Assessing the appeal of the Eagles job

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
10:15
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The initial reaction in Philadelphia to Chip Kelly's decision to stay at the University of Oregon instead of jumping to the NFL to coach the Philadelphia Eagles seems to be trending toward disdain. This guy doesn't have the guts to make the leap, if he doesn't want us we don't want him, that kind of stuff. And that's fine. You don't want to love without being loved back. Fair enough.

But it's pretty clear the Eagles did want Kelly, or else they wouldn't have spent as much time with him Saturday as they did. If they didn't really want him, they would have done what the Browns did early Sunday when Kelly was dithering and simply taken themselves out of the running. But they did want him, and so they waited all Sunday (while, yes, continuing their search with other candidates just in case) until he made the decision they feared he'd make, and now they move on to Plan B or C or whatever-letter-plan this is.

It's not devastating, but it does call into question the desirability of the Eagles' head coaching job, especially for people with cushier alternatives. You can convince yourself, if you like, that it was Phil Knight's Nike money that lured Kelly back to college, but I don't buy that. Kelly always knew he could count on Knight paying up to keep him. If what he wanted was to stay he wouldn't have been playing footsie with the NFL since October the way he did. No, you have to believe that the reason Kelly didn't take an NFL job this time around is that he didn't find the one he wanted. That the Eagles (and the Browns) were unable to sell him on the appeal of their job over the one he already has.

And that gets to the root of something I've been discussing on here and on Twitter for the past week. The Eagles' head coaching job is not some dream opportunity for which the cream of the coaching crop is going to climb all over itself. There are multiple red flags that could turn off highly qualified candidates and likely will end up forcing the Eagles to take a chance on an unproved coordinator. To wit:
  • Whoever takes the job will have to figure out a messy and unsettled quarterback situation. Michael Vick appears out, as the Eagles won't take him back at his current salary. It's possible the next coach likes him and convinces him to renegotiate and stay. It's possible the next coach sees something akin to what Andy Reid saw in Nick Foles and decides to develop and build around him. But neither is a guarantee, and neither offers any kind of stability. This is the first and biggest problem for any coach who comes to Philadelphia -- answering the question of who's going to play quarterback.
  • The new coach will inherit something of a rebuilding project on defense, as well. The Eagles look strong up front on the defensive line, and in DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks they have more at linebacker than they did a year ago. But the secondary could stand to be replaced wholesale, and beyond that the past few years have been a sloppy stew of changing and conflicting schemes and philosophies. Whoever takes the job will need somebody to build and run a defense for him.
  • The Eagles have a GM in place. Howie Roseman is clearly owner Jeffrey Lurie's guy, and Lurie is looking for a coach who will work with Roseman while both GM and coach report directly to Lurie. This is not an ideal situation for a coach, like Kelly for instance, who may believe he requires a certain amount of control in order to install the program he wants to install. Whoever takes the job is going to have to accept Roseman as a fact of life and be willing to have certain personnel matters decided by someone other than himself.
  • Finally, there is the pressure. Kelly is an icon at Oregon -- a program-builder who can do no wrong in the eyes of the fan base. For better or for worse, the fan base of the Philadelphia Eagles does not genuflect. To anyone. Whoever takes this job is going to have to accept working under some of the most intense (and yes, quite often unreasonable) pressure in the sports world. There may be a coach out there who gets energized by such an idea. But a guy who's already got a sweet, high-paying college gig or a sweet, high-paying TV gig is likely going to look at what coaches and players go through in that market and decide he doesn't need it in his life.

Someone's going to coach the Eagles. There are only 32 of these jobs in the world and only five of them are currently open. There are plenty of hungry coordinators and assistants who are dying to try their hand at any NFL job someone will offer them. The Eagles will continue to interview and consider and think this through, and ultimately they'll pick someone and hope, honestly, he can do as good a job as their last coach did. Better, actually, since the day-one mandate in Philadelphia will be to win a Super Bowl.

But if you thought the glitterati of the coaching ranks was going to be snaking a line around the NovaCare Complex begging for a chance to run the Eagles for the next few years, the process so far should show you that this job comes with a few more warts than you may have thought it did.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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