By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE – Be quick but don’t hurry.
The source of that quote was famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. A deeply religious man, the late Wooden would likely bristle at what I am about to assert, which is that “be quick but don’t hurry” should not only be one of the 10 commandments, but probably one of the top five.
In a world of false idols, it is a truism that transcends the world of sports. If more people followed it – while being careful of not crossing the border between the wise choice of being quick and the fool’s gold found in hurrying – a lot of problems would likely work their way into solutions.
This certainly holds true in the rise and fall of Chip Kelly, who didn’t even last the full five years of his contract as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles – even after taking over a 4-12 team and going 20-12, with a division title, in his first two seasons.
The break-neck, no-huddle offense Kelly made so lethal at Oregon is the obvious example of the difference between being quick and hurrying.
At its best, it ran like a well-oiled machine fueled by coaches and players being so decisive that the opponent could not keep pace. At its worst, the Eagles were unable to keep pace with themselves, becoming their own worst enemy and suffering self-inflicted wounds.
The same quickness that made Kelly 19-9 in his first 28 games turned to the hurrying that made him 7-12 in the last 19 before suffering the ultimate indignity of being fired with a game left in his third season.
It wasn’t so much the style of play that made Kelly’s team go from quick and lethal to hurried and harried, but an unwillingness to pay attention to detail that would have made Wooden cringe.
Known as the “Wizard of Westwood,” Wooden would spend whole practices having his charges lace up their sneakers properly. The reasoning was simple: If one of his high-school Americans, who came to Los Angeles from all corners of the nation, were to trip at key point in a game – hurting themselves and/or the team – he would not have done his due diligence.
Kelly’s Eagles, in a league that demands cohesion, became the antithesis of this approach. The result of what seemed to be a focus of some big picture to prove he is the smartest person in the room turned into a failure to deal with devil that lurks in the details.
The Eagles not only led the league in dropped passes, but were also near the top – or bottom – in penalties, of which many were unforced (false starts, illegal shift, etc.). There were also turnovers, including many in the all-important red zone, where the team was never consistently effective.
Going the other way, Kelly never seemed to care about the pressure he was placing on a defensive unit that wasn’t overly skilled in certain spots – like the vital cornerback position.
If his offense clicked, which it intermittently did, a scoring drive would still only take – at most – two or three minutes off the clock. Not only is that not sufficient time to recharge – particularly as a game wears on and a season wears on – but not enough time to pull together any meaningful adjustments.
And that’s when the offense worked. When it didn’t, a possession would be a matter of seconds, which is not long enough to get to the bench and suck down some Gatorade and even make eye contact with a defensive coach.
The defense missed tackles, missed assignments and dropped a few too many interceptions to keep them in games. For the first half of the 2015 season, the Eagles were near the top of the league in forcing turnovers, getting to the quarterback with sacks and pressures and stuffing the run.
The second half was the polar opposite. The bottom fell out. While no one knows what went on, there was the appearance of quitting, which does not play well in a town that identifies itself more with a fictitious boxer named “Rocky” than its vaunted orchestra.
Kelly was quick in 2013, and took the NFL by storm. But the NFL, for all its blunt force trauma and bottom-line brutality, is quite sophisticated. The league responded, and it was Kelly’s turn to respond back. His solution? Keep doing what he was doing, which equated to hurrying, in lieu of being quick.
We are only left to wonder what would have been had the Eagles huddled up, being able to put opponents back on their heels because they wouldn’t know when the no-huddle was coming (think of the Marv Levy-coached Buffalo Bills that seemed to lose in the Super Bowl every year).
Kelly had the personnel to line up with the quarterback under center, with two tight ends, and pound teams. At any time, he could flip the script. That would have instantly added a second trick to a one-trick pony.
It also would have given his own defense a little bit more of a fighting chance to not be steamrolled by any team with a running back over 220 pounds and willing to give a second effort.
The fact that the Eagles were 7-9 this past season – and not 2-14 – shows they weren’t that far away. All they needed was a bit of ingenuity.
But Kelly does not get all of the blame here. He was an employee, albeit an important one, who had someone signing his checks.
As the Eagles search for his successor, we have to ask if they hurried into hiring him so that another team wouldn’t. And did they hurry into allowing a shift of the draft focus toward players from Oregon or the PAC-12?
Did they fail to be quick, instead hurrying, by granting him full control of personnel before his final season – without any system of checks and balances – as the runaway train that was the Chip Kelly era ran off the tracks with some dubious personnel moves that are too painful to recount again?
We in Eagles Nation must hope that Jeffrey Lurie, who fancies himself as being prudent, also follows the commandment Wooden carved in stone and handed down to anyone charged with pursuing any form of success.
As for Kelly, and where he goes from here, he best be quick about it.
But we have seen enough of his act to realize that this leopard who refused to change his spots will likely continue to hurry.
That’s bad news for him, and whichever pro or college team – or network – that hires him.
The good news for us is that it is not our problem anymore.