ATLANTIC CITY - Maxwell Football Club president Ron Jaworski did not expect to be honoring Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly on Friday night.
When the Eagles hired Kelly to succeed Andy Reid after the 2012 season, Jaworski was among those who wondered if Kelly would be able to make the jump from the University of Oregon to the NFL.
"I have to be honest," Jaworski, who is an ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback, said Friday at Revel Casino-Hotel. "I was a little skeptical. Not too many college coaches are able to make that transition. But Chip's different. Once he showed me what he was going to do, I bought in."
Kelly went on to enjoy an outstanding season in his first season as Eagles coach, guiding them to a 10-6 record, NFC East championship and their first playoff berth since 2010.
The Maxwell Football Club honored him with the the Greasy Neale Award as its NFL Coach of the Year during its 77th annual awards banquet at Revel's Ovation Hall.
Kelly was the third Eagles coach to win the award since it was created in 1989. Ray Rhodes was honored in 1995, and Andy Reid won it twice, in 2002 and 2010.
"I'm not a big award guy," Kelly said before the banquet. "I was fortunate in college to win a couple. It's just a recognition of your team. I look at it more as a team award. It's the quintessential team game, and it takes so many different people for us to go from 4-12 to 10-6. And I think it's more a recognition of that, than it is of an individual."
Kelly's appearance in Atlantic County was a reunion of sorts.
Prior to coaching at Oregon in 2007-12, he spent 14 seasons as an assistant coach for the University of New Hampshire. South Jersey was one of his recruiting stops. Mike Granieri, a 2001 Mainland Regional High School graduate, played quarterback for Kelly.
"I wouldn't say this was my stomping grounds or anything," Kelly said. "But I spent a lot of time recruiting in South Jersey."
Kelly took some of the offensive strategies he developed at New Hampshire and Oregon and used them to turn the Eagles' offense into one of the most potent in the NFL last season.
They were inconsistent through the first half of the season, going 3-5 but soon caught fire under quarterback Nick Foles. They went 7-1 down the stretch, starting with a 49-20 victory at Oakland on Nov. 3. Foles tied the NFL record by throwing seven touchdown passes against the Raiders. His jersey, cleats and a football from the game were sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"That was probably the game that made me a believer in Chip," Jaworski said. "Nick had played a terrible game earlier against Dallas and had gotten hurt, but Chip stuck with him. That showed me a lot."
Kelly was among several coaches and players honored before a crowd of 1,100 at Ovation Hall.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning won the 55th Bert Bell Award as Professional Player of the Year. Other honorees included University of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron as the College Player of the Year, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald as College Defensive Player of the Year and Duke coach David Cutcliff as College Coach of the Year. Quarterback Will Grier, a University of Florida signee, was named the National High School Player of the Year.
The awards banquet was held at Revel's Ovation Hall for the first time after a 10-year run at Harrah's Atlantic City.
"Basically, we're here because Revel wanted us," Jaworski said. "We've always been very well-received in Atlantic City, and we wanted to keep it here and Revel really wanted us. I mean no disrespect to Harrah's. They treated us very well there over the years. But this room (Ovation Hall) is much bigger (5,500-seat capacity) and gives us the opportunity to grow the awards even more."
Jaworski has established strong ties in Atlantic County over the years. He owns Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township and holds his annual charity golf tournament at Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield.
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