Jan 17, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles new head coach Chip Kelly addresses the media during a press conference at the Philadelphia Eagles NovaCare Complex. (Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)
Kelly impressive in Eagles' debut
That won't mean a blessed thing if Kelly, a former Manchester Central High School and University of New Hampshire player and coach, can't deliver on the field. There is no way for a coach to hide or disguise results on the scoreboard. But in a city desperate for a fresh face on its football franchise, for a new voice and a renewed sense of purpose, Kelly delivered.
He didn't say "Time's yours," he just gave us quality time.
Everyone knew Kelly's reputation as a successful, innovative coach at the University of Oregon. It was well-known that his teams changed uniforms almost as often as they scored touchdowns. But until you look someone in the eye - whether in person or via your TV screen - it's nearly impossible to get a real sense of them.
Kelly was impressive. He came across as genuine, personable, smart and comfortable in his own Nike-swooshed skin. It was easy to see why Jeff Lurie, Howie Roseman and Don Smolenski were prepared to offer him this job after one marathon interview session.
Kelly declined the job on Jan. 5. He accepted it on Jan. 16.
At first, you wondered if his change of heart represented some ambivalence on Kelly's part. There is a history of college coaches coming to the NFL, getting torched and then scurrying back to the college ranks. Did his waffling suggest that Kelly will be another Steve Spurrier or Bobby Petrino or Nick Saban?
After hearing him explain himself, you came away with the opposite impression. Kelly said it took him a week to decide to leave the University of New Hampshire for Oregon back in 2007. He wanted time to think without the pressure of Twitter-fingered reporters waiting on him - he found the level of scrutiny "creepy."
And when he did decide to come to the NFL, he wanted the players he recruited and mentored and won and lost with to hear the news from him.
"I'm changing people's lives here," Kelly said, and it was clear he took that responsibility seriously.
That's an example of the value of looking someone in the eye. Now, the careful deliberation makes his decision more solid, not less. Kelly really does appear to be "all in," as he said.
Of course, he hasn't started the hard part yet - enduring videotape of the 2011 Eagles, deciding who stays and who goes, and then remaking the roster in his image of a winning football program. We'll see if Kelly is as engaging - dropping references to Wing Bowl and Vince Papale, Cortez's burning ships and "Smokey and the Bandit" - after a tough loss to the New York Giants.
Nothing is guaranteed.
"Everybody is a leap of faith," Lurie said of handing his franchise over to a new coach. "It's a risk/reward choice."
It was time, really past time, for the Eagles to make this change. As he talked about Kelly and about the search process, Lurie revealed that he'd targeted Kelly "for months." That would mean long before he knew how Andy Reid would fare in 2012. The chance to discuss football operations with Kelly and 10 other candidates - everything from practice routines to strength and conditioning programs - was illuminating, too.
"There's a lot of innovative thought out there," Lurie said. "Everybody had certain positive things that I thought, 'Wow, we should be doing that. We're going to take that and run with it.'"
Even good coaches - and Reid was most assuredly one of them for a long time here - grow stale. Reid appears energized by a fresh start in Kansas City. The Eagles are clearly eager to get their new era under way.
Only time can issue the final grades. Reid has a new team to rebuild. Former Eagles president Joe Banner is assembling a new staff in Cleveland. Gus Bradley became head coach in Jacksonville, while Mike McCoy took over the big office in San Diego with Ken Whisenhunt as his top assistant.
Maybe Marc Trestman in Chicago or Doug Marrone in Buffalo will be the best coach hired this year.
All of that will be decided on the field.
In Kelly, the Eagles got an impressive coach with clear, original ideas on how to win. They won the day together. There are much more difficult, potentially rewarding days ahead.