Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has fired coach Chip Kelly with only one game left to go in the 2015 season.
Jeffrey Lurie is well known for not being well known. The product of a wealthy Jewish family from New England has been reluctant to share any personal details, including his religion and upbringing, in the 21 years since purchasing the Philadelphia Eagles from Norman Braman. By all accounts, though, Judaism has been a part of it only from the periphery, including the raising of his children.
“He didn’t feel strongly about it,” his then wife Christina Weiss Lurie told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2010 — he has since married Tina Lai. “I think he feels culturally Jewish, and he loves some of the holidays, like Passover. But that’s about as far as the religious education went.”
How ironic, then, that Tuesday night, Jeffrey Lurie sent the Philadelphia area reeling with the announcement he was letting his own Moses — the man he personally lobbied to take the long-suffering team and its fans to the Promised Land of a Super Bowl championship, controversial head coach Chip Kelly — go! The former Oregon coach, whom Lurie allowed to usurp complete control of the organization — and who proceeded to decimate the roster in the process — was unceremoniously “released” with one game remaining in a disastrous 6-9 season, Kelly’s third with the Eagles.
Wednesday, before a packed auditorium in the Eagles NovaCare complex, Lurie stood up on what essentially became his day of atonement. “This was really a three-year evaluation,” Lurie explained during a 22-minute press conference in which he attempted to justify his decision without being overly critical of Kelly. “Where are we headed? What is the trajectory, the progress — or lack thereof? And what did I anticipate for the foreseeable future? That’s why the decision was made. It’s never just one thing when you make a change. It’s a combination of so many factors.”
But the 64-year-old Lurie stopped short of saying the hiring was a mistake, justifying it as a “bold choice” that simply didn’t pan out.
“We knew the potential pitfalls,” he acknowledged. “He was our first choice. I hate to be risk-averse. I don’t ever want to operate that way, whether it’s acquiring a player or picking a head coach. One of the things when you make a bold choice is that there’s increased risk. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out when you take risks.”
Coming off successive 10-6 seasons, Kelly was handed full authority to run the organization and make whatever player moves he saw fit coming into the current season. Meanwhile, general manager Howie Roseman was reassigned to a more administrative position.
But in another biblical parallel, after being cast out in favor of the interloper, Roseman now returns, having essentially been reinstated. In fact, he’ll serve on the search committee — alsongide Lurie and team president Don Smolenski — that will pick the next coach. Roseman was not made available to comment about returning to his previous role.
Unlike most Eagles fans stunned by the news — especially with it happening before the end of the season, longtime Eagles radio play-by-play man, Merrill Reese, did not seem terribly surprised. “I didn’t know when, but I thought something was going to happen,” said Reese, who was profiled in the Oct. 1 edition of the Jewish Exponent. “The first time I started thinking about it was on the flight home from Detroit after they’d been embarrassed [by a 45-17 score] on national TV on Thanksgiving Day. I said to myself, ‘I wonder what the owner’s thinking?’ And then last week, when they were playing to keep their playoff hopes alive, they kept making the most fundamental mistakes. Anyone can drop a pass or fumble. But when you line up improperly and seem in disarray most of the time, there’s something wrong.”
With speculation on Kelly’s successor already underway, Reese said he’s intrigued by current Stanford coach David Shaw, who, unlike Kelly, has a substantial NFL background going back to the time he worked as the Eagles’ quality control specialist.
Channel 6 sportscaster Jeff Skversky, another of the many Jewish members of the media in attendance Wednesday, also had some interesting insights. In a Sept. 23 Exponent profile, Skversky had expressed less optimism for the upcoming season than most of his colleagues, predicting a season ranging from 8-8 to 11-5.
He found no pleasure in being vindicated. “It doesn’t work when you make so many player changes in the NFL, drastic changes to so many skill positions and starters,” he said shortly before the press conference. “When you think about any new job you take, you’re not going to be comfortable for a while until you get relaxed. That’s why I didn’t think they were going to be as successful as everyone thought. I was hoping I was wrong, because this isn’t fun. I’m just surprised in the one year Chip had control, what he’s done.”
As for the common perception that Kelly is gone largely because his players didn’t like him, Skversky doesn’t buy it. “Talking to players I know off the record, I don’t feel they had a lot of love for the guy,” conceded Skversky. “No one loved playing for Chip but how many love [New England Patriots head coach] Bill Belichick — or love their boss, period? It’s part of the business.”
It’s a business Jeffrey Lurie said he’s already trying to fix by going straight to his players to find out what went wrong so that it doesn’t happen again. “He probably should’ve done it earlier,” said ESPN NFL Insider, Adam Caplan, a native of Cheltenham. “But I applaud him for doing it now, because he can take that into account when interviewing the next head coach. He sort of has an idea what today’s players want, which is very important. It’s hard for an owner. They’re very removed and much older than their players.”
The process has already begun, with Jeffrey Lurie at center stage flanked by Roseman and Smolenski — the same trio that selected Kelly in 2013. Together, they’ll search for a new leader, someone who can overcome all the obstacles to make it work.
It won’t be easy. After all, apparently even Moses fumbles.
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