Since Chip Kelly was hired as the Eagles head coach on January 16, fans have been waiting to learn the identity of the rest of coaching staff. Rumors had circulated and conjecture had run amok. The always-present shroud of secrecy under which the Eagles operate had grown ever more impenetrable.
Since the initial news of Kelly’s hiring, some of the people who did not like the choice, myself among them, liked what he showed at his first press conference. He was personable and showed a good sense of humor; not exactly keys to being a good NFL coach, but it did make fans more likely to want to give him a chance—at least until he hired his staff.
The veil was lifted on Friday and the reaction of most beholders was a loud silence, borne of bewilderment. This assemblage of “talent” is underwhelming at best.
Position coaches and assistants are usually too obscure to judge, except to NFL insiders, so the coordinators were the focus of fans' curiosity, especially the defensive coordinator, since Kelly will essentially being running the offense.
Several things seem clear. The holdup was due to the Eagles' desire to hire a defensive coordinator from the staff of one of the teams in the Superbowl. They had to wait until it was over to hire someone from either staff.
San Francisco 49ers secondary coach, Ed Donatell, was the apparent target. However, the 49ers blocked him from interviewing for a higher position with another team for the third time. Donatell’s agreement with the 49ers—to hold him to the contract he signed, even though he's under no obligation to do so—makes him more desirable as a stand-up guy, but it is immaterial at this point.
Fans wanted Kelly to hire a proven, experienced defensive coordinator. He hired a guy with experience...and a proven record of extreme failure.
Billy Davis, most recently the linebacker coach of the Cleveland Browns, has had two prior stints as an NFL defensive coordinator. From 2005-2006, he was the defensive coordinator of the 49ers. Under his reign, the 49ers defense ranked 32nd and 26th in the 32-team NFL, and he was subsequently fired. He then paid his dues as a lincebacker coach for the Cardinals for two years and got another shot as their defensive coordinator from 2009-2010. Under Davis, the Cardinals' defense ranked 20th and 29th, and he was subsequently fired.
So after 2 opportunities and 4 seasons, the average league ranking of a Davis defense is 27th. Davis getting another chance after compiling a track record of abject failure seems inexplicable, especially considering the situation he is charged with fixing. His chances of success seem dubious at best.
Pat Shurmur’s willingness to become an offensive coordinator seems curious. He managed to rise to a head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns, and the step down seems usual for a failed head coach. That he is doing it with a head coach who is going to run the offense is odd, but it seems like a decent hire.
The Eagles found over the last couple of seasons that hiring big-name coaches with big-time reputations around the league does not ensure success (Howard Mudd, Bobby April, Jim Washburn, etc.). They seemed to go too far the other way, as the entire new staff seems very nondescript.
Maybe Kelly sees something in Davis. Or maybe he was not the one who hired him. It is clear that his top two assistants were working for the Cleveland Browns last year, who finished 5-11 in 2012.
The one outside-the-box hire was Shaun Huls as Sports Science Coordinator. Apparently, he will be charged with the conditioning of the players. He has no experience coaching football at any level.
With Kelly’s fast-paced offense, the players have to be very well-conditioned, and this might be a stroke of genius, or it might be a disaster.
In my opinion, this hire is a microcosm of this entire Chip Kelly experiment. The Eagles are trying to revolutionize NFL football and betting that Kelly is the guy to do just that. Either Kelly is a mad genius or is he just mad.
If he had a track-record of NFL success, a hire like Huls would look like his next ingenious move. Given that Kelly has no NFL experience at all, he had better have a very commanding presence the first time he meets with the players. Otherwise, a move like this will look like a reach made by a guy who does not know what he’s doing.
Kelly’s challenge now is to prove he is the guy the Eagles think he is. To do that, he will need to get the players to buy into this experiment. This staff does nothing to change my opinion that he has about a 10 percent chance of succeeding.