Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The old college try

Another day, another failed adventure in taking what works on a college campus and trying to cut-and-paste it into the modern NFL.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly is gone this morning, suddenly, a game shy of three years into an experiment that seemed iffy from the jump. And the list of successful college coaches who foundered beneath the Shield grows by one more.

Welcome to the junk heap, Coach Kelly. You'll recognize a few people, we're guessing.

Yes, that is Lou Holtz over there. And Steve Spurrier. And Nick Saban. And, sure, maybe even Jim Harbaugh, who did manage to get the 49ers to the Super Bowl before all that rah-rah college intensity burned out his players and wore out his welcome with management.

Now he's back in academia at Michigan, and seems yea more comfortable there. And so it will be, too, you've got to figure, with Kelly.

There's still a chance some NFL team will take a flyer on him, intrigued by his offensive genius (which proved to be more theoretical than applied in Philly). But there are a ton of juicy college jobs dangling right now like low-hanging fruit. So if you're a betting man, you'd be better off betting he winds up in College Station or Austin or some other college town before he winds up in, say, Indianapolis.

He did win some games in Philly -- his record there was 26-21 -- but there was never the big breakthrough some predicted for him, and a lot of that was his own doing. That the Eagles put him not only on the sideline but in charge of personnel, too, was absurd on its face, because being an NFL GM is no job for an intern. And that's essentially what Kelly was.

He had zero experience at it and it showed in the moves he made, some of which were merely curious and some of which were plainly ridiculous. To run his up-tempo spread offense, he brought in Sam Bradford, a pocket passer with surgical knees who was perhaps the quarterback least suited to it. Then he got rid of every wideout capable of stretching the field. Then he shipped off LeSean McCoy and brought in DeMarco Murray, a push at best (and, actually, less than a push).

In the end, all that, plus his apparently imperious ways, lost Kelly his football team. And you could have predicted it. College coaches are used to being the absolute rulers of their particular fiefdoms. The NFL, however, is more of a partnership. It's a league whose most successful coaches don't rule by imperial decree but by getting highly paid employees to buy into a particular culture. No wonder so many big-deal college coaches fail at it -- with the possible exception of Pete Carroll, who, remember, was a pro coach before his star rose at USC.

That's why you have to chuckle when Saban's or Harbaugh's name bubbles to the surface in the speculation over who will replace the apparently outgoing Chuck Pagano in Indy. And why the news out of Philly this week seemed, except perhaps for the timing, somehow inevitable.

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