Chip Kelly gets delayed start on rebuild

PHILADELPHIA -- What Chip Kelly has been doing isn’t that unusual. When he is doing it is very unusual.

Kelly became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles two years ago. At that time, it would have been standard operating procedure for him to do a few basic things: root out some highly paid veterans who were mainstays of the previous coaching regime and who didn’t figure to be around when the team was prepared to contend, identify and acquire a young franchise quarterback to build the offense around and sign or draft some new core players who fit his system.

That sounds quite a bit like Kelly’s agenda for the past couple of weeks. He did a teardown of his offense, removing the quarterback, running back and the top wide receiver. He parted ways with pricy veterans like Todd Herremans, Trent Cole and Cary Williams. And he brought in Sam Bradford, who has a chance to be his cornerstone quarterback, along with DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell and Ryan Mathews.

But Kelly is just beginning his makeover of the team after two seasons. That’s a little peculiar.

The parallel situation was in 2001 when Andy Reid, beginning his third season as Eagles coach, won full control of personnel decisions. The difference was that Reid had begun the teardown from the very beginning. He drafted Donovan McNabb, signed new wide receivers and rebuilt his offensive line. Getting final say on personnel decisions didn’t represent the beginning of the building process. It helped simplify and streamline the continuation of that process.

Here’s the rub: By his third season, 2001, Reid took the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game. They lost to the St. Louis Rams, but they would reach the NFL’s final four in each of the next three seasons, too.

Kelly hasn’t asked for any slack from fans or the media or his boss. But it seems obvious that he spent two years trying to make the best of what he had, realized it wasn’t enough and is now doing what many coaches would have done from Day 1. Kelly won 10 games in each of his first two seasons, and that’s a sign that he’s capable of much more.

But Reid won a playoff game his second year. He won at least 11 games in years 3 through 6. He developed a young quarterback into a perennial Pro Bowler.

The differences between Reid and Kelly are many, but the most relevant one here is experience. Reid had started out coaching at the college level. But he had spent the seven years before becoming Eagles coach as an assistant with the Green Bay Packers. Reid had plenty of time to get a feel for the NFL and how it worked before coming to Philadelphia and putting his own spin on things.

Kelly jumped straight from Oregon to coaching the Eagles. His first season or two, he seemed perfectly content to take the roster he inherited from Reid and see what he could get out of it. Most importantly, he worked with Michael Vick and Nick Foles, the quarterbacks who were on hand.

Now, two years into his tenure, Kelly has begun reshaping the roster. He won enough games in 2013 and 2014 to keep the heat off, but it will be interesting to see whether that changes now. It may take a year or two to get the Eagles playing like contenders. That’s not unreasonable, but those will be years 3 and 4 for Kelly.

The common wisdom on Kelly is that he can always go back to the college game and make a lot of money at an elite program. That takes a certain kind of pressure off. But Kelly is competitive and wants to succeed sooner rather than later. The problem is that he started the clock running two years before he got his program up and running.