INDIANAPOLIS: After listening to Chip Kelly for 24 minutes Thursday, I’m convinced the Browns’ pursuit of the former University of Oregon coach turned out for the best.
For the Browns and for the Philadelphia Eagles, who landed the most prized candidate during January’s eight NFL coaching hires.
I might not be saying that a few years from now if Kelly’s innovative offensive ideas turn the Eagles into a dynasty that wins multiple Super Bowls and the Browns remain one of the dwindling few that have never been to one. That pathetic number now stands at four.
But after seeing Kelly smirk and hearing him repeatedly shoot down the media’s misconceptions about him, I can’t envision any scenario in which Kelly could have co-existed with CEO Joe Banner and vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi.
In fact, I wonder how Kelly and Pat Shurmur, the ex-Browns coach Kelly tabbed as offensive coordinator, will co-exist. (Pat, believe it or not, I feel for you.)
A New Hampshire native, Kelly is clearly an East Coast guy with a dry wit that will play much better in Philadelphia than in Portage Lakes.
Speaking at the podium during the NFL Scouting Combine and afterward in the hallway at Lucas Oil Stadium, he made it clear his choice was between the Eagles and staying at Oregon.
“So my decision ended up being, ‘Am I going to stay with a bunch of players I love coaching and had a tremendous amount of success [with]?’ ” Kelly said. “If I was going to go anywhere, it was going to be Philadelphia. It wasn’t an elimination [of the Browns] or anything, I just thought Philly was the best fit.”
As General Manager Howie Roseman explained, the coach is the Eagles’ sun, their center of the universe. The Browns are a committee of four, including owner Jimmy Haslam, and new coach Rob Chudzinski might be bringing up the rear. Banner has insisted the coach should be the driving force, but such recitations could be rote from Banner’s 19 years in Philadelphia.
“We weren’t so much recruiting as talking, discussing about what we do, how we believe in things, our support of a coach,” Roseman explained when asked how he sold Kelly on the Eagles. “That’s what we are. I feel like my main job is to be the coach’s GM and to get them the players they need to be successful. That’s important to us. Our owner feels that’s very important, that he’s there for our head coach. We felt that way when coach [Andy] Reid was there … that’s the way the organization is structured.”
That could explain why Banner told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that Kelly was ambivalent and seemed uncertain what he wanted to do, even as he and Haslam spent a reported seven hours with him in Arizona on Jan. 4, the day after Kelly’s Ducks won the Fiesta Bowl.
Even if Kelly wasn’t serious, a dinner meeting that was to include Browns attorneys was supposedly set for the next night, a Saturday. On Friday, Ian Rapaport of the NFL Network reported that a deal between Kelly and the Browns was close.
“Erroneous,” Kelly said Thursday, adding, “That was a quote from Wedding Crashers.”
Aficionados of the movie might beg to differ on the actual quote. So, too, might the Browns in regard to what transpired. But by Saturday, Kelly was immersed in a reported nine-hour marathon interview with the Eagles and never got back to the Browns. By Sunday, the Browns had taken themselves out of the running, fearing the risk Kelly brought, especially after he backed away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job a year ago.
Kelly spurned the Eagles as well, announcing he was staying at Oregon, then changing his mind and choosing the NFL 10 days later.
“I just thought for me the Eagles was the best opportunity,” Kelly said. “I was really excited when I met Howie and [owner] Jeff Lurie and [president] Don [Smolenski] and the group of people there. It was the right fit for me.”
Kelly declined to elaborate and he could be doing the Browns a favor, especially if the interview left him with a less-than-favorable impression of Banner. But there seems good reason for the Browns to be skeptical.
Some of the things Kelly said Thursday seemed farfetched, especially the notion that he and Shurmur “seemed to hit it off right away.” Kelly later insisted he hasn’t decided who will call the plays during his rookie NFL season.
“We haven’t finalized any of that stuff,’ Kelly said.
“Could be you,” Kelly said to a television newsman positioned squarely in front of him.
“That would be scary,” the man replied.
“Great confidence, so you’re out,” Kelly fired back.
Perhaps such jousting was all in fun, Kelly’s way of ingratiating himself with those who will be lapping at his every word.
But the impression Kelly left on me was one of a coach who knows he has become the master of his domain and is ready to milk it for all it’s worth. Aside from Kelly’s football beliefs, nothing genuine seemed to surface, nothing like the Browns found in Toledo-raised Chudzinski, who sat outside in the snow watching a TV in the window to simulate the Dawg Pound experience.
I realize multiple Super Bowl victories on Kelly’s watch could make me eat these words: Philadelphia, you can have him.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.