The courting of Chip Kelly: Eagles finally got their coach
Zach Berman, Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2013, 2:47 AM
Chip Kelly held a team meeting for his Oregon players at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday. At that moment, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie knew Kelly was coming to Philadelphia. Not a moment before.
"Until he told his players," Lurie said, "I don't think we could have ever known for sure."
Kelly had told the Eagles two hours earlier that he wanted to be their coach. But Kelly maintained a strong loyalty to his players. It was why he did not go to the NFL a year ago, and why he wavered in the decision two weeks earlier. So Lurie never felt certain until that meeting was held.
The news broke not long after Kelly informed his players, at noon, Eastern time . An official announcement was made at 12:24 p.m. Kelly boarded a flight for Philadelphia later that afternoon. He signed a contract at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, and held a news conference at 1:30 p.m.
Fourteen days elapsed from the time Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman, and team president Don Smolenski flew to Atlanta to speak with two coordinators to begin the interview process to the time Kelly walked into that meeting with his players on Jan. 16. During that time, there were two critical tipping points - the Jan. 5-6 weekend in Arizona, and Tuesday-Wednesday of last week.
Weekend in Arizona
Kelly refused to talk to any NFL teams until after the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. The Browns first met with Kelly on the day after the game, with meetings set up with the Eagles and Bills the day after that.
A report surfaced the night of Jan. 4 that Kelly was close to a deal with the Browns. Kelly said last week that that report was inaccurate, and Roseman said the Eagles never felt they were out of the running or needed to make up ground.
The Browns asked for Kelly's thoughts at the end of the meeting, Kelly said, and Kelly told them he would meet with the other teams.
"My approach was that I'm like a high school recruit," Kelly said. "I'm going to take my three official visits and I would see where the best spot for me was. Who gets to go first, who gets to go last, I understand how some of that stuff works, but there was never any commitment one way or the other. I was always going to visit with all three teams."
Kelly started a nine-hour meeting with the Eagles brass Jan. 5 at the Four Seasons in Scottsdale by clearing any confusion: He was not seeking full control. They exchanged philosophies, going through every spot on the roster and the vision for that spot.
As the meeting progressed, it became clear to Kelly that Philadelphia would become a fit. He just didn't know if he was ready to leave the job he considered the best in college football.
"There's so much more that goes into it, and that's what people have to realize," Kelly said. "What happens when I leave? Who becomes the next head coach? What happens to those players? It's not as easy as making reservations for dinner. You're not just changing your life, but other people's lives."
The Eagles were unanimous about Kelly. They knew his reservations about leaving, too.
One day later, Kelly decided to stay. And it was not a "no, but . . ."
"That was a no," Kelly insisted, even if he did not make public comments. He did not believe that was necessary.
"If you decide to go to work tomorrow, are you going to make an announcement that you decided you're going to go back to work tomorrow?" Kelly asked.
Yet the Eagles did not fully believe that no meant no. In fact, they researched Kelly's decision to leave his job as New Hampshire's offensive coordinator for the same position at Oregon six years ago. Even though it was a clear promotion, the decision took nearly a week.
"We knew he was torn," Lurie said.
The time away allowed Kelly to think about the decision without the spotlight and the confined schedule of a weekend. The interviews received so much attention, with up-to-the-minute reports, that it become uncomfortable for Kelly.
"It's a little eerie when people know exactly how long you've been with people from an hour-to-hour basis," Kelly said. "It's kind of creepy, to be honest with you."
The Eagles decided to regroup. They kept in touch with Kelly, although they proceeded with their search. There was a "very, very finite group of people" on their list and they would meet with all of them.
Lurie said the process would continue until the Seahawks were eliminated from the playoffs, because they wanted to meet with Gus Bradley. They were bullish about the pool of candidates, with an eye always on Kelly.
"This was a loaded deck," Lurie said. "We could have gone in five different directions and been happy."
The Eagles flew Bradley to Philadelphia for a second interview Tuesday. He was the only candidate they interviewed twice.
"We dedicated our entire time and effort to Gus Bradley when we were with him," Roseman said. "This wasn't like we weren't all in on that interview."
But after the interview, they devoted their attention to Kelly. The two sides discussed an offer into Tuesday night. Lurie said the contract was not going to be an issue. The question was whether Kelly would leave Oregon. It sounded as if he was ready. Lurie called Bradley.
"It's down to two candidates," Lurie told Bradley, sharing that Bradley was one of them and the other was "someone with head coaching experience."
"I need to sleep on it," Lurie said. Lurie went to bed on Tuesday with a determination: "On Wednesday, we're probably going to pull the trigger."
Roseman said the Eagles never misrepresented the situation to Bradley. Bradley was the first person the Eagles called when Kelly was hired, although Bradley was interviewing with the Jaguars at that point.
Lurie had a "very long" discussion with Bradley on Wednesday. He encouraged Bradley to take the Jaguars job if it was offered.
If Kelly never met with his players Wednesday morning - or if he had a change of heart at some point - the Eagles job might have been Bradley's. But Kelly decided to come to Philadelphia, and a two-week process ended as the Eagles hoped.
"Fourteen days is lightning fast to have to make a decision of this magnitude," Lurie said. "It could have been quicker if in the initial interviews with Chip he had wanted to leave Oregon, but this was a process where it was unanimous."
Contact Zach Berman at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.
Zach Berman Inquirer Staff Writer
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Posted 20 January 2013 - 07:23 AM