In a stunning reversal, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, who withdrew from the Eagles head coaching search on Jan. 6 after interviewing and announced he was returning to Oregon, has accepted an offer to become head coach of the Eagles, the team announced Wednesday. He'll be introduced in a press conference Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
Kelly, 49, replaces Andy Reid, fired Dec. 31 after 14 seasons.
Kelly had a 46-7 record in four seasons as head coach at Oregon after serving two years as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. He has no NFL playing or coaching experience.
Kelly and Penn State coach Bill OBrien quickly emerged as the Eagles' top candidates to replace Reid, and Kelly was hotly pursued by both the Eagles and the Browns, led by estranged former team president Joe Banner, before announcing he was returning to Eugene.
But a league source told CSNPhilly.coms Geoff Mosher that the Eagles and Kelly maintained contact in the coming days and that talks between the two sides heated up in the 24 to 36 hours preceding Wednesdays bombshell announcement.
After he had reentered the mix Kelly again became the organizations top choice, ahead of Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who would have been offered the job if Kelly had remained out of the picture, the source said.
We were that impressed with Bradley, the source added.
The Eagles found out about Kellys wavering commitment just two days after Oregons athletic director Rob Mullens had announced Kellys intention to return for a fifth season and three days after the search committee of owner Jeffrey Lurie, team president Don Smolenski and general manager Howie Roseman met with Kelly for nine hours at the Four Seasons in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The committee had traveled to Nashville last Tuesday to meet with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, another candidate for the job, at a coaches convention. There they heard from another coach close to Kelly that Kelly still harbored NFL coaching aspirations.
Roseman exchanged text messages with Kelly and his agent, David Dunn, and Lurie soon became more involved in talks until a deal was hammered out. When the search started, the Eagles were skeptical that they would be able to lure Kelly away from Oregon.
They didnt think all along that Kelly would leave, the source said. But we were still going to give our best shot.
By landing Kelly, the Eagles didn't just add one of the most coveted coaches on any level, they effectively ended speculation that their franchise was not an attractive one for top coaching candidates.
Chip Kelly will be an outstanding head coach for the Eagles, Lurie said. He has a brilliant football mind. He motivates his team with his actions as well as his words. He will be a great leader for us and will bring a fresh, energetic approach to our team.
Asked if his up-tempo spread offense can work in the NFL, Kelly admitted recently he doesnt know.
I don't think anybody knows any answers until someone does it, he said. The Washington Redskins are doing a pretty good job. The kid at Carolina Cam Newton has done a pretty good job. But it depends. I don't know. I've never coached in that league. I visited practices and talked to people about it.
The one thing about that, about everything, you have to have good players. Sometimes the coaching aspect is way overrated. We don't play the game. I think college football is a personneldriven game, so is the NFL. Your job as a coach very simply is to put your players in positions to make plays, get out of the way and go make them."
Former Oregon running back LaMichael James, now with the 49ers, is certain Kelly's system will succeed in the pros.
One hundred percent, yes, James told CSNBayArea recently. I dont think anything can stop that offense NFL, college or high school, no matter what it is. I think Washington runs a similar offense, and I like the way they do their things, too. I think it would be kind of similar to that, I think a little faster though.
I think he can be one of the best coaches in the NFL. I respect him, hes a super-great coach, and thats the only thing I can say about him. Hes just great.
The Eagles were 4-12 this year after an 8-8 season in 2011. They havent won a playoff game since 2008 and last reached the Super Bowl in 2004, losing to the Patriots.
Kelly is the first person to become head coach of the Eagles without ever having played or coached in the NFL since Bert Bell, who founded the franchise in 1933 and was head coach from 1936 to 1941, compiling a record of 10-46-2.
Dick Vermeil went from UCLA to the Eagles after the 1975 season, but he had spent time previously in the NFL, as an assistant under George Allen with the Rams.
After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, Kelly began his coaching career at Columbia as defensive backs and special teams coach for the freshman team in 1990. He spent two years at Columbia, one back at UNH, one at Johns Hopkins and then 1994 through 2006 back at his alma mater in Concord, N.H., including 1999 through 2006 as offensive coordinator.
Bellotti brought him to Eugene in 2007, where he spent the last six seasons.
Oregon went 12-1, 12-2 and 12-1 the last three years, and the teams wide-open, innovative passing attack piled up points in a hurry and made Kelly one of the most highly sought-after college coaches in recent years.
Some skeptics believe Kellys high-octane offense wont work in the NFL because defenses are so much more complex than in college and because defensive players are so much faster that the offense loses its advantage.
But Kelly said if he coached in the NFL, he would adapt his offense accordingly.
There's a lot of ways to play football, he said. Trends go one way and the other. if you weren't in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne when they invented this game, you stole it from somebody else.
Any coach is going to learn from other people and see how they can implement it in their system. Anything you do has to be personnel driven. You have to adapt to the personnel you have. There's a lot of great offenses out there, but does it fit with the personnel you have? The key is making sure what you're doing is giving your people a chance to be successful.
Kellys hiring ends a wild 2-week coaching search that involved 11 candidates, including Bradley, who met with team brass for a second time on Tuesday.
Kelly is the third head coach hired by Lurie, who bought the Eagles from Norman Braman in 1994. The first two, Ray Rhodes and Andy Reid, were both named NFL Coach of the Year at least once.
Lurie hired Rhodes to replace Rich Kotite after the Eagles lost their last seven games in 1994, and he hired Reid after the Eagles went 3-13 in Rhodes last season, 1998.
The Eagles reached the playoffs in nine of Reids first 12 years but missed the postseason the last two years. Since late in 2010, they are 12-23.
CSNPhilly.com Eagles insider Geoff Mosher contributed to this report.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org