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The rise and fall of Chip Kelly

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By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist

After just three seasons in Philadelphia, the Chip Kelly experiment is over. The Eagles fired their head coach after a season in which the team won seven games in a weak division, the last win coming after Kelly was let go. It was bittersweet for Eagles fans that loved Kelly just two seasons ago, but are now scratching their heads as they survey the team remaining in his wake.

Kelly was hired after seeing success as the University of Oregon head coach. He led Oregon to their first BCS National Championship game in 2011, eventually losing to Auburn. Though it ended in defeat, that season helped put Oregon on the map as a contender in NCAA football.

Viewed as an offensive genius, Kelly brought a fast-paced system to the NFL. In 2013, his first season in Philadelphia, his offense finished second in the league in total yards and the team won 10 games as well as the NFC East Division. The Eagles lost in the first round of the playoffs, but the organization seemed on the rise.

The next year, Kelly’s offense slipped to fifth in yards, but the Eagles won 10 games behind second year quarterback Nick Foles. Philadelphia barely missed the playoffs, as the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East with a 12-4 record.

Despite the 10 wins in 2014, optimism was diminishing in Philadelphia. The Eagles started the season with a 9-3 record, but lost three of their final four games, including two divisional matchups that sealed their fate and kept them from returning to the postseason.

Following the 2014 season, Kelly made a series of personnel moves that damaged the team. He traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams for quarterback Sam Bradford; he allowed star wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to leave via free agency; and he traded Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for Kiko Alonso, a linebacker coming off a serious knee injury.

Kelly replaced McCoy with 2014 rushing champion and former Cowboy DeMarco Murray, signing him to a five-year contract worth $40 million.

The moves did not pan out. Alonso was in and out of the lineup this season, Bradford was inconsistent, and Murray turned out to be a bad fit with his yards per carry plummeting in Kelly’s offense.

Kelly is a good coach, but his personnel decisions led to his demise, and he’ll need to find a team that will give him time to build a roster in his image. He took over a talented Eagles team, spent two years dismantling it, and then was sent packing.

The San Francisco 49ers hired Kelly on Jan. 15, where he’ll be working from the bottom up with a young roster lacking in significant talent. He should find success in that atmosphere.

Kelly’s time in Philadelphia definitely showed the rest of the league that his offensive system can work with the right people in place. However, much like everything else in pro sports, his system needs to adapt to the talent he has. If Kelly cannot adapt, then his next chapter may look eerily similar to his last.

Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.

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