Phil Sheridan, Inquirer Columnist
Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2013, 2:27 AM
There is no old block, at least when it comes to Chip Kelly's football career. The man in charge of the Eagles isn't a branch on anyone else's coaching tree.
Time will tell if he's a sturdy new trunk or a stump.
In hiring Kelly last week, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie hit the reset button on his stagnant franchise. He didn't just replace a coach - after 14 years, Andy Reid had become an institution - he rebranded the Eagles organization.
In the past, Lurie had tried to replicate the success of other NFL teams. Hiring Reid was an attempt to import the Green Bay Packers model established by Mike Holmgren. Before that, Ray Rhodes was meant to bring the San Francisco 49ers' proprietary secret recipe. In between, Lurie plucked Tom Modrak from the Pittsburgh Steelers to be his director of football operations.
Kelly has no NFL history. When Reid was taking the Eagles to the Super Bowl, Kelly was the offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, which is to football powerhouses Alabama and Michigan what Arena Football is to the NFL.
Kelly's rise from UNH assistant to iconoclastic winner at Oregon to head coach of the Eagles happened fast enough to bring on the bends. That could mean one of two things: Either Kelly isn't fully prepared for what awaits him, or he is a rare talent capable of success at any level.
Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman are banking on the latter.
"You just get a feeling for who is really on top of the game," Lurie said. "Chip is really on top of the game."
For the owner and GM, a new coach means a fresh canvas. Whatever combination of poor drafts, head-scratching coaching decisions, and uninterested players got the Eagles here is now irrelevant.
Roseman's tenure will be judged by his ability to identify and acquire players who fit Kelly's vision. If there is a Super Bowl parade, Lurie will deserve his spot at the head of it.
There really is nothing quite like it in sports. An NFL head coach, at least in Philadelphia, is part CEO, part unelected mayor, part civic piñata. His mannerisms and pet figures of speech become part of the local jargon. Already, you just know Joe Conklin is locked in his laboratory, searching for the formula to channel Chip Kelly.
On Thursday night, after a long day of press availabilities and initial calls to potential assistant coaches, Kelly heard there was an event over at the South Philadelphia Chickie's and Pete's. Brian Dawkins and Vince Papale and a bunch of other sports figures were there. Kelly asked PR director Derek Boyko to take him over.
Within hours, a funny thing happened. For the first time in 14 years, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles ordered a beer.
It was a measure of Reid's impact and longevity that everyone involved cracked a smile (and a cold one of their own). There is no known link between sporting success and cold beer, but Kelly's relaxed demeanor allowed those around him to relax as well.
Kelly hung out for a while. He summoned former Eagles and Boston College defensive end Mike Mamula, with whom he shared a bunch of acquaintances. He told proprietor Pete Ciarrocchi that he used to eat at his Roosevelt Boulevard location all the time when he was recruiting for New Hampshire.
He wasn't putting on a show to convince everyone he loved Philadelphia. He was just comfortable here and comfortable with the people around him.
Kelly is also comfortable with, and confident in, his own abilities. He will need all of them for the task ahead.
Upon arriving in Kansas City, Reid said he thought he left the Eagles better than he found them in 1999. That's debatable. Reid had the core of a very good defense, which carried his developing team. He also had the No. 2 pick in a quarterback-rich draft.
Kelly inherits a team with some skill and speed on offense, an enormous question mark at quarterback, and a defense in desperate need of an overhaul. He has the fourth pick in a draft with no obvious QB worthy of it.
That is a lot to fix, and Kelly won't have the luxury of time. The days of the five-year plan are long gone in the NFL. A coach isn't expected to win the Super Bowl in his first or second year, but marked improvement is very realistic. Fortunately, the 2012 Eagles were so awful, it will take very little to show improvement.
"We all have to understand what our vision is, and how we want this football team to look, and then coach like that every single day," Kelly said.
It is his team now. It can be his city. All he has to do is win.
Contact Phil Sheridan at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.
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