PHILADELPHIA — Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie went to sleep Tuesday night not knowing who was going to replace Andy Reid as the franchise’s next head coach.
He had narrowed his list of finalists to University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Kelly was his top choice, but Lurie wasn’t sure if the 49-year-old was willing to make the jump from college to the NFL.
Lurie got his answer at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, when Kelly called to inform him he wanted to come to Philadelphia. A few hours later, Kelly signed a five-year contract to become the 21st coach in Eagles’ history.
“This is a very, very exciting day for the Philadelphia Eagles, the city and our fans,” Lurie said today at the NovaCare Complex.
At his introductory news conference, Kelly said, “I always knew (Philadelphia) was the best place for me, but I had to figure out the best way to do it.”
It took more than a week to do it.
The Eagles interviewed 11 candidates after firing Reid, who held the job for 14 seasons, on Dec. 31. Kelly soared to the top of the list on Jan. 5 during a nine-hour interview with Lurie, president Don Smolenski and general manager Howie Roseman at the Four Seasons Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The problem was, Kelly was undecided about leaving the Ducks. He even informed the Eagles one day later that he had decided to stay at Oregon and then departed for a coaching convention in Nashville.
The Eagles’ contingent also went to Nashville to interview Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and were having dinner when Roseman sent the text message that would alter the Eagles’ future.
He contacted Chip Kelly just to see if he might still be interested in the Eagles’ job.
“One of my strengths and one of my weaknesses is that I don’t always take no for an answer,” Roseman said Thursday. “I found out that he felt very strongly about our organization and we felt very strongly about him.”
Kelly, 49, had come away from his initial meeting with the Eagles very impressed with Lurie’s passion and enthusiasm, as well as the Eagles’ organization and even the rabid fan base.
Prior to going to Oregon in 2007, Kelly had spent 13 years as an assistant coach at the University of New Hampshire, his alma mater. One of his responsibilities there as offensive coordinator was recruiting in the Northeast and his travels frequently took him to the Philadelphia area.
“I recruited everywhere from South Jersey to Harrisburg (Pa.), so I know how passionate Philly fans are,” Kelly said Thursday. “I know that the second most important bowl here besides the Super Bowl is the ‘Wing Bowl,’ though I’m not going to participate in that one.”
He decided a few days ago that he was ready to join the Eagles but didn’t want to make it official until he had a chance to tell his Oregon players and assistant coaches.
Kelly finally broke the news to them Wednesday morning.
“I love my players (at Oregon) and it was very difficult to say goodbye to a bunch of men I truly love and respect,” he said today.
Also today, the Jacksonville Jaguars hired Bradley as their new coach.
Because Kelly initially resisted the Eagles’ overtures, however, skeptics wonder if he was truly committed to making the move to the NFL. After all, he was close to signing with Tampa Bay last year before having a change of heart that prompted the Buccaneers to hire Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
Some critics also wonder how long Kelly will last. Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier are among the coaches who made brief NFL appearances at Miami and Washington, respectively, before returning to the college ranks.
But Kelly made it clear Thursday that his days as a college coach are over.
“I’m all in,” he said. “I’m not going back (to college coaching). I’m an NFL coach. I think it was (Spanish conquistador Hernan) Cortes who burned his boats. Well, I’ve burned my boats. I’ve made the jump and I’m not going back.”
His lack of NFL experience is also an issue. Unlike most head coaches, Kelly has never coached at this level in any capacity. As of Thursday, he is the only current coach in the NFL who has never previously worked as a position coach or coordinator in the league.
If Kelly is intimidated by the challenge, however, he didn’t show it. And neither did the Eagles.
“Everybody is a leap of faith,” Lurie said. “Chip has everything we were looking for. He has a tremendous obsession for football, is very forward thinking, is a tremendous leader and he understands the fan base here.
“You don’t have to be from Philly, but you have to have an understanding of the fan base and he gets it. He gets it in a big way.”
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