If you’ve watched Oregon Ducks Football at any point in the last six seasons, you’ve seen a spread offense that is almost unstoppable and one of the biggest reasons why the program has been so successful in the last decade. The architect? Chip Kelly, the new Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
From the time Chip Kelly arrived in Eugene back in 2007 as an offensive coordinator until his departure at the end of last season, the program’s overall record was 65-14 (win percentage of .823). His record as head coach of Oregon? 46-7 (win percentage of .868). During those six years, the Ducks were Pac-10/Pac-12 Champions on three occasions and won four bowl games, two of which were major BCS Games (The Rose Bowl in 2012 and the Fiesta Bowl in 2013). In 2009, they made their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1994. In 2011, Oregon won its first Rose Bowl since 1917. To top it off, in 2010, the Ducks went 12-0 in the regular season before losing a very close BCS National Championship Game against Auburn. He built Oregon into a college football powerhouse and it is something that, as a fan of the game, I cannot help but admire.
Why do I mention this man’s success? As a disclaimer. To look at this resume and say that Chip Kelly is a bad Head Coach would be moronic and would be an insult to his record and the game of football. That being said, there is a bit of a problem that this man is going to encounter in the NFL that will hinder his success at the beginning, and it’s something he already has encountered. It is the Achilles’ Heel of Chip Kelly as a head coach.
Now, that being said, what is the Achilles’ Heel of Chip Kelly? Close games.
During his tenure at Oregon as Head Coach, his teams had a tendency to beat almost any opponent it faced into submission. It was a trademark of the Oregon program after the 2009 season. But it wasn’t always that way, because in 2009, Chip Kelly’s first year as Head Coach, Oregon won four games by seven points or less. Those wins were against Purdue (38-36), Utah (31-24), Arizona (44-41, 2OT), and Civil War Rival Oregon State (37-33). From 2010 to 2011, however, the Ducks only won two games by seven points or less: Cal in 2010 (15-13) and Wisconsin in the 2012 Rose Bowl (45-38).
During the 2012 season, Oregon did not win a single game by seven points or less. In fact, the only game they played that was decided by seven points or less was against Stanford, which they lost 17-14 in OT (their only loss of the season).
This is the glaring stat: Chip Kelly’s record in games decided by seven points or less from 2010-2012? 2-3.
Flash forward to this past Sunday, in the 4th quarter, as the Eagles faced the Chargers in Philadelphia’s home opener. The previous Monday Night, they slapped around the Washington Redskins on National TV, running more plays in the first half than Washington had total yards. This was a different game, however. The Eagles were trailing San Diego 30-27 with 3:11 left to go in the 4th and the ball at their own 29 yard line. Chip Kelly would make two fatal mistakes with regards to time management here that would end up costing him dearly.
Philly went to the no huddle and, in a matter of five plays, drove down to the San Diego 14 with practically no clock having run off. On the first play Philly ran from the 14, Michael Vick had to go off injured. There was now 2 minutes left on the clock, and Philly was trailing by three. Instead of running the ball and getting the clock down with a tie game already possible, Chip decided to pass the ball and go for the win, with two passes falling incomplete and Philly having to settle for a field goal with 1:51 remaining.
San Diego would get the ball back and start driving, reaching field goal range at the Philly 31 with 21 seconds remaining. From there, San Diego began running the ball to try to get the clock down. Chip Kelly began calling timeouts after the first running play, which only enabled San Diego to run it again and get closer, which Chip then matched with another timeout. These timeouts only enabled San Diego to move the ball closer for Nick Novak, who ended up making the 46-yarder that enabled San Diego to win the game 33-30.
Those two mistakes by Chip are honest mistakes that he owned up to, but it’s something that a coach who has been in close games before would’ve managed better. This isn’t the first time Chip is gonna have his team play in a close game this season. The NFL’s opening weekend has had 22 of the 32 games played in the first two weeks decided by seven points or less. Parity is always going to exist in the NFL, and it’s something that is more prevalent than what you get in college football.
Another point where he made a glaring mistake was in last night’s game against the Chiefs. After his team stumbled out of the gates trailing 10-0, the Eagles drove down the field (thanks largely to a 61 yard run by Michael Vick) and scored a TD, cutting the lead to 10-6. However, instead of just kicking the extra point, Philly lined up in a swinging gate formation in an attempt to get a two point conversion. The Kansas City defense wasn’t fooled, however, and prevented the conversion. This is a cardinal sin in football: do not attempt a two-point conversion too early in the game, because you will end up chasing it all game. In the 4th, the score was 23-16 Philadelphia after LeSean McCoy scored on a 41 yard TD run. Should Philly have gone for an extra point earlier in the game, and had they been able to stop Kansas City on that 15 play, 75 yard drive that milked 7 minutes off the clock, they would’ve gotten the ball back with a chance to take the lead rather than just force Overtime.
I like Chip Kelly as a Head Coach. He’s exciting, and if he was coaching any other team but Philadelphia, I would want him to succeed. That being said, his lack of experience in close games during his time at Oregon the last three seasons is something that will cost him dearly during his first NFL season and until he learns from his mistakes. Time management is an important part of every NFL game because the outcomes are almost always so close.
Despite all of this, I believe (and fear) he will learn from the mistakes he makes and will be a very successful Head Coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Why? Because he’s too good and intelligent a coach to fail.
Follow Greg Visone on twitter at @njny