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June 15, 2015

Chip Kelly’s either a genius — or soon to be unemployed

After ignoring the offensive line in two consecutive drafts, Eagles coach Chip Kelly released Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis last week. Conventional NFL thinkers have a word to describe this kind of behavior: Insane.

Of course, nothing about Kelly is conventional, so the end of Mathis’ four-year tenure here could be just another stroke of genius. Maybe Mathis wasn’t nearly as good as the Pro Bowl voters thought he was. Maybe the oldest starting offensive lineman in the NFL, at 33, is over the hill. Maybe he really didn’t fit into Kelly’s culture.

No one can say for sure what was behind this latest bizarre move, but now there is true clarity on one essential issue. Kelly must win now, this season. He has trampled logic so recklessly, he is either going to be very right or very wrong. He will have to prove himself immediately, or he will be headed back to college before the first heavy snowfall.

Kelly’s model for his two highly eventful years as an NFL head coach is Bill Belichick, an equally abrupt, equally unorthodox thinker. There are four important things that separate the two men, however – New England’s four Super Bowl rings. Belichick definitely knows what he’s doing.

Does Kelly? Ah, that’s the real question here. No one can doubt his ability to run an offense; he is brilliant at that. The statistics his teams have accumulated in Oregon and Philadelphia are undeniable. His 20 wins in two NFL seasons are impressive, too – especially with the flawed roster he inherited from Andy Reid.

But as a GM, a job he yanked away from Howie Roseman five months ago, Kelly is an unproven quantity. Very early returns on his skill at building an NFL team are puzzling, at best. First, he purged malcontent DeSean Jackson from the team, even before he owned the GM title. Then, it was LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and now Mathis.

Kelly relied on the return of Jeremy Maclin to cover for Jackson, before losing Maclin to free agency last winter. The coach managed to replace McCoy with DeMarco Murray, but only because Frank Gore backed out of a contract. And Sam Bradford should be an improvement over Foles, if the top overall draft pick in 2010 recovers from two ACL surgeries.

If these unconventional moves backfire, he will lose more than a few football games. He will lose his job.

Of all the moves, the one that makes the least sense is the banishment of Mathis, for several reasons. First, there is no one on the current roster to replace him. Second, he is an accomplished run blocker on a team planning to place further emphasis on the ground game. And third, he seemed to fit Kelly’s offensive philosophy.

The real problem with Mathis is not the player; it’s his confidant, Drew Rosenhaus. Somehow, the most powerful agent in football convinced Mathis that he was underpaid at $5.5 million this season and $6 million in 2016. When their power play for more money didn’t work, they decided to call Kelly’s bluff by blowing off the OTAs.

Connor Barwin, a veteran with a logical mind, said the other day that he knew the Mathis contract dispute was not going to end well because these challenges to the coach’s authority never do. Mathis will now attempt to get a better deal elsewhere, at a time when most salary caps are already maxed out and rosters are set. Good luck.

The truth is, there were no winners in the Mathis-Kelly stare-down. The player has to find a new home, and the coach has to find a new guard. Both will get a chance to show who was right by their performances this season, but it is Kelly who has the most at stake now.

If culture truly is the most important factor in success, Kelly will win big this season. And if these unconventional moves backfire, he will lose more than a few football games. He will lose his job.


The Sixers may have finished 90 games under .500 in the past two seasons and just completed 2014-15 with the worst attendance in the NBA, but they have moved out front in one category. This obnoxious franchise leads the league – and all of American sports – in arrogance.

In a move they admit is unprecedented, the Sixers acknowledged last week that they are no longer using the name of the building where they play – the Wells Fargo Center – because the bank refuses to support them financially. This major lending institution sees no merit in investing in such a lousy product. Imagine that.

Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil spelled out in detail on my WIP radio show last week the reasoning behind the move. He said if Wells Fargo – he never actually mentioned the name – wasn’t going to support his team, why should the Sixers provide free advertising to the bank?

When I pointed out that the advertising was hardly free, since the original naming rights went for $40 million over 29 years, O’Neil wasn’t swayed in the least. Doesn’t a team have a moral responsibility – if not a legal one – to use the actual name of its home arena? Not at all, O’Neil argued. Business is business. The Sixers have made a business decision.

OK, then, are they worried that the business world will shun them for reneging on an agreement honored by every other American sports franchise for the past 90 years, since the opening of Wrigley Field? Again, no. O’Neil said, if anything, the Sixers will be respected for making such a logical business decision.

So here’s where we are right now with our basketball team and the carpetbaggers who run it. The franchise has tanked two entire seasons in an effort to stockpile top draft picks, the GM speaks only when the mood suits him, and now the team plays in a place it calls “The Center.”

If you are still rooting hard for the Sixers, congratulations. You have a much stronger stomach than I do.


For one brief moment in a putrid season, the Phillies were interesting again. All it took was a chin-to-chin-to-chin argument involving reliever Ken Giles, manager Ryne Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure at the end of the eighth inning in Pittsburgh last Friday night.

Of course, the biggest shock is Sandberg actually showing emotion, something the manager has avoided during his Hall of Fame playing career and his far less successful two-year managing stint. With his monotone answers and his robotic managing style, Sandberg is normally no more interesting than his horrible team.

But the skipper took exception to Giles’ body language after the pitcher received orders to walk Pedro Alvarez, a .234 hitter, and face Francisco Cervelli, who was batting .321 at the time. You see, Alvarez bats left, and Sandberg is governed by nothing as much as the proper lefty-righty matchups.

The most dramatic part of the exchange came when Giles snapped at Sandberg, eliciting a screaming fit by the manager. For no good reason, McClure then launched into his own tirade, inspiring some return fire from the young pitcher.

An optimist could conclude from these outbursts that the Phillies still care what happens to them this season, even if the fans don’t. But the reality is that Sandberg is no better a disciplinarian than he is a strategist, and Giles is too important a young arm to endure the kind of public abuse he absorbed last week.

After the game, Sandberg said everyone had gotten together under less emotional circumstances, and life was back to normal – which means the drudgery of a 100-loss season.

Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted.

And finally . . . 

• GM Sam Hinkie’s plan to rebuild the Sixers suffered a major setback over the weekend when center Joel Embiid was shut down indefinitely because of new issues with his fragile right foot. Embiid’s status for next season is in doubt. Injured players usually keep getting injured. Doesn’t Hinkie know this?

• It sure was nice to hear from ex-Eagle Cary Williams last week, wasn’t it? The loudmouth cornerback leveled a series of blasts at coach Chip Kelly over conditioning, sports science and even strategy. Apparently, it never occurred to Williams that Kelly might have done a far better job if his top corner didn’t play so poorly.

• The Phillies are so desperate for offense, they are trying one more time to revive the career Dom Brown. The underachieving outfielder hit two home runs in 210 at bats in Lehigh, and now he’s supposed to find his power stroke in the big leagues? Ridiculous.

• Wouldn’t you love to know what Chase Utley is thinking as he labors through the worst year of his baseball career? Has it crossed his mind that he no longer has the bat speed to compete, or that he is damaging his legacy by batting under .200 in June? If these questions haven’t occurred to him by now, they should.

Ruben Amaro was so angry about reports last week that he was seeking the top prospects from Seattle for outfielder Ben Revere, the Phillies GM said he was violating his own policy by publicly denying the trade rumors. First of all, he has no such policy. And second, he probably asked for those players. Otherwise, I fully support him on this issue.