Kelly proved doubters wrong in first season
PHILADELPHIA — Chip Kelly gave himself a failing grade by scholastic standards.
Two days after the worst-to-first Philadelphia Eagles were knocked out of the playoffs by the New Orleans Saints, Kelly reflected on a successful rookie season in the NFL. He took over a team that won four games and turned it into the NFC East champion, going 10-7 overall.
Asked to evaluate his performance, Kelly said: "I give myself 58.8 percent. That's winning 10 games out of 17."
That's an "F" in schools, but close to an "A-plus" in the NFL.
Despite the 26-24 loss to the Saints, the Eagles had quite a year. They finished 7-1 in the second half and were 9-3 after a 1-3 start. Kelly's up-tempo offense was dynamic and the defense under coordinator Bill Davis came a long way following a poor first month.
Nick Foles had a spectacular season, giving the Eagles an answer at quarterback — for now. LeSean McCoy set franchise records for rushing. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper had career years. Jason Peters and Evan Mathis were All-Pro linemen.
On defense, linemen Cedric Thornton, Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan impressed. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks showed playmaking skills and linebacker DeMeco Ryans had an outstanding season.
The Eagles had the one of the youngest rosters in the league, so they should be set up for a bright future. They've had excellent drafts the last two years and are expected to improve in Kelly's second year.
There were plenty of skeptics when the Eagles lured Kelly away from Oregon to replace Andy Reid. Some of the old-schoolers thought a college coach with a unique style wouldn't adapt well to the NFL.
Kelly paid zero attention to the critics.
"I think the reception I got especially from the coaches in the league was awesome," he said. "Tom Coughlin, guys like that that I have great respect for that have been around the league for a long time, they were great with me. I'm really appreciative to the other coaches in this league, to get a chance to talk to them before the game and some of their thoughts and insights. I know it's an honor to coach in this league. It's very difficult to get one of these jobs, and I have great respect for the guys."
Players bought into Kelly's way right from the start. He implemented fresh ideas, and a new system for doing everything. Diets, sleeping habits, practice structure and much more changed. It worked, and it was only the beginning.
"We have a bunch of guys that were on the same page in terms of what they want to get accomplished, and I always felt our job as a coaching staff is to create an environment where players have an opportunity to be successful and then get out of their way and let them go do it," Kelly said. "But you also have to have a bunch of willing guys that want to do that. It was a bunch of guys that really wanted to be coached and that really wanted to be better and were very receptive to everything that we were doing as a staff. They also knew that we would listen to them."
Kelly wouldn't address specific offseason needs, though quarterback isn't one of them. Foles is the starter going into next year and Kelly praised Matt Barkley, who should be the No. 3.
Kelly said he "loves" Michael Vick, who lost his starting job after he was injured. Vick obviously wants an opportunity to start somewhere but would be open to returning if he doesn't get that chance.
"That guy is awesome," Kelly said about Vick. "Unfortunately, he got hurt, and that gave an opportunity to another guy, and I think sometimes for a lot of people, you put yourself in those shoes, that's hard to wrap your arms around because it's not like Michael was wrong and that Michael got benched. It was just a unique situation, and I think how he handled it, how he helped Nick through the process, it just tells you the type of person he is and the type of teammate he is, and I think that didn't go unnoticed by me, and I appreciate everything he did my first year here."
Besides Vick, the Eagles have nine other players who will be free agents. Cooper heads that list along with wideout Jeremy Maclin, who will be returning from ACL surgery. Thornton will be a restricted free agent, but is a key part of the defensive line and should return.
Jackson has a contract, a five-year, $48.2 million deal that he signed two years ago. But he said Monday he wants to restructure it.
The Eagles have plenty of time now to work those things out.