Kelly earns high grades in first season
PHILADELPHIA — Chip Kelly's grade for his first season in Philadelphia would not look good on one of his tests at Manchester (N.H.) Central High School in 1981, but the 50-year-old Eagles coach had a logical reason for giving himself a 58.8 percent mark.
"That's winning 10 games out of 17," he said.
The NFL is a bottom-line business, and Kelly is a bottom-line grader. The man who won 86.8 percent of his college games admitted in June that he would not go 46-7 in the NFL like he did at Oregon, and he's matched that loss total in one season. It illustrates what Kelly said was his biggest revelation about the NFL: every team is good, and there is never a game when there is such a decided personnel advantage.
Still, Kelly's rookie season was impressive when graded on an NFL curve. Kelly became the second coach since the NFL-AFL merger to win a division crown in his first season. He oversaw a six-win improvement. And it came despite Kelly confessing he was unsure how his offense would translate.
"I had a system and a plan that we were going to go in with, but I didn't know what the outcome was going to be until it was all finished," Kelly said. "I think we played sound fundamental football, and I think that's what we preach on a daily basis to our players. It's still a game of 11-on-11, and I think a lot of things we do schematically match up 11-on-11."
Kelly said a big part of the Eagles' success was how receptive the players were to the new staff and system from April 1 through the end of the season. Kelly could not have much interaction with his players until the start of the offseason program, and what he found were players ready to buy into their new head coach.
As much as Kelly wanted to create a distinct environment at the Eagles' NovaCare facility, he knew the players required a certain "makeup." Kelly gave the example of his relationship with linebacker DeMeco Ryans. He did not know Ryans before he took the job, but he said he was able to talk to Ryans and get input on different situations "through DeMeco's eyes."
"Ultimately ... it's a players' league, and it's always going to be a players' league, and it should be a players' league," Kelly said. "Our job simply is to create an environment where they have an opportunity to be successful and then get out of the way and let them go play."
The Eagles relied on a group of young players, especially the draft classes of 2012 and 2013. Nick Foles, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin, and Earl Wolff were all major contributors in their first or second seasons.
Kelly was pleased with their development, but he does not expect that to be the case each season. He noted how much the roster overturned early in the season, and hopes for more continuity in future years.
"It's a catch-22 because if it's happened every year, then the top of your roster is not what it's supposed to be," Kelly said. "If each year we're bringing in 10 or 12 brand new guys and there's only 46 guys active, they're taking 10 or 12 guys that were on the team last year."
Kelly said it would be "a mistake" to overreact to the playoff loss when evaluating the season and the roster. He acknowledged that the Eagles did not play their best game and "left the meat on the bone a little bit." Kelly knows the Eagles need to upgrade the talent, and especially find bigger players. His 58.8-percent mark could be worse next season if the Eagles do not improve.
"The one thing I know and I preach this all the time to our players ... is you've never arrived," Kelly said. "You're always trying to get better every single day and you're always trying to see how we can do it better than we did it the last time."