, but we do know Okafor was one twitch of a trigger finger away from being dead.

Not only did Hinkie do nothing at that point, there was no public acknowledgment of the incident until after a second nightclub dispute late last month in Boston showed an out-of-control 19-year old attacking a heckler at least twice, in two separate recordings. The second video showed the victim on the ground, bleeding from the head.

Hinkie took no action after the first incident, took no action after the first video of the second incident, and did nothing after learning that Okafor had received two citations for going 108 miles per hour on the Ben Franklin Bridge in between the two disputes.

Even after the second video showing the damage Okafor apparently had wrought, Hinkie waited hours before issuing a statement under the Sixers letterhead – never even putting his own name to the action – and suspending the young player for two games.

Whether the suspension was enough is debatable, but Hinkie’s indecisiveness and inaccessibility are not.

At the lowest point in his tenure, the GM was standing outside his team’s locker room after its 19th loss in 20 games at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday when a reporter slipped past Hinkie’s four-man security force and asked him to explain the suspension.

“Not today,” he said.

Not today? Then when? Hinkie left the responsibility for explaining his own decision to coach Brett Brown, who has already spent two-plus seasons trying to function with Hinkie’s dysfunctional roster.

If the Sixers were 20-1 instead of 1-20, maybe Hinkie could get away with his insulting behavior. If he were the GM of a team in the Midwest instead of Philadelphia, maybe fans would be willing to look the other way. But he is neither.

The only thing that Sam Hinkie has proven so far is that doesn’t give a damn about the fans, with the play of his team on the court and with his own conduct off it. Someday, he will be begging people to come back and buy tickets to watch the Sixers. It’s inevitable. No pro sports franchise can survive without the fans.

And now those fans have the perfect answer.

Not today, Sam. Not today.

And finally ...

• The best thing to happen to the Flyers so far this season is Shayne Gostisbehere, so why is there speculation that the rookie defenseman may be headed back to the minors when Mark Streit recovers from his pelvic injury? The salary cap? Not enough playing time? Oh, come on. Let the kid play here. He’s earned it.

• Matt Rhule is showing the pro teams in Philadelphia how a person with character behaves. Now, I still don’t believe the Temple coach will resist a big offer from a major college, but his bond with players is something Chip Kelly should study, and his demeanor after Saturday’s adversity in Houston was a lesson for Sam Hinkie.

• As big contract after big contract gets signed during a wild free-agent season in baseball, the Phillies need to explain to fans why they aren’t making a major bid for Jason Heyward. The 26-year-old outfielder is a brilliant defender, terrific baserunner, solid hitter and . . . did I mention he’s 26? The Phils have the money. It’s time to start spending it.

• Linebacker Brandon Graham blocked 500 Eagles fans from his Twitter account last week because he thought they were being too negative. What did he expect them to do, write love poems? His team is 5-7. Here’s a tip for Graham: Win more often. It tends to improve the mood around here.

• The biggest surprise during the Jahlil Okafor crisis is the absence of Sixers team spokesman Scott O’Neill, whose talent for damage control was supposed to help the team in troubled times. Adam Aron was silenced the same way. Imagine that, The Sixers are so dysfunctional, even the best PR spinners have been rendered speechless.