January 04, 2016
After 22 years of futility, Jeffrey Lurie remains unscathed, delivering his pompous message with no backlash from the most vocal and demanding sports city in America. How many more lost seasons will it take for everyone to see the truth about the Eagles?
The problem with this franchise – now 55 consecutive years without a championship – is not the current scapegoat, ex-coach Chip Kelly. It is not the former president Joe Banner. And it is not even the reborn front-office executive Howie Roseman. It is also not the players, not the media and not the fans.
The real problem with the Eagles is the billionaire owner of the team, Jeffrey Lurie.
Lurie made another bold change last week when he fired Chip Kelly. The owner did so with psychobabble about “emotional intelligence” and other thinly veiled insults to the intelligence of a fan base as loyal as any in professional sports. As usual, the owner was too busy using ten-dollar terms instead of dealing with the reality of the situation.
These are the simple truths Lurie refused to acknowledge:
As reported here for the past year, Kelly made the dangerous mistake of forcing the demotion of Lurie’s most valued confidant, Roseman, a sports executive who has distinguished himself only by his skill at office politics. Kelly could not afford to embarrass the owner’s biggest ally and then suffer a losing season. It’s that simple.
The fact that Lurie quietly reinstated Roseman as the personnel guru – the owner merely said “Howie will retain his title as executive vice-president of football operations” – is not just a stupid decision, it is a tone-deaf one. Fans know how inept Roseman is – see: first-round draft picks Danny Watkins and Marcus Smith – but the owner still doesn’t.
Now Lurie is looking for another coach, and he is doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Already, he has assigned the same search committee – himself, Roseman and president Don Smolenski – that failed so badly the last time. The Eagles will pay Kelly $13 million not to coach the team the next two years, and Lurie sees no reason to change the process?
Lurie’s implication that he is more hands-on than ever – meeting individually with players, communicating daily with coaches – is the worst possible direction for the Eagles. Just listen to Lurie. Does anybody really believe he is making a connection with the people who work for him?
Until Jeffrey Lurie identifies the real cause of the problem – himself – there will be no parades down Broad Street for the Eagles.
Fans have been willing to give Lurie the benefit of the doubt because the owner is not obnoxious like Dallas nightmare Jerry Jones or a money-grubber like Sixers carpetbagger Joshua Harris. In fact, Lurie has been a terrific owner in important areas, including work in the community, human rights and ecology.
He’s even smart enough to know not to appear often in public, to avoid reminding the paying customers that he is nothing like them. Unfortunately, Lurie is not smart enough to realize that he needs to find someone to run his team who is neither a friend from childhood like Banner nor a gladhander like Roseman.
Lurie said he conducted a three-year evaluation of Chip Kelly and decided that the coach would not achieve the franchise’s only goal, a championship. Now the owner needs to undertake a more elaborate project, a 22-year evaluation of his own performance.
Until he looks critically at his role in the failure of the team, the Eagles are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past generation. Until Jeffrey Lurie identifies the real cause of the problem – himself – there will be no parades down Broad Street for the Eagles.
Chip Kelly didn’t deserve to be fired after less than three seasons as coach of the Eagles. There, I said it. At least somebody finally did.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge an appreciation of Kelly which exceeds that of most media members, because he was a weekly guest on my WIP radio show, and even placed a personal call to me after his firing But I was also the one who told him I could have won as many games coaching his team this season as he did. I’d like to believe I saw the good and the bad in the coach.
The bad elements became clear this year. Kelly was stubborn – to a fault – about his philosophy, he never figured out how to bond with his NFL players, he stayed loyal to the worst defensive coordinator in the NFL (Billy Davis), and he was an absolute disaster as a GM. A 6-9 record this season didn’t help, either, especially with his snarky attitude.
However, Kelly left the Eagles last week with a 26-21 record, no small achievement after taking over a 4-12 team in turmoil during the final year of Andy Reid’s tenure. Kelly’s feat of making the playoffs in his rookie NFL season was an extraordinary accomplishment, by any measurement.
Kelly also came to Philadelphia with no franchise quarterback in place – an old, battered Michael Vick and a young, immobile Nick Foles were his only options – two cancers in his locker room (DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy) and a racial crisis involving Riley Cooper just before his first training camp.
Somehow, Kelly turned that mess into a 10-6 team that took New Orleans into the final minutes of the playoffs two years ago. The coach then repeated that 10-6 mark last year, before his own failings as a GM sabotaged the just-ended season.
Chip Kelly is a good coach. A smarter owner would have presented Kelly with an ultimatum: You can keep coaching my team, but I’m finding a new GM. If Kelly declined that offer, then Jeffrey Lurie would have had no choice but to replace Kelly in both roles. The guess here is that Kelly would have accepted the demotion.
But Lurie never presented that scenario to Kelly because it would have kept the owner’s favorite ally, Howie Roseman, in exile. In other words, Lurie chose Roseman over Kelly. The owner favored a GM who failed repeatedly in that role for five years over a coach who had one bad season.
Chip Kelly deserved a smarter decision than the one Lurie made last week. As fans, we all did. Just ask yourself this question: Who has a better chance of winning a championship in the NFL, Chip Kelly or Howie Roseman?
The best choice to replace Chip Kelly is obvious. If Sean Payton gets fired in New Orleans, he would be perfect here. He has roots in the Philadelphia area, is a brilliant offensive innovator and owns a Super Bowl ring.
Of course, Payton will not be the next Eagles coach, nor will any of the other candidates with a winning NFL pedigree. Jeffrey Lurie made certain of that last week when he reinstated his “collaborative” approach to building a team. The sad truth is, no established coach is going to place his fate in the hands of clueless GM Howie Roseman.
Consider the other possibilities. Would Jim Harbaugh leave Michigan to take over a losing team, knowing his player preferences could be overruled by the man who drafted Marcus Smith in the first round? Would Jim’s brother, John, take the job if Baltimore fires him? What about Bill Cowher, Brian Billick, Nick Saban? Anybody?
Not a chance. By process of elimination, the Eagles will have their choice of another college coach or an NFL assistant. People like Sean McDermott in Carolina (already a major bust here as a defensive coordinator), Josh McDaniels in New England (thank you, Tom Brady) or Adam Gase in Chicago (who will have offers than do not include Roseman.)
Do you see the problem yet? A coach with a positive track record will not accept the current personnel arrangement on the Eagles, and a lesser one will represent a major gamble for the franchise. And if that young guy somehow succeeds, it’s just a matter of time before he wants the same power that ruined the tenure of Chip Kelly.
The bottom line is, this search for a new Eagles coach is already doomed.
Happy New Year.
And finally ...
• Interim coach Pat Shurmur did the Eagles no favors by beating the Giants, 35-30, on Sunday. Instead of a winnable game against the Rams in London, the 2016 Eagles now get another doomed trip to Seattle. They will also draft 13th instead of 10th. Thanks for nothing, Pat. Now turn in your playbook. You’re fired.
• The NFL’s diversity requirements for hiring a head coach make sense, but the Eagles’ decision to interview Duce Staley last week was ridiculous. First of all, Staley has no experience beyond his role here as running-back coach. Second, the running backs underperformed this season. Staley will not be the Eagles’ head coach. So what’s the point?
• The most bizarre story in the aftermath of Chip Kelly’s firing was the report by Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports that Jeffrey Lurie became incensed when the coach forced the owner to change the date of the office Christmas party last month. OK, a show of hands, please. Is there anybody left who thinks Lurie is a good owner??
• When so many other Eagles ran and hid, tackle Lane Johnson was open and honest about the firing of Chip Kelly. "Maybe the ego got in the way. Too much power. Control. Not being human about things; not working together, with the team, instead of being a dictator.” There’s a word to describe players willing to speak publicly that way – leader.
• Boy, it sure was great to have ex-Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb offer his views last week on the chaos gripping his former team, wasn’t it? (He said Philadelphia is a very demanding city.) How lucky are we that he got out of jail for DUI just in time to offer his insights?