August 23, 2014

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Oregon’s Chip Kelly runs option, picks Eagles

PHILADELPHIA — In the end, Chip Kelly chose the NFL, giving the Eagles their guy.

Kelly

He left the Browns shaking their heads.

Philadelphia hired Kelly on Wednesday, just 10 days after he decided to stay at Oregon. The 49-year-old Kelly, known as an offensive innovator, becomes the 21st coach in team history and replaces Andy Reid, who was fired on Dec. 31 after a 4-12 season.

He’ll be introduced at a news conference today at 1:30 p.m. at the Eagles’ practice facility.

Kelly’s decision to leave the Pacific Northwest and make his NFL debut reverberated through Cleveland.

The Browns’ coaching search focused on Kelly in the week after Pat Shurmur was fired Dec. 31. Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner set up camp in Arizona, where Kelly was preparing the Ducks to play in the Fiesta Bowl.

While they waited for Kelly to finish his season, they interviewed other candidates, but Kelly remained their top choice. They interviewed him for seven hours on Jan. 4 and reports were they were “close” to a deal.

Kelly, however, kept appointments with the Bills and Eagles and got no closer to coming to Cleveland. The Browns left Arizona on Jan. 6 because they weren’t sure he was committed to coming to the NFL.

The Browns restarted the search and hired Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski last Thursday.

The Browns declined to comment on the Eagles’ hiring of Kelly, who was 46-7 in four years at Oregon. Strong safety T.J. Ward, who played for Kelly at Oregon, said after the season Kelly would make a good NFL coach.

“Like that Chip?! Lol. Na but Goodluck to Coach Kelly and his new endeavors,” Ward tweeted.

Kelly ended a whirlwind day by boarding a plane in Eugene, Ore., headed for Philadelphia, at 3:30 p.m. When he arrived at Philadelphia International Airport, shortly after 7 p.m., he quickly saw a glimpse of what this team means to this city. Not only were general Howie Roseman and president Don Smolenski waiting for him on the runway — they arrived with a police escort — there were fans, decked out in green, on hand, as well.

The Eagles are known to have interviewed 11 candidates, including two meetings with Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. All along, Kelly was thought to be Philadelphia’s first choice in a long, exhaustive process that took many twists.

“Chip Kelly will be an outstanding head coach for the Eagles,” owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “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.”

On the day he fired Reid, Lurie appeared to be describing Kelly when he said he wanted to find a “real smart, forward-thinking coach” who is “strategic, a strong leader, very comfortable in his own skin.”

The enigmatic Kelly met with the Eagles for nine hours the day after his marathon meeting with the Browns, setting up a soap-opera scenario in which the Eagles were competing with Banner, their former president and longtime friend of Lurie who left the organization after a falling-out. But that roller coaster ended when Kelly opted to remain — temporarily — in Eugene.

“It’s a very difficult decision for me. It took me so long to make it just because the people here are special,” Kelly told KEZI-TV. “The challenge obviously is exciting for me, but it’s an exciting time and it’s a sad time — saying goodbye to people you love and respect, and I wanted to make sure I talked to my players and did it in the right fashion and talked to our staff. I feel I did.”

The Eagles interviewed two other high-profile college coaches — Penn State’s Bill O’Brien and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. Both elected to stay with their schools.

Bradley was considered by many to be the leading contender, though former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and former Ravens coach Brian Billick were in the mix.

That all changed when Kelly had a change of heart.

The visor-wearing Kelly built Oregon into a national powerhouse. The Ducks went to four straight BCS bowl games — including a bid for the national championship against Auburn two seasons ago — and have won three conference championships.

Kelly originally went to Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, where he started devising the innovative hurry-up offense the Ducks are known for now.

Ducks athletic director Rob Mullens said Wednesday that Kelly called him at 7:15 a.m. to tell him he had changed his mind: “He wasn’t sure if that opportunity would present itself again, so he felt this was the right one at the right time.”

Mullens now faces a coaching search amid recruiting season.

“I’ve turned the page,” Mullens said. “I was surprised when I got the call this morning, but as the leader of this organization, my focus is on moving forward and that’s what we’re doing. I’m laser-focused on what’s next, and that’s finding the right fit to lead Oregon football.”

It’s unknown whether the possibility of NCAA sanctions based on Oregon’s use of recruiting services factored into Kelly’s reversal. He indicated in Arizona that he isn’t running from anything.