By most accounts, Chip Kelly has either met or exceeded expectations. This is because, arguably, he just completed one of the best seasons by a first year head coach in team history. The Philadelphia Eagles own a Pantheon of head coaches and, when looking through the prism of their first seasons, Chip may have bested all of them.
Chip bested the legendary Bert Bell, former NFL commissioner and Hall of Famer. Despite his credentials and influence, Bell led the 1936 Eagles to a 1-11 record in his first year, to this day the team’s worst season in history.
Chip bested Greasy Neale, who brought Philadelphia its first NFL Championship in 1948 and its second in 1949. Neale was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, compiled a record of 63-43-5 in his ten seasons as head coach of the Eagles, and was Coach of the Year in 1948. Yet, he only went 2-8-1 in his first season.
Chip bested Buck Shaw, the coach who brought Philadelphia its third NFL championship (1960) after beating Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, the only time Lombardi lost a championship game. Yet even Shaw finished his first season with a 2-9-1 record. Chip also bested more recent Philadelphia coaching icons: Dick Vermeil, Buddy Ryan, and Andy Reid, three coaches who went a combined 14-31-1 in their first seasons in Philadelphia. Overall, since 1933, Eagles head coaches have compiled a 102-150-8 record during their first year. Applied to a 16-games season, that equates to a 6-10 record. Chip scoffs at such mediocrity.
Speaking of mediocrity, the Eagles have actually had a few successful first seasons from some unlikely candidates. Rich Kotite (who henceforth shall be named, "He, Who Shall Not Be Named") took a team dripping with Buddy Ryan talent and finished his first season with a 10-6 record (thanks in large part to Bud Carson’s defense). It was good for third place in a tough NFC East and did not merit a playoff appearance. In 1995, Ray Rhodes took over for He, Who Shall Not Be Named and also finished his first season 10-6, good for second in the NFC East and worth a wildcard. However, Rhodes was a gimmicky motivator who took "we must protect this house" to a level that grew tiresome with players. (He likened losing at home to someone "breaking into your house, sodomizing your wife and kids." Ahhh, Ray.) But despite the similar records, Chip bested them too. He bested ALL of them.
No other head coach in Eagles’ history finished his first season as NFC East champions. Even Nick Skorich, who took over as head coach of the Eagles after Buck Shaw retired following the 1960 Championship, finished second in the NFC East with a 10-4 record.
No other head coach oversaw an offense that scored 442 points and averaged 27.6 in his first season like Chip did. The closest was Skorich, whose Eagles’ team scored 361 and averaged 25.8 points during a fourteen game season.
And arguably, no other Philadelphia head coach is as fascinating as Chip. Consider, all Chip really needed to do in his first season was not be Andy Reid. Joyfully, mercifully, he wasn’t. He was so much more. Chip showed us that he is excitable, open, and forthcoming, a cocktail of rapid spitfire and snark with a twist of sarcastic humor, the polar vortex to Reid’s dull, dry doldrums. In short, he is a delight (says Ferrell’s Lipton). And, unfairly, he has left us wanting more.
Here’s one of the reasons why. During his first year as head coach at Oregon, Chip led the Ducks to a 10-3 record, a Pac-10 Championship and a Rose Bowl appearance (a 26-17 loss to Ohio State). During his second year at Oregon, Chip went 12-1, won another Pac-10 title but this time went to the BCS Championship game where the Ducks lost to Auburn 22-19 on a last second field goal. If Chip Kelly can take the Oregon Ducks to a national championship game in just his second season as the team’s head coach, where do you think the Eagles could be playing this time next year?
After all, Chip likes to work fast.