When Chip Kelly was named head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles he was hailed as a visionary. Pundits predicted he would revolutionize professional football. As things turned out, the revolution lasted one game short of three seasons and Kelly is on his way out of town with a 26-22 record, a mark that includes a loss in his team’s only playoff appearance.
As we see it, the chief reason for Kelly’s demise wasn’t his offensive scheme, or the fact that he released DeSean Jackson, or the fact that he made his players practice on Tuesdays, which is the NFL’s traditional day of rest.
All that factored in of course but as we see it the impetus for Kelly’s was his inability or unwillingness to coaching NFL players as opposed to coaching in college.
And those differences are considerable. At the collegiate level coaches, particularly at the Bowl Subdivision level are rulers of their own fiefdoms. A flowchart might indicate they answer to an athletic director or school president, but in practice coaches like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer are their own bosses. They determine the structure of their programs, they and their sizeable staffs determine what players become part of their programs and which ones don’t and they control, directly or indirectly, media access to their programs.
Most importantly, the players they are overseeing are teenagers and young adults, from 17 or 18-year olds to age 22 or 23, who have been taught all their lives that when a coach says “Jump” the correct response is “How high?”
The landscape in the National Football League is as different from college as Earth is from Mars.
When he arrived in Philadelphia, Kelly was put in charge of a team of grown men who understood professional football is a business. Understandably, they were looking out for their own interests as well as their employer’s. Many of them were making more money than their new coach, who no longer had the total control over his players’ lives that he was used to.
Some were likely uncomfortable with Kelly from the outset but their cries were muted because the Eagles won 10 games in 2013 and made the playoffs. But when the team stumbled at the end of last season and staggered out of the starting gate this year the critics became more vocal; Kelly was either deaf to the criticism or ill-equipped to deal with it, The ‘My-way-or-the-highway’ approach that served him so well at Oregon failed him in South Philadelphia.
Kelly isn’t the first college coach to fail in the pros. Perhaps there is a reason for that.