The boats were burned in January. Chip Kelly has been an NFL coach ever since — or, as he joked this week, a pro coach eight times this season and not the other six games.
Kelly came from Oregon with a quick wit and a quick tongue, but he’s also been a quick study. The Eagles enter Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears with an 8-6 record, in first place in the NFC East, and a home playoff date ready to be scheduled for the first weekend in January depending upon how they close the season.
You won’t find Kelly or anyone within the NovaCare Complex publicly expressing surprise about this scenario, but it’s a welcome position for an organization that wasn’t looking for a quick fix. Yet Kelly’s jump to the NFL, where he had never spent a day before agreeing to come to Philadelphia, has not required a long or painful transition.
"If you didn’t know his background as a college coach, you would think he’s been in the NFL for a long time," general manager Howie Roseman said this week. "It hasn’t seemed like he’s had a roadblock on any of those things in a transition from college to the NFL."
Time allocated to recruiting is now devoted to football. Kelly said December was more hectic in college than in the NFL. From Sunday night to Friday afternoon, he was "planes, trains, and automobiles" on the recruiting trail, and would fit practices in on weekends.
The biggest difference in the NFL has been the parity. There was more disparity between Oregon and Colorado than the Eagles and the Vikings, as Kelly realized in a 48-30 loss last week.
"I had a good understanding of what the league was all about, was prepared for it," Kelly said. "I think the difference between the college and the pros is that every single week is a challenge."
Kelly said that he "didn’t write the narrative" created about him, and all he wants to do is score points. He’s won with quarterback Nick Foles, who was drafted to play in a conventional NFL offense. Past Pro Bowlers are having career seasons.
Kelly took an NFL roster and figured out how to make it work. Those who know him say it’s the same approach taken as offensive coordinator at New Hampshire or leading Oregon. But the difference in the NFL is he’s trying to do it against Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson and Patrick Peterson.
"You’ve got to come to play every week," Kelly said. "But in terms of a surprise, nothing that’s really come out that’s been like, well, I didn’t think that was ever going to be that way."
The NovaCare Complex was not always as rosy as it’s been this month. The Eagles were 3-5 entering a two-game road swing that started Nov. 3 against the Oakland Raiders. They had not scored an offensive touchdown in two weeks. And then they played their best game of a season — a 49-20 win that propelled a five-game winning streak.
Kelly mentioned the team’s approach at 3-5 after last Sunday’s loss. He referenced it again on Monday and repeated it on Wednesday. There was something about that week that resonated with Kelly.
"Just their consistency in terms of how they approached it," Kelly said on Thursday. "They don’t really pay attention to outside noise or whatever. Just they came to work every day, and the same way they came to work when we first got here, and the same way they came to work this week."
Kelly maintains overwhelmingly strict adherence to the "one-week season" cliché. After wins, he recites, "one down, one to go." Kelly started thinking about the Vikings game as he left the field after a Dec. 8 win over the Detroit Lions. His joy is in the process.
Approaching the Raiders game, he emphasized that everything the team wanted to accomplish that season was still within their grasp.
"When you get to 3-5 and you’re going on the road, you understand if you don’t pick up, you’re going to be on the outside looking in come January," center Jason Kelce said. "But it wasn’t like there was a letdown of energy. If anything, we picked it up more knowing the window of opportunity was getting shorter and shorter."
Quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor said the Raiders game was the best example of what the Eagles worked on in practice during the week being applied to the game. Players still remember how spirited practice was that week.
"You would have thought we won our last three games by the way we practiced," guard Todd Herremans said.
In the front office, there was never concern about Kelly. The personnel department knew time was required for adept drafting and responsible signings to replenish the roster. But at 3-5 and with the offense struggling, Roseman said the brass was as convinced of Kelly as the January day when they first meet with him.
"That didn’t change from week-to-week. That didn’t change from month-to-month," Roseman said.
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