Chip Kelly took a beating in 2015. In December, Kelly was fired before the end of his third season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles with his team 6-9.
But it's a new year and Kelly has been given a chance to prove himself all over again with the San Francisco 49ers. And now, as the Niners prepare for the opening of training camp later this month, some see him as the best addition the franchise made this offseason.
Elliot Harrison, an analyst for NFL.com, recently ranked Kelly at No. 20 in his review of the NFL’s 32 head coaches – a surprisingly good grade for a coach seemingly ridden out of Philadelphia on a rail.
Harrison, however, believes Kelly’s main failure was in his work overseeing personnel decisions, not in his coaching.
“For the flurry of criticism that found its way to Kelly, does anyone realize he was fired short of finishing his third year … with a 26-21 record?” wrote Harrison. “Never mind that the Philly squad he took over had gone 4-12 in the season before his arrival. The issue for Kelly has been twofold: A) The buzz around his revolutionizing the pace of the game (or inability to do the same) blurred the lines of what defines a successful tenure; and B) his personnel decisions. Take him to task all you want on the latter, but if we’re talking strictly coaching, hasn’t he earned this opportunity with the 49ers?”
Certainly, Kelly was a miracle worker when he took over the Eagles, guiding them to back-to-back 10-6 seasons and a playoff spot in his first season. Offensively, the Eagles were a challenge for opponents. They went from being the 29th-ranked offense the season before to No. 4 in 2013. The Eagles were No. 3 in 2014 and even 13th in his final season, when he was fired.
The 49ers are hoping Kelly can engineer the same turnaround in 2016 after the 49ers offense ranked 31st in yards and 32nd in points in 2015. And – at least so far – Kelly seems to be operating well with general manager Trent Baalke, who will be in charge of personnel. Kelly won’t be able to make the kind of mistakes he did in Philly, when he ejected such talents as LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson and brought in quarterback Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray, who both fell far short of expectations.
Harrison’s recent evaluation is similar to one by Sports Illustrated’s NFL writer Melissa Jacobs, who gave the 49ers props for deciding to part ways with Jim Tomsula after one season and hiring Kelly. Kelly, she noted, has run dynamic offenses wherever he’s been – and even turned quarterback Nick Foles into a Pro Bowler with the Eagles.
The 49ers, she wrote, were bold in bringing Kelly aboard.
“Kelly stands apart from the retread head coaches and coordinators who rose through the conventional NFL pipeline,” she wrote. “He is a visionary who changed the college game and was on his way to changing the NFL game before this (2015) disastrous season.
“Because Kelly is so unique and will either succeed or fail unconventionally in San Francisco, he will make his mark one way or another. And with the Kelly Era upon us, the 49ers fan base can finally move on from Jim Harbaugh.”