Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Examining the Tebow signing

PHILADELPHIA - From a pure football sense, Tim Tebow's arrival in Philadelphia means virtually nothing.

The best-case scenario is that everyone's favorite mechanical mess at the quarterback position turns into a third-string option and a valuable specialist in a system that should play to his perceived strengths. At worst, it's a misguided distraction serving as a favor to Urban Meyer in at attempt to keep Tebow's name relevant in NFL circles.

Off the field, however, it's an emperor-has-no-clothes moment for Chip Kelly.

Like many of you, I have no idea what Kelly is doing in Philadelphia these days, but the one thing that has become abundantly clear is that his reputation as a great football coach is a bit overblown.

Meanwhile, his prominence as a personnel man remains uncharted, but it's pointing toward schizophrenic.

None of that means Kelly is doomed to failure in the City of Brotherly Love, it just foreshadows that he will ultimately be measured against names like Ray Rhodes, Rich Kotite and Buddy Ryan, not transcendent monikers like Belichick, Shula, Lombardi and Noll.

My definition of a great football coach is pretty simple. It's a teacher who has a philosophy but understands his job is to accentuate the strengths of the players on hand while masking as many deficiencies as possible.

Kelly did that pretty well during his first two seasons in Philadelphia with what was essentially another man's team (Andy Reid). Instead of building on that, however, he decided to double down on the system, a muddled coagulation of offensive tempo, coupled with an overhyped "sports science" approach off the field based on common sense practices like eating well and getting plenty of sleep.

Despite winning 20 games with talent that didn't "fit" what is at its core an extremely simple offensive philosophy based on that tempo at the expense of Xs and Os, Chip's assessment seems to be that he had gone as far as he could go with what he believed were square pegs.

So he won a power struggle with ex-general manager Howie Roseman, got personnel control and started in on a series of roster moves that can kindly be described as inconsistent.

To date, Kelly has traded Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy and starting quarterback Nick Foles, released offensive guard Todd Herremans, cornerback Cary Williams and edge rusher Trent Cole, and let 1,300-yard receiver Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency.

In turn, he's brought back potential new leaders for his offense and defense, quarterback Sam Bradford and inside linebacker Kiko Alonso, signed a better running back than McCoy in DeMarco Murray, got Murray a really good caddy in Ryan Mathews, upgraded the cornerback position with two junior members of the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom," Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, signed an aging receiver in Miles Austin, and now brought in the biggest distraction he could.

The departure of significant, high-powered skill-position talent since Kelly arrived, namely DeSean Jackson, along with McCoy and Maclin, is especially troubling with some questioning the coach's ability to handle "big" personalities and others unfairly pointing at some kind of racial animus.

From a psychological standpoint, Kelly seems conflicted from day to day with no real long-term plan.

He is more often than not a walking-talking contradiction. Today, one of his quips might be "the best ability is availability" and tomorrow he'll say Bradford's consecutive season-ending ACL tears are no big deal, and Mathews encyclopedic history of maladies are nothing to fret about.

Next week, he may break out "big guys beat up little guys" to explain his disdain of a Jackson or even a Maclin, all the while praising the vaunted playmaking skills of the 5-foot-6 Darren Sproles.

He'll gush ad nauseam about a flawed prospect like Marcus Mariota even though his entire offensive system is supposedly "quarterback-proof," and he already has five signal callers under contract (Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, Tebow and G.J. Kinne), although admittedly none of them project any better than the guy who went 14-4 for him as a starter but was given up on (Foles).

Quite possibly the only tangible thing we have learned about Kelly to this point is that no matter what he says in front of a microphone, the slavish devotion to his system defines him.

And that is perhaps the ultimate sin in a league wholly dependent on talent.

Understand as great as Bill Belichick is, he wasn't about to win Super Bowls in Cleveland with a descending Bernie Kosar, Mike Tomczak or Vinny Testaverde playing quarterback. However, a Belichick-coached team almost always ends with a result far greater than the sum of its parts.

To be fair to Kelly, it's not like Belichick, or any other mentor, doesn't have an idea on how he wants things to go on any given Sunday, but the great coaches understand what the NFL is about and come to grips with the reality that you are never going to be able to acquire every player you want.

It's about making what you have better, not finding the round pegs to fit snugly in the 22 holes available.

It's too early to say Kelly and his Eagles are adrift and heading toward the rocks, but the "Chip Ship" is, at bare minimum, rudderless with the engine- room sirens blaring.

There's always a chance I'm wrong and Kelly is the football genius his acolytes will have you believe. The more likely result, though, is that this emperor has no clothes.
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