Is Kelly the front runner for Coach of the Year?
Chip Kelly and Brandon Boykin embrace following Boykin's game-sealing interception, as the Eagles wrapped up the NFC East title last Sunday night. (USA Today Images)
Here’s where the Eagles were a year ago at this time: Nowhere as a team. All over the place as individuals.
The Birds lost 11 of their final 12 games last season. They finished 4-12. When January arrived, they packed their disparate belongings into cardboard moving boxes and heavy-duty trash bags. Then they scattered – headed off to golf or sun themselves on remote islands or do whatever it is that professional athletes do to occupy themselves after slogging through a disastrous campaign. Maybe they watched the playoffs from comfortable couches in distant locales. Maybe not.
The longtime head coach with the familiar mustache had just been fired. No one knew who would replace him. No one knew who the quarterback would be in 2013, either. No one knew much. The situation looked bleak – a previously successful football franchise rendered as a grim graphic novel: Dark days. Little hope. Who will save them?
Here’s where the Eagles are this year: So far removed from last season that even if you turned around and craned your neck and stood on your toes, you still couldn’t see all the carnage they left behind. They have moved on and done it quickly.
The Eagles are 10-6. They won the NFC East and did so in dramatic fashion, by dispatching the Cowboys in Dallas in the final game of the season -- a nationally-televised thumping of General Jerry’s sad troop of mismatched misfits.
The Eagles will not watch the playoffs this year. They will participate in them. They will play at least one game - against the Saints on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
When you think about all that – about where they were 12 months ago and where they are now – it has to make Chip Kelly a leading candidate for coach of the year. It must.
“I think it's the players, and it's always the players,” Kelly said when asked this week how he managed to turn the team around so quickly. “This game, it's always personnel driven, it's always player driven and we have a bunch of guys [like] that from the day I got here and I didn't look at anything in the past. From the day I got here, I knew they were motivated to be successful and they work extremely hard and they own up when they make mistakes and they go out and correct those mistakes so they don't happen again. I think everything that we've done this year as a team is a direct reflection of those players.”
He’s right, of course. Tough to produce this sort of success without LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson having huge seasons. Or Nick Foles emerging as a quality quarterback. Or the offensive line staying healthy and blocking well. Or the defense performing better than almost anyone could have anticipated in terms of keeping opponents out of the end zone as the season progressed. Many of the players were excellent. No question. But many of them were here last year, and those versions were hollowed out shells of these iterations.
The coach. The coach is different. And let’s not forget that there were questions about how Kelly would do after making the canyon-sized leap from college to the NFL. After the Eagles plucked Kelly from Eugene, one NFL.com scribbler suggested it might be the worst hire in league history. There were so many more like that (though admittedly less aggressive). Countless media members mocked the Eagles for going with Kelly. You don’t hear those people chirping much anymore. Now it’s the Birds who crow.
Kelly has done more than enough to win Coach of the Year. Whether he will win it is another matter. Like all awards, part of it is determined by the politics and calcified allegiances of the voters. Not to mention that Kelly has legitimate competition.
Kelly is a worthy candidate, but so is his predecessor. Andy Reid remade the hapless Kansas City Chiefs and pushed them into the playoffs a year after they won only two games. Ron Rivera, who was in danger of getting fired late last year and early this year after the Panthers started 1-3, helped Carolina win the NFC South and secure a first-round bye. Then there’s Pete Carroll in Seattle, Bruce Arians in Arizona, Sean Payton in New Orleans and Bill Belichick in New England. Any of them could win the award.
“I think there's a lot [of teams],” Kelly said when asked about how to fix a franchise and do it fast. "If you look just this season, Andy [Reid] did it. [San Diego’s] Mike McCoy did it. Ron Rivera did it. I would argue that there's [three] right there off the top of my head that happened this year.”
Four, actually. He didn’t count the job he did right here in Philadelphia. He overlooked himself – but the COY voters shouldn’t.