Buddy Ryan was preparing his team for war. So it was odd that for a few cold, winter weeks in December 1988, the Philadelphia Eagles called Phoenix home. Buddy had planned the trip at the beginning of the season as a reward for clinching the playoffs, but by the time the team had played the Cardinals in Phoenix, the Eagles had not clinched a playoff spot and the sojourn was still scheduled. So the hell with it, thought Buddy. The team remained in Phoenix and was given an 11PM curfew, just like in training camp. They practiced at Phoenix East High School before playing Dallas in the season finale, and after clinching a berth, the team practiced there again when preparing for their divisional playoff game in Chicago. The Eagles were 0-11 against the Bears in Chicago, and Buddy wanted to beat the Bears.
Buddy's team was confident and had swagger. When he became coach two years earlier, he released many established veterans. He wanted his team to have his players. With guys like Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Keith Jackson, and Randall Cunningham, now it did. He wasn't the only former Bear on the Eagles coaching staff. Jeff Fisher was a defensive back for the Bears and became the defensive backs coach for the Eagles. According to Fisher, "Philadelphia's a team to be reckoned with. I'd rather go to war with a young team that's going in the right direction than a team that's been there before."
Football is often analogous with the tactics, strategies, and art of war. Undoubtedly many franchise owners, presidents, general managers and coaches have read The Art of War by ancient Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu. After the Eagles announced the hiring of Chip Kelly, I'm beginning to think Howie Roseman has as well. The manner in which Kelly's name retreated from many teams' searches reeks of a Tzu-like deception: "Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him." Reports leaked that Roseman himself was seen as a roadblock to any high profile coaching target. Local and national media reported regularly that Roseman was an unproven general manager, a money man not worth entrusting with the responsibility of providing talent. This baited belief lulled other teams into a false sense of security. Ten days ago reports surfaced indicating Chip Kelly would remain as head coach of Oregon. Since then, the Eagles continued interviewing candidates and seemed prepared to offer the job to Seahawks defensive coordinator and Monte Kiffen protégé Gus Bradley, to the near euphoric excitement of a fan base initially intrigued by a potential Kelly hire. As reports of Kelly's disinterest in the NFL surfaced, other pro teams that also expressed some interest in Kelly (Cleveland, Chicago, and Buffalo), began hiring from further down their candidate lists. Then, the Eagles feigned disorder by letting Gus Bradley go to Jacksonville with no reported job offer. As a result, there was a social media furor. Not only was Roseman serving as a roadblock, he was downright incompetent. Yet during this time, no one other than Roseman was talking to Chip Kelly and a few hours after Gus Bradley boarded a plane for Jacksonville, the Eagles announced Kelly as their head coach. The hammer had fallen.
Buddy Ryan was often too brazen for deception, content with telling you what he was going to do, how he was going to do it, just try and stop him. It may be a small reason why his Eagles team left Phoenix for Chicago and eventually lost to the Bears on what became the foggiest day in sports history. But Howie Roseman just proved that he can be a strategist, a tactician, a solid arranger of chess pieces, and maybe a little foggy in his own right, a man capable of smoke screens. If he and Kelly are working from a playbook written nearly 2500 years ago, then expect them to follow this Tzu-ism: "These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand." In other words, expect Roseman and Kelly never to tip their collective hand. Regardless, Kelly has never been here before, so he better head in the right direction.
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