Chip Kelly: Beginner’s Luck?

By Paul Mancano – Let’s be honest: we’ve all got a man-crush on Chip Kelly.

I could write pages on Philly’s latest idol. We ogle his no-huddle offense and witty comments at press time. We’re smitten. Can you blame us? For a 4’8” (estimated), kinda tubby guy with a high-pitched voice, the man has tremendous swag. In the words of the unintentionally funniest band on the planet, Cake, he is “fast and thorough, and sharp as a tack.” And most importantly, he wins.

Or at least his did this past year. We’ve got a pretty small sample size with which to judge Chip. We cannot extrapolate the data from just 17 games (like that word choice? that’s right, I took Stat 101 in college). We go head-over-heels too early on in this relationship. After all, this city’s been hurt before by a coach who experienced early success (turn on NBA Countdown to see our latest heartbreak).

So instead of trying to predict the future based on the history of Chip, let’s try to do it based on the history of the league. There are some pretty interesting NFL coaching trends, especially Super Bowl-winning coaches.

Here’s what history has taught us: The first year means nothing. Let’s take a look at all the coaches who’ve won Super Bowls in the past decade, and how they faired as rookies. Here’s what their first years on the job looked like:

Pete Carroll (New York Jets): 6-10                                (Seattle Seahawks): 7-9

John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens): 11-5

Tom Coughlin (Jacksonville Jaguars): 4-12                 (New York Giants): 6-10

Mike McCarthy (Green Bay Packers): 8-8

Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints): 10-6

Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers): 10-6

Tony Dungy (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): 6-10                 (Indianapolis Colts): 10-6

Bill Belichick (Cleveland Browns): 6-10                         (New England Patriots): 5-11

As you can see, the results are pretty mixed. Perhaps the best one of that list, Belichick, began two different tenures with a losing record. So did reigning Super Bowl champion Pete Carroll.

Even some of the best NFL coaches of all time incurred struggles early on. Bill Walsh, who popularized the West Coast Offense, went 2-14 in his first year with the Niners. He won three Super Bowls. Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys won just one game in 1989. Journeyman coach and two-time champ Bill Parcells stumbled to 3-12-1 in his first season with the Giants. The list goes on.

On the flip side, there have been a bunch of terrible NFL coaches who have look tantalizingly promising. Eagles fans can remember a few: Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes each won a playoff game within their first two years. And each lasted just four years in Philly.

The first year means nothing. It’s not like a scouting report on a draft prospect: it gives us no indication of future success.

Now, Chip Kelly looks like a much better coach than the punchlines that are Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes. For one thing, his football IQ is off the charts. He’s not just a coach, he’s an innovator. He also seems to be a pretty good drafter. The 2013 Eagles draft class included Lane Johnson, Zack Ertz, Cedric Thorton, and Earl Wolff: four studs in the making. Drafting well consistently is the key to sustained success; we all saw how it eroded Andy Reid’s once-mighty squad.

In its inaugural season, the Kelly’s unique coaching tactics took the league not by storm, but by surprise. With a whole offseason to study film, the other teams in the league will be ready for the Eagles. The question is, how well will Kelly respond. Only time will tell if Kelly turns out to be Rich Kotite or Bill Walsh.


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