PHILADELPHIA — Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Heavier still is the head that wears the headset on an NFL sideline.
Chip Kelly probably thought he knew the full weight of what he was getting into on that January day when he changed his mind and decided to leave behind his scoring machine at the University of Oregon for a chance to cash in on a five-year contract from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie worth a reported $32.5 million. Lurie probably thought he knew what he was getting in his new head coach, too.
Halfway through Kelly's first season and $3.25 million into Lurie's investment, neither the coach nor the owner can be absolutely sure he made the right decision. The team that Kelly left behind is 8-0, ranked second in the BCS standings and averaging 55.6 points per game. His baby has become an NCAA monster. The coach that Lurie finally let go after 14 seasons is 8-0 with the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that won two games a year ago.
Certainly none of us on the outside knows where the Eagles' highly dysfunctional and recently repulsive 3-5 start is going to lead the team in the long run, but at the moment the fans are in searing pain having watched 10 straight home losses as well as Andy Reid's Midwest resurgence.
Kelly, 49, must have aged a bit by Sunday when he witnessed something he probably could have never imagined: His beloved offense failed to score a touchdown for a second straight week. In half an NFL season, Kelly has lost five games, just two fewer than he lost during his four years at Oregon.
When Kelly was asked about the first eight games of his NFL career, one got the impression that the coach was not enjoying his introduction to life with the big-boy coaches, but he was prepared for something like this happening.
"I think no matter what level you coach at, losing is tough to absorb just because that's ultimately not what we're looking to do," Kelly said Monday, a day after his team's embarrassingly bad 15-7 loss to the New York Giants. "I think the challenges each and every week are that you're going to play a formidable opponent that's talented and it's going to take your best effort on a weekly basis in terms of preparation and ... then going to play the game."
In college, Kelly admitted, there were "haves and have nots." At Oregon, Kelly's team was always one of the have-ist of the haves. With the Eagles, he inherited a team that was closer to being a "have not" than "have" in terms of talent. The quarterback situation has gone from competition to controversy to absolute mess, with overmatched rookie Matt Barkley likely making his first start Sunday against the Raiders in Oakland.
Nothing probably seems too funny to Kelly right now, and the 20 minutes he spent in front of the cameras and recorders Monday at the NovaCare Complex must have seemed like an eternity. The logic the coach repeated for many of his ill-advised decisions during the loss to the Giants made no more sense the day after.
If Kelly wants some solace — there was no indication that he does — he should look back on the first eight games of Reid's turbulent time in Philadelphia. Like Kelly, Reid reached the midpoint of his rookie NFL season with a home loss to the Giants.
Reid was about as popular as peanut butter on a cheesesteak at the time and fully embroiled in a quarterback controversy of his own. Nobody knew for sure then whether Donovan McNabb would be a successful quarterback in the future, but everybody was sure they had seen enough of Doug Pederson, who had thrown a touchdown to Giants defensive end Michael Strahan in overtime to get Reid to the halfway point of the 1999 season with a 2-6 record.
Reid had infuriated the masses by playing McNabb for just one three-and-out series against the Giants and then by referring to it as the "continued growth" of his young quarterback. Pederson, now Reid's offensive coordinator in Kansas City, started the next week, too.
What was this man thinking?
That's the stage Kelly's brief tenure in Philadelphia reached Sunday, and like the old coach, the new one remains supremely confident in what he's doing.
"I have the confidence in this group," Kelly said in reference to his offense. "It was the same group for six games that we were on track to set records. It's not like we're going to throw the baby out with the bath water and start over again and say we're going to do something new here."
Reid, of course, eventually inserted McNabb at quarterback. He had seven new starters on offense and six new ones on defense when he won 11 games and led the Eagles to the playoffs in his second season. Kelly's future as an NFL coach remains uncertain. His confidence, however, remains unshaken.