Coaching is the art of cultivating a process, through trial and error, that yields positive results. In the NFL, though, the final results of games are anything but reliable data. Sample sizes are smaller than they are in any other American sport. Fluke wins, upsets and one possession games are the bread and butter of 21st century football. Whether you want to call that parity or just maddening inconsistency is completely up to you. Knowing how difficult it can be to find truly bankable results, it is more important than ever for an NFL head coach to believe in his process.
The NFL has shaken Chip Kelly’s belief in his process.
Most fans of the Philadelphia Eagles came into this season with measured expectations. We knew this was most likely not a Super Bowl team. There were simply too many holes in the roster. With that in mind, you had to think that, in the first year of a new coaching regime, there would be some growing pains.
The Eagles were always going to lose their fair share of contests this season, so what was everybody so darn excited about?
For one, the Eagles had cleaned house in multiple areas, and brought in fresh faces to take the reigns. Whatever was going to happen this season would be fundamentally different from the past 14 seasons in Philadelphia. Secondly, and most importantly, the new head coach was bringing something with him to the NFL that we had never seen before. This was not a radically fast-paced offense or sarcastic dealings with the media. What Chip Kelly was bringing with him was a way of thinking. At his core, Chip Kelly believes in a different way of running a football team.
At Oregon, Kelly molded a process and the results were undeniable. Calculated risk taking, confoundedly simple methods of play calling and a dominating disrespect for “the way things are done” at any level. This man was a pioneer and the Eagles were going to spend the next few years giving him a rare opportunity to set out and make waves. In the name of that mission and of progress, we were more than happy to sacrifice this season and maybe even the next. This was a football pilgrimage that gave us a final destination we could all believe in.
Last Sunday, Chip Kelly seemed like a man struggling with doubt. Repeated opportunities to apply his process of calculated aggression and unconventional methods presented themselves and his nerve fell by the wayside. This isn’t Madden 25. We all understand that. Nobody is expecting the Eagles to line up in the Shotgun formation on 4th and 7 from their own 23 yard line, but when you go into Denver to play Peyton Manning, you’d better be prepared to pull out all of the stops.
While Manning and his troops marched up and down the field without contest, the Eagles shriveled into a shell. There was no sign of that fearless tactician from Oregon on the sideline. Choosing to trade touchdowns for field goals with the best team in the league, Chip Kelly played it safe and eased conservatively into a 52-20 drubbing. The final score of that game could have been exactly the same had Kelly thrown the kitchen sink at the Broncos. They are the far more talented team and it’s simply not close. What’s important here, however is that the Philadelphia Eagles abandoned their process; they abandoned what makes them different from any other terrible NFL team. For Chip Kelly to do so this early into his first season is a betrayal.
The Philadelphia Eagles probably will not win many games over the next two seasons. That much is to be expected when transitioning from relative golden age in the Andy Reid era. Still, any amount of losses the Eagles sustain in that time needs to be in service of something. If Chip Kelly can embrace that notion and use this grace period to truly commit to his process in Philadelphia, he has a chance to do some real damage at the professional level. If what happened in Denver on Sunday is an omen of waivering that is to come, he may simply become one of many who “tried” to change the NFL.