Were The Eagles Right to Fire Chip Kelly?

 In Blog, Chip Kelly, Coaching, Eagles

Several months ago, I saw a Facebook post about how “dumb” the Philadelphia Eagles were for firing Chip Kelly after just three seasons. I was born and raised in Philly, and as such feel the need to defend my hometown Birds.

I responded to the original post. A few other guys chimed in. Before I knew it, the conversation had become a full-blown Facebook argument. All these guys believed that the Eagles should not have fired Chip Kelly, mostly because they feel that NFL teams ought to be more patient with their head coaches.

Listen, I get their point. I truly do.

We all have seen teams like the Browns recycle through head coaches. It seems like the Browns change coaches more frequently than I change the oil in my Bimmer.

There’s definitely something to be said about stability in leadership. We’d all love our favorite franchise to be like the Steelers, whom have hired only three coaches since 1969, which by the way is the same amount the Browns have hired since 2011.

I am an Eagles fan. I’ve watched almost every Eagles game since the late 1980’s when Randall Cunningham was the QB and Buddy Ryan roamed the sidelines leading his vaunted “46” defense. I want the Eagles to do the right thing, but just because I like them doesn’t mean they’re always right. In fact, they are often wrong!

So, after the Facebook argument was over (and after the friendships were fractured), I set out to examine the situation. I asked myself, “Are those guys right? Should the Eagles have stuck with Chip Kelly?”

And more importantly, should NFL teams be willing to wait longer? I dove into the stats and history. Let’s examine what I found.

 

When the news about Chip Kelly being fired, I was sort of torn.

Kelly did demonstrate some innovative offensive concepts that were hard for opponents to defend. And his special teams were typically amongst the best in the NFL in all three seasons he was the head coach.

But the more I thought about the situation as whole, and the more I looked at some historical trends, the more I realized that it was clearly the right move for the Eagles to move on from Kelly, sooner rather than later.

I could spend a chunk of time in this article giving you a myriad of specific reasons why the Eagles were right to fire Chip Kelly. There is a significant list of valid complaints about both his schemes and his leadership style.

That’s not the main goal of this article, but here are just a few quick items:

  • Kelly’s teams had terrible defenses (Last time I checked, head coaches are responsible for both sides of the ball, right?)
  • The offense was in the bottom third of the league for the past season and a half (it became obvious that defensive coordinators figured him out)
  • The Eagles consistently came out flat in the first quarter of many games (bad preparation)
  • They have been one of the worst Red zone teams in NFL
  • They have also been one of the worst short yardage teams over the last three years
  • Kelly had many extremely toxic relationships with players, assistant coaches, and scouts; several reports have come out about the toxic culture of the Eagles since Kelly took over
  • Kelly made several AWFUL personnel/GM moves (this was so bad that his GM moves by themselves would be enough to get him fired)
  • Kelly has a Sub-.500 record against playoff-qualifying teams (couldn’t consistently beat good teams); and he wasn’t great against good teams in big game while at Oregon either

I think it’s obvious that Kelly struggled.

I am of the opinion that Chip Kelly could potentially be a great offensive coordinator in the NFL, but at current time his skills as a head coach are lacking.

However, instead of just talking about Chip Kelly in this article, I think we’re better suited today if we spend our time evaluating all pro football coaches throughout history with similar resumes.

I think history will teach us more than this specific situation could ever teach us.

So, could a coach like Chip Kelly potentially have led the Eagles to the Super Bowl?

Here’s what I did… I looked at all the head coaches for every NFL/AFL franchise since 1960.

(NOTE: I know many studies like this typically use the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 as their starting point. I actually started there, but found that a lot of head coaches from the 1950’s and 1960’s coached in the AFL before the merger and then coached into the 1970’s after the merger. Their coaching records seemed applicable to this study, so it made sense to go back to 1960 when the AFL started)

Here’s what I found…

  • There have been 379 head coaches in NFL/AFL since 1960 (this number specifically does NOT include interim head coaches after a mid-season firing, unless the team retained that coach as its head coach the following season)
  • 120 of those head coaches have coached 2 full seasons and then the majority of a 3rd season (or more) without even one single playoff win

REVIEW: 120 coaches. 3 seasons with ZERO playoff wins.

Okay. What did we find? ONLY 1 of those 120 eventually won a championship with the team they first coached.

ONE!

Only ONE out of 120… that’s less than one percent (0.83% to be precise)

Who was the one?

Chuck Noll with the Steelers.

He was the single outlier. He didn’t win a playoff game in his first three years with the Steelers but then he won his first Super Bowl in year #4. As we all know, they won four Super Bowls in six years.

What did it take for Noll to be an outlier? Terry Bradshaw and multiple Hall of Famers on both the offense and the defense.

We must ask the question: Could Chip Kelly have been an outlier? Um… Honestly, has anything Chip Kelly done led you to believe that he will be as good of a coach as Chuck Noll? Is there anything about the Eagles this year that leads you to believe that they have multiple future Hall of Fame players on both offense and defense?

The answers to these questions are abundantly clear to anyone who has actually watched this team play for the past three years.

Chip Kelly certainly had some impressive offensive success in the NFL in his first season and a half. His teams put up some big numbers and he was able to lead them to two 10-win seasons, even with some mediocre QB’s like Mike Vick, Nick Foles, and Mark Sanchez.

I’m not trying to discount the success that Kelly did have in Philadelphia. But he didn’t win a playoff game in three years. And NFL/AFL history suggests that he’d need to be a very special coach and have a Hall of Fame QB in order to eventually win a title with the Eagles.

There is ZERO evidence that Chip Kelly could be a 1-in-120 type of coach. Nothing points to Kelly being as special as Chuck Noll.

So, if a team has had an NFL head coach for 3+ years and they haven’t won even one playoff game… well, then I couldn’t fault that team for finding a different head coach.

 

EARLY SUCCESS MEANS LONG TERM SUCCESS

When we look at all championship caliber coaches, we see that most were able to win playoff games early in their careers.

Since 1960, there have been 39 different head coaches to win an NFL or AFL championship. Of those, 35 of them won a playoff game within their first three seasons as a head coach.

35 out of 39… that’s nearly 90%

 

IT IS HARD TO WIN A TITLE NO MATTER WHAT

One other comment that was made in the Facebook argument was the idea that winning a Super Bowl is hard and therefore my stats and trends didn’t mean anything.

Here’s one quote: “Kenny, all you have proven is that winning the Super Bowl is hard. You haven’t proved that Chip Kelly can’t win a Super Bowl.”

Yes, I agree. Winning a title is very hard. No doubt. There’s only one Super Bowl every year, with 32 teams competing for it. Being a champ is tough to do. Since 1960, only 39 out of 356 NFL/AFL coaches have won a championship. That’s less than 11%. The odds are certainly against all head coaches.

But if your coach can’t win at least one playoff game in first three seasons, he needs to transcend the historical trend of only 3.3%. If your coach does not win a playoff game in his first three years in the league, the chances that he will ever win a championship go down by nearly 70%.

 

CONCLUSION

The trend has survived more than five decades of pro football. If a coach can’t win several playoff games early in his career he is highly unlikely to ever win a Super Bowl. And even if he is good enough to transcend the historical trend, he needs an elite QB.

The goal for every team should always be to win a Super Bowl. When you hire a head coach, it should be because you honestly believe he may have what it takes to lead your franchise to the “promised land.”

As soon as you believe he no longer has the ability to do that, then it’s time to move on. If it is ever determined, by an owner or GM, that any particular head coach cannot win a title (or that  he is highly unlikely to win it), then I believe it is best for that team to simply move on from that coach and start over with someone else.

Chip Kelly fit that bill.

Firing Chip Kelly was the right move. History proves it.