By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and The Chris Murray Report
PHILADELPHIA—Perhaps the one question Eagles fans have for Chip Kelly, the Birds new head coach, is will his fast-paced, no-huddle, spread-option offense will be good enough to bring the franchise its first Super Bowl title?
Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie is hoping that Kelly can turn the Birds fortune’s around as quickly as he did during his four seasons at Oregon. While with the Ducks, Kelly compiled a 46-7 record, which included a trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship game. He also served as the team’s offensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job.
“Chip Kelly will be an outstanding head coach for the Eagles,” said Lurie in a statement released by the team. “He has a brilliant football mind. He motivates his team with his actions as well as his words. He will be a great leader for us and will bring a fresh energetic approach to our team.”
Kelly does have a tough act to follow after former Birds head coach Andy Reid, who finished his 14-year tenure as the winningest coach in Eagles history with nine playoff appearances, six division titles, five trips to the NFC title game and one conference title.
After interviewing with the Eagles for over nine hours in Arizona shortly after his team’s victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl two weeks ago, Kelly had originally opted to stay at Oregon. Why he apparently changed his mind is not known.
There is speculation that Oregon maybe facing NCAA sanctions because Kelly used a recruiting service. According to ESPN.com, Kelly said he wasn’t running away from anything and had been cooperating with the NCAA.
In four seasons at Oregon, Kelly’s up-tempo, spread offense averaged 44 points per game. Last season, the Ducks rolled up 49.6 points per game. The Oregon offense is run exclusively from the shotgun formation with the quarterback opting to run, pass or hand it off to a running back usually up the middle of a defense.
It is an offense that requires the quarterback to be mobile and would put him in situations where he would be hit by the defense. Kelly’s challenge will be to make that offense work in a league where the defensive linemen and linebackers are as fast as some running backs. It’s not like the Eagles are going to be playing Washington State or Cal every week.
Several teams around the league use a version of the spread option offense including the Washington Redskins, the New England Patriots, the San Francisco 49ers, the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks.
“It’s starting to form more toward that offense. Anytime you have dual threat quarterback, it puts pressure on the defense that they can do numerous things throwing or running the ball,” said San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James, who played for Kelly at Oregon.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said he’s even learned a thing or two from Kelly’s uptempo offense.
“I was interested to hear how he did it. I would say he expanded it to a different level and it was very interesting to understand what he was doing,” Belichick said. “Certainly I’ve learned a lot from talking to Chip about his experiences with it and how he does it and his procedure and all that.”
Perhaps the ideal quarterback to run Kelly’s version of the spread option could be Michael Vick, the Eagles starting quarterback until late in the season. The only problem is that Vick, while he is still a good runner, has been injury-prone and has committed a large amount of turnovers over the last two seasons.
It’s highly unlikely that the team will bring the 33-yea r-old Vick back simply because they would have to pay him $16 million. The former Virginia Tech’s age and history of injuries is definitely not an incentive for the team to shell out that kind of money.
Meanwhile, Nick Foles, who is your requisite NFL-style drop back quarterback, said he has never played in a read option-spread offense and would prefer to play in a more conventional style. Can Kelly adjust his coaching style to suit what Foles can do as a quarterback? We’ll see.
“I catch myself watching him in awe sometimes. Nick is a hell of a football player. That kid’s a warrior. He’s as good as anyone in the country,” Kelly told a Tucson, Ariz. newspaper after his Ducks beat Arizona in 2011.
One quarterback from the collegiate ranks that could possibly fit Kelly’s system is West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who played in a spread-option offense. He has a strong arm and completed 71 percent of his passes while throwing for 4,205 yards and a career-high 42 touchdown passes during his senior year.
Another thing to consider here is will Kelly be smart enough to surround himself with a coaching staff that’s familiar with the NFL, especially on the defensive side of the ball? For the last two seasons, the Eagles defense has been from mediocre at best to downright awful, especially in the secondary.
Eagles players, via Twitter and the team’s website, are saying they are excited to have Kelly as the new head mentor.
“He’s a brilliant mind. We have a lot of weapons on the Eagles that kind of assimilates to what he was doing at Oregon,” Eagles center Jason Kelce.
If anything, Eagles fans are hoping Kelly can be as successful as a Jimmy Johnson who went from winning national championships at the collegiate level to winning Super Bowls as a pro coach.
The biggest fear is that he could flame out like collegiate coaches Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban, who had their shot in the NFL, but came up miserably short.
ESPN.com and the Associated Press contributed to this story.