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Chip Kelly the GM got Chip Kelly the coach fired

Chip Kelly is still one of the NFL's top offensive minds and perhaps the best coach ever fired after three seasons. But his tenure as Eagles general manager was so bad and so caustic that it's hard to fault them for giving Kelly the axe.

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Chip Kelly's tenure as coach is suddenly done in Philadelphia, and you'd never know he has a winning record. There are six million people in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, and from the sounds of it, Kelly personally alienated about 4.6 million of these people in his three years as the Eagles coach.

When Kelly came to the league, many predicted his fast-paced style of offense that made Oregon into a college football powerhouse would never succeed in the NFL, and these people probably feel vindicated today. But it's not so simple as saying Kelly was a poor coach.

The biggest argument against critics saying Kelly's system will never work in the NFL is that Kelly's system has already worked in the NFL. Quite well, in fact, as Kelly turned one of the league's worst offenses into one of its best, with quarterbacks who can most favorably be described as "okay."

But unfortunately, Kelly had two jobs in Philadelphia. One was as coach, which, as previously noted, he did well. The other was as general manager. At this role, he was an utter failure. Kelly was a disastrous magician, pulling a never-ending handkerchief of horrible decisions out of a hat. His moves looked terrible when he made them, and they turned out to be terrible.

Other teams would be wise to hire Kelly as a coach, because he can help. They'd also be wise to beware letting the same thing happen to their franchise as happened to the Eagles, because, hoo boy, it got ugly quickly ...

Chip Kelly is a pretty good football coach

Kelly took over a bad team and instantly made it good. He inherited a mess in Philadelphia that had gone 4-12 the year before, losing 11 of their last 12 games. The offense was particularly bad, ranking 29th in the NFL in scoring.

With only one major offensive addition (rookie OT Lane Johnson), Kelly took this unit and totally revamped it. He made it the No. 4 offense in the NFL in terms of scoring, and if you like fancy stats that adjust for the fact that Kelly's offense runs up-tempo, it was actually even better, as the Eagles ranked third in offensive DVOA.

LeSean McCoy had the best year of his career, leading the NFL in rushing. Nick Foles, who has shown little promise before or since, threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Michael Vick posted the best yards per attempt of his career. DeSean Jackson had the most yards of his career. From garbage, the Eagles won 10 games and made the playoffs.

The team actually got better at scoring in 2014, bumping up to third in points per game.

Before Kelly was given personnel control in Philadelphia, he did a pretty amazing job. Although his coaching style was viewed by some as gimmickry that could only work in college, Kelly showed quickly that he could put offensive players in a position to succeed.

He especially has a way with quarterbacks. Kelly didn't just win 10 games in back-to-back seasons, he won 10 games with Nick Foles, Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. Foles has looked awful in St. Louis, Vick's only late-career success has been with Kelly, Sanchez was abominable in his last few games with the Jets and, well, Matt Barkley is Matt Barkley. That he used these quarterbacks in a unit that was not only successful, but one of the league's best offenses, is pretty incredible.

Kelly won more games in his first three years than Bill Belichick did in his first three with the Pats, and more than Pete Carroll did in his first three with the Seahawks. That's not meaningless.

Chip Kelly is a borderline horrendous general manager

When Kelly took over as general manager, he made a flurry of moves that were confusing at best. As our Danny Kelly wrote in March, "what the heck is Chip Kelly doing?" But Kelly is a football person about whom the word "genius" has been used, so we all decided to wait and see if it was part of a plan.

Now that the dust has cleared, it's clear "genius" is not a word we can use regarding Kelly's GM skills. Every move that looked like a disaster on paper has been a disaster on the field.

Many questioned Kelly's decision to swap McCoy, a Pro Bowler, for Kiko Alonso, a linebacker who looked good in his lone season before a torn ACL. Sure enough, McCoy has looked fine in Buffalo while Alonso has never looked as good as he did before the injury, missing several games with related problems.

Many questioned Kelly's decision to replace McCoy with DeMarco Murray, whose play had possibly been inflated by playing behind an elite Dallas Cowboys offensive line. Sure enough, Murray has been legitimately abysmal. After breaking Jim Brown's record for consecutive 100-yard games last year, Murray only had one this season. In many games, he failed to go forward at all, recording 10 yards or less in three games.

But what's worse is McCoy was ostensibly dealt for salary cap reasons, and Murray's contract is as big and bad as McCoy's. Kelly used financial justifications to ship out one talented player, and replaced him with a worse player with a worse contract.


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Many questioned Kelly's biggest free agent signing, Byron Maxwell, who looked great as a cornerback for the Seahawks, a perfect environment for a cornerback to look great. Sure enough, Maxwell hasn't looked as great without some of the league's best safeties behind him. He certainly hasn't looked worth the $63 million contract Kelly gave him.

Many questioned Kelly's decision to release offensive guard Evan Mathis after his contract holdout, when most teams would've let him play out the season. Kelly also released the team's other offensive guard, Todd Herremans. Sure enough, the depleted offensive line wasn't as good. If you're wondering why Murray went from a boom to a bust, look no further than the gap between Dallas' brilliant 2014 line and Philly's 2015 cap-cutting.

Many questioned Kelly's decision to let Jeremy Maclin walk a year after DeSean Jackson's contentious exit. Sure enough, both departed receivers looked fine for their teams, while Philadelphia's passing attack just hasn't looked the same without dynamic wide outs.

And last, but certainly not least, many questioned Kelly's decision to trade Foles, who worked fine in Kelly's system, for Sam Bradford, who looked middling in his early career before missing the entire 2014 season. Bradford had an okay season, completing over 60 percent of his throws and throwing more touchdowns than picks, but the offense was less effective with him at the helm than it was with any of the quarterbacks Kelly had in his first two seasons.

If the Eagles only gave up Foles for Bradford, it'd be understandable, a simple QB swap. But Kelly gave up a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick for a player who was less compatible for his own offense.

Re-read that list of mistakes Kelly made. He did all of this in one offseason.

Kelly's decision-making has been poor from almost every perspective. He's failed to identify which players will work for him and which ones won't. He's failed to identify which players on his own team were critical to its success. He's failed to evaluate which positions on his roster needed help and which ones didn't. He's failed to properly understand how to negotiate free agent contracts, giving large sums to people who maybe didn't deserve them. He's traded away valuable draft assets for not-so-valuable players.

Any of these one failures would be a nagging flaw for a GM. He exhibited all of them. That's ... bad.

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Kelly's tenure as a general manager was a trainwreck, taking strong momentum and enthusiastically plowing into a fiery ball of catastrophe. It was so bad that it's probably smart for the Eagles to cut ties as soon as possible, even if it comes at the expense of firing Kelly, the good coach.

Kelly isn't unique in failing as a GM/head coach. Many have tried, but only Bill Belichick has ever really succeeded. ("Only Bill Belichick has ever really succeeded" is a common sentence in the NFL.)

But Kelly takes some of the blame for the fact that he was in that scenario to begin with. Kelly only got the GM position because of a prolonged power struggle with his bosses, and he's reportedly getting fired because he refuses to relinquish it. His ex-players have been anything but complimentary, and his current players have reportedly been at various levels of dissent for the entirety of this season.

If Kelly can stick to coaching, NFL teams should be excited for the opportunity to have him. Kelly has been an offensive coordinator or higher at three levels, FCS, FBS and NFL, and at all three, he's quickly instilled his brand of offense and achieved coaching success.

But it's clear he isn't cut out to be an GM and head coach simultaneously. After this year's implosion, NFL teams should be wise enough to avoid giving him both responsibilities. Kelly also has to be wise enough to avoid backdoor politicking, because he's really good at the job he's actually good at.

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