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With Andy Reid fired and on his way to Kansas City, the Eagle focused their attention on hiring Oregon's Chip Kelly to be Reid's replacement. Kelly met with the Eagles on Saturday, but turned the team down. Where do the Eagles go from here?
Coaching changes are rarely boring when it comes to the Eagles. Back in 1991, the whole world knew that Jeff Fisher should be the man to replace Buddy Ryan. The problem was that owner Norman Braman didn't want to replace Ryan with a Ryan man. Braman turned to the offensive side of things and hired Rich Kotite. That was an insult to Ryan, and to the defensive unit that loved both Ryan and Fisher.
Jeff Lurie bought the Eagles in 1994 and the team went 7-9, shockingly losing the final seven games after a great start. Lurie decided to fire Kotite. Lurie wasn't going to hire from the current staff and wisely looked around. He flirted with Dick Vermeil, but that didn't work out. Lurie talked to Jimmy Johnson, but that wasn't an actual interview so much as just a meeting where Lurie could pick his brain. Lurie wanted Mike Shanahan, but Shanahan wanted to go to Denver and coach John Elway, who he had previously worked with. Lurie talked to a couple of college coaches. I had my heart set on Vermeil and was disappointed when that didn't pan out.
Lurie finally turned to Ray Rhodes, who was the defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Niners. Rhodes proved to be a good hire for two years and then things got sloppy in 1997. Jon Gruden left after that season and the 1998 Eagles were a total disaster. Lurie had to fire Rhodes, despite the fact Rhodes had been named NFL Coach of the Year in 1995 and had a pair of 10-win seasons. 1998 was bad and things weren't headed in the right direction.
The 1999 coaching search was simpler. There was one huge target in Mike Holmgren. Next up was Jim Haslett. Andy Reid was more of a curiosity. Holmgren signed on in Seattle and the Eagles had to move to Plan B. That looked like Haslett, but Reid was so good in his interview that the team hired him. The rest is history.
So Lurie has had two coaching searches prior to this year. Both times he was unable to land his primary target (Vermeil/Shanahan and Holmgren). Both times Lurie hired someone who went to the playoffs multiple times and won Coach of the Year honors. That's actually a pretty good track record. I know...we still have no Super Bowl wins. I'm not of the mindset that a coach who doesn't win the Super Bowl is a complete failure. Yes, that is the goal, but I believe there are levels of success and failure. Lurie doesnt have any home runs, but nor does he have any strikeouts (think of Ray Handley or Dave Campo or Jim Zorn).
Howie Roseman and Jeff Lurie set their sights on Chip Kelly this time around. They decided he was the Big Kahuna and flew out to Arizona to meet with him. On Saturday they got together for what was supposed to be lunch. That turned into a 9-hour meeting. While Lurie and Roseman didn't convince Kelly to come to Philly, I would tend to think a meeting that long had plenty of positive moments. It went a lot longer than expected.
I would be upset if Kelly was the Eagles primary target and Lurie and Roseman failed to make a strong run at him. You would then be forced to play the "what if" game on a regular basis. What if we could have gotten that guy? Lurie and Roseman obviously made a strong presentation. Things didn't work out, but it wasn't like they lost Kelly to another NFL team. He got homesick and decided to stay at Oregon. There will be some people who might question if the Eagles met all of his demands, but I tend to doubt there were sticking points like that. He met with the Bills and Browns. Buffalo quickly realized they had no shot. The Browns had their hopes up on Saturday, but on Sunday turned to play the spin game and said that they had decided to look around. Yeah, right. Kelly made it clear the choices were Philly or Oregon. If this was simply a case of demands, I think the Browns would have given Kelly just about anything he wanted. The Eagles didn't come across that desperate, but they absolutely wanted him very badly and were willing to go a long way to make things work.
Where do things go from here?
Think in obvious terms. The Eagles flat out pursued Kelly. That wasn't a coaching search so much as a coaching chase. There are no more big time targets. The Eagles go from chase mode to search mode. They'll actually start interviewing candidates in a more traditional way. With Kelly, you were making a sale pitch as much as interviewing him.
The three big names right now are Mike McCoy, Jay Gruden, and Gus Bradley. The Eagles have also asked for permission to talk to Bruce Arians, but I tend to think that is more of a longshot. Arians is 60-years old. He missed the Colts playoff game on Sunday after being rushed to the hospital. While Arians has a good track record, he's not compelling. I'm sure the Eagles will meet with him to make sure they're not overlooking a great candidate, but I'd be very surprised if Arians came close to getting the job.
The Eagles did meet with McCoy on Sunday. The meeting didn't last nine hours. There wasn't the same vibe as the Kelly circus. We don't yet know any details of how things did go. McCoy's team, the Broncos, will play this upcoming weekend in the playoffs. The Eagles don't have to rush a decision on him.
Gruden's Bengals lost on Saturday. The Cincinnati offense didn't have a good game. If that's all you knew of Gruden, you'd want no part of him. Gruden does have a good track record and is worth talking to. He is a former quarterback that has coached in the Arena League and UFL. He knows how to be a head coach. He has been a successful NFL assistant. The Eagles hope to meet with Gruden this week.
Bradley is the hot name with Eagles fans right now. A lot of people watched the Seattle defense smother the Skins offense and win a road playoff game on Sunday. Washington scored 14 points and had just 203 yards of offense. Go hire Bradley now...right? Maybe. Seattle has been a terrific defense in the last two seasons, finishing in the Top 10 in point and yards in both years. That is a really good group. Bradley has done a great job.
That said, people getting caught up in Sunday's win are missing some obvious points. RG3 and the Skins were red hot early on. They scored both touchdowns in the first quarter. They gained 134 yards in the first quarter. Then RG3 got hurt. He threw for 16 yards the rest of the game, before being benched in the fourth quarter. RG3 could not push off with his legs properly and his passes sailed high time after time. He was very limited as a runner. I'm sure Bradley would have made some good adjustments, but the Skins offense getting completely shutdown had more to do with RG3's knee than Seattle's defense.
The Eagles have asked for permission to talk to Bradley. They have to see about working out the logistics of the meeting, but you can bet they'll find a way to talk to him. Bradley has a strong reputation. It is perceived that Lurie would prefer an offensive coach, but you don't want to limit your options and pass on a really good candidate just because he has a different background than you were hoping for. Bradley has done great work with building Seattle's defense with mostly young players. Even better, it isn't loaded with just first round stars. Bradley has developed mid-rounders, late rounders, and even undrafted guys. The Seahawks defense is full of overachievers, and that is one of the best compliments you can give to a coach.
With Kelly off the radar, the Eagles could decide to look at some other guys. Lovie Smith is available. Ken Whisenhunt too. Both guys guided a team to the Super Bowl. Defensive coordinators Mike Zimmer and Ray Horton are still on the open market. There are offensive assistants like Pete Carmichael, Ben McAdoo, and Tom Clements out there.
There is no rush right now. The sweepstakes type of candidates are gone. This is truly a coaching search now. Lurie did well in his first two searches, despite missing on top guys. We'll see if that trend continues.