Lurie sees Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson in Kelly

Lurie sees Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson in Kelly

Kelly's focus is on Raiders, not the future

October 31, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Jimmy Johnson (left) went 1-15 in his first season with the Cowboys. Bill Walsh (right) went 2-14 with the 49ers. (AP)

Halfway through Chip Kelly’s first regular season as an NFL head coach, chaos and uncertainty still swirl around the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles are 3-5 after Kelly’s first eight games, no more improved in the win-loss column now than they were last season.

The Eagles recently extended the league’s longest active home losing streak to 10 games and the feel-good storyline of an improved defense is hidden behind the sputtering offense that bears Kelly’s fingerprints. Kelly, heralded as an offensive mastermind, has watched his team go eight consecutive quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown.

But from above the practice fields, in the owner’s office at the NovaCare Complex, chairman Jeffrey Lurie sits, undaunted and unfazed by the small returns so far on his $36 million investment. Lurie’s long-term vision won’t be blurred by short-term failure or success.

He harbors no concern that Kelly will follow in the footsteps of Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino, looking for the quickest escape route back to college when perfection isn’t achieved from the start.

“He’s so committed,” Lurie said. “One of the things with him is, you see it, through adversity he loves the challenge of fixing things and making it great. He loves the challenge that teams have stopped his offense a couple of times. He doesn’t get deflated. You need that.

“The real good ones -- we talked about Bill Walsh and Jimmy [Johnson], [Tom] Coughlin and [Tony] Dungy and Chuck Noll and Tom Landry -- they’re not reading the newspapers. They’ve got an energy, a dynamism and intelligence and they are forging ahead. And Chip fits that.”

In an exclusive interview with CSNPhilly.com to discuss the direction of the franchise at the midway point of Kelly’s inaugural season, Lurie frequently referenced Walsh and Johnson, two Super Bowl-winning coaches whose reputations were first born in the college ranks.

Walsh, the professorial former Stanford coach, went 2-14 in his first year with San Francisco. The 49ers didn’t have a winning season until his third year, when they went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl, the first of Walsh’s three championships.

Johnson, the brash former University of Miami coach, went 1-15 in his first season coaching the Dallas Cowboys, who won consecutive Lombardi Trophies in Johnson’s fourth and fifth seasons.

“One thing just [with] any college coach, you worry, ‘Will he relate well to players that are more mature?'” Lurie said. “[Kelly] is exceptional in terms of communicating and relating to the professional athlete. You take a leap of faith when you’re bringing in Bill Walsh or Jimmy Johnson or with Chip Kelly. You don’t know. I know. We know.”

On the flip side, an owner can never truly know how his coach will withstand the unpredictable twists and turns that come with being the face of one of the league’s most high-profile franchises.

Some outsiders quickly questioned Kelly’s system and radical coaching methods, and critics have piled on a little more during the team’s recent two-game losing streak. He lost wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in training camp to a season-ending knee injury, and he confronted his first major locker room crisis in the summer when Riley Cooper’s publicized racial slur threatened to divide the team.

His offense, which shattered records in college and elevated Oregon into a national powerhouse, has managed just 478 yards total in its last two games after averaging 450 yards in each of its first six. His starting quarterback, Michael Vick, has already missed two starts and won’t play Sunday against Oakland.

“What I didn’t know was, ‘How would he deal with major bumps along the way?'" Lurie said. “Have quarterbacks get injured, have losing streaks, have a defense playing poorly for a while then better, have an offense playing outstanding and then poor. How is he going to deal with all that adversity? He deals with it just the way you would want him to. Incredible high energy, great communicator.

Fifteen years ago, when he hired a nobody named Andy Reid to rescue his franchise, Lurie sought a program-builder to rebuild the team from the ground up. Reid would coach 14 seasons, make five NFC Championship appearances and lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl since 1980 before being fired last year after a 4-12 season.

Lurie was -- and remains -- certain that Kelly has the same coaching DNA as Reid, someone with the ability to focus solely on the day’s mission and purpose but also with an eye on tomorrow and beyond.

“The most important thing was instilling a winning culture and a sense of strength and leadership from the head coach on down,” Lurie said. “It takes a while to make that asset flower. You have to inculcate it into the team in that first year, and the big worry is if you hire a coach and he’s unable to do it.

“You see it. You see coaches that, you’d have to call it the Peter Principle. Chip has all the elements of having an opportunity to be an outstanding head coach and we’re just in that exact same process you would assume we’d be in.”

Except with a slight twist.

Unlike Reid’s first season, when the Eagles weren’t in the same class as their NFC East counterparts and finished last in the division, this year’s race is pocked with mediocrity. Even at 3-5, the Eagles are just one game (and a tie-breaker) behind the front-running Cowboys.

With the door still slightly ajar for the postseason, Lurie is comfortable with Kelly’s win-now missives and the coach’s decision to start the season with an aging Vick instead of taking closer looks at younger, potential franchise cornerstones in Nick Foles or Matt Barkley.

“We’re all eyes wide open. We know exactly what the process is,” Lurie said, “and you want to, in a way, repeat what the process was under Andy and take it one game further, or in some cases two games further, and win. Win it all.

“For me as an owner, you just want to make sure you have a head coach that is real dynamic, an outstanding leader and relates well to everybody, especially the players. That’s big. I think that’s what he has accomplished looking back on minicamp, training camp and the first half of the regular season.”

Read the first installment of our series with Lurie here, in which the Eagles' chairman labeled finding a franchise quarterback "a No. 1 priority."

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