When a team hires a head coach, there are always expectations that the coach is going to change the culture and improve the franchise from the top on down and from the bottom on up.
Through two years, the Minnesota Vikings have been very pleased with the changes Mike Zimmer and his staff have made. Those changes have been significant, but, to date, have been successful and have the Vikings looking forward with nothing but positivity that the organization is on the uptick and their 2015 claim on the NFC North title will be the first of many to come.
But, other franchises don’t have it as well … not by a long shot.
On Monday, we saw the final implosion of the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia. Kelly, like many new head coaches that get hired annually, had earned a solid résumé somewhere else and was making his first jump to being an NFL head coach.
Zimmer had to wait 25 years to get his shot after being a very successful assistant coach. His wait was longer than most who aspire to ascend to the chair at the head of the table. But it’s seemingly inevitable when an organization enjoys success. The Cincinnati Bengals enjoyed regular-season success and the result has been that, in the span of the last two years, the Bengals have lost both their defensive coordinator (Zimmer) and two of their offensive coordinators (Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson) to head coaching positions.
For the organizations that hired them – Minnesota, Washington and Cleveland – the hope was that they would provide the blueprint for sustained success. But the fact of the matter is that you never know how things are going to turn out.
In the case of Kelly, it seemed the handwriting was on the wall almost from the day the Mad Genius of Oregon arrived in Philly and the blueprint was provided for exactly what not to do.
When Kelly arrived in Philadelphia, he was following in the footsteps of Andy Reid. He had been the Eagles coach for 14 seasons and, while his teams had enjoyed some success, it wasn’t enough to sustain the fickle Philly fan base and it was deemed that the message Reid was sending wasn’t being heard.
The Eagles opted to roll the dice on the biggest risk/reward coaching hire of 2013 when they brought in Kelly and the systematic dismantling of the team was epic and a cautionary tale for other franchises to learn from and never – ever – repeat.
One thing that Reid was noted for was having an eye for offensive talent and playmakers. Among those he had amassed prior to being fired was a solid game-managing quarterback in Nick Foles, a go-to running back in LeSean McCoy and a pair of playmaking wide receivers – the explosive DeSean Jackson and the dependable Jeremy Maclin.
One of the first big moves Kelly oversaw was to get rid of Jackson. Not trading him. Cutting him … and allowing him to sign with division rival Washington without any compensation. As he monopolized power within the organization over the past year-and-change, things got worse.
He allowed Maclin to leave via free agency and reunite with Reid, while re-signing unpopular teammate Riley Cooper (see YouTube).
He wanted Marcus Mariota in the draft, but there was no way he was going to be available. There was word that he could get the ammunition to move up to get him by trading Foles and a draft pick for Sam Bradford, arguably one of the most overpaid-versus-production players of his generation.
The Rams were actually looking for a way out of Bradford’s grossly overpriced contract and not only got a younger, cheaper, not-as-fragile replacement, but had some draft swag thrown in. The only rationale that analysts could make was that Kelly was supplying the ammunition for a deal that would help him land Mariota.
It didn’t happen.
Then there was the running back conundrum. In his first season in Philly, McCoy led the NFL in rushing.
He had to go.
It took a year to accomplish, but Kelly traded McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonzo, who was coming off of a serious injury. McCoy’s production had gone down because he was sharing time with Kelly signee Darren Sproles. McCoy was miffed about the time share and was shipped out.
McCoy was replaced by the reigning rushing champ DeMarco Murray. Apparently Kelly was the only coach who consistently limits a defending rushing champion because he did it twice. Not only was Sproles cutting into his time, so was the curious signing of Ryan Mathews, who seemed like an unnatural free agent fit. Anywhere else, that is, than Planet Chip.
The biggest free agent splash Kelly made was to add a defender he was familiar with – Seattle safety Byron Maxwell. Kelly broke the bank bartering the deal. The six years and $63 million were the numbers that leapt off the page, but so was that $25 million of the contract that was guaranteed.
Maxwell didn’t live up to the investment and Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman was willing to take an $8.5 million one-time dead money cap hit to jettison him.
A funny thing happened to the House That Chip Built. While the negotiating period is going on with free agents, the Eagles went above board to distance themselves from the Kelly era.
In the span of one sunrise to sunset in South Philly, Murray, Maxwell and Alonso were all traded away to the AFC (Miami and Tennessee). This is unprecedented and the reason why the nature of a coaching staff and a locker room is so vital to the short-term and long-term health of a franchise.
Two years into the Zimmer era, Minnesota has no complaints. Three years into the Kelly era, there is scorched earth smoldering in Philadelphia.
Whenever a team hires a new coach and goes in an alternate philosophical direction, they’re taking a risk. For every Bill Belichick there are dozens of Nick Sabans and Bobby Petrinos.
The Vikings are happy with their decision. The Eagles, quite clearly, are attempting to cleanse their organizational palate of any vestige that Kelly was there.
Several other organizations will learn from the blueprints Minnesota and Philadelphia laid out. They will be analyzed critically and, in Zimmer’s case, if the current trend of success continues, his coaching roster will eventually be pilfered by other organizations, much in the same way Marvin Lewis had to start hiring replacements.
In the curious case of Kelly, the only place that would consider giving him a second chance to “ground zero” a franchise is San Francisco, which thought it caught a genie in the bottle with Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh and an in-house coaching coup.
While Vikings fans are getting their postseason hopes up, 49ers fans are getting their popcorn ready and Eagles fans are calling FEMA.
No doubt Minnesota has it the best of the three.