- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS — Reporters swarmed and camera lights illuminated as Chip Kelly stepped to the lectern inside the NFL scouting combine media center Friday. His black, short-sleeved jacket bore the green, white and silver logo of the Philadelphia Eagles. His baggy, light blue jeans and sneakers completed an outfit that seemed more appropriate for a college student during exam week than the highest-profile rookie NFL coach of this offseason.

The look suited him, though. Kelly, after all, is a college guy until he establishes himself in pro football.

He leaned toward the microphone. “Is there a protocol?” he asked. “Because no one briefed me on that.”

For the past four seasons, Kelly coached the University of Oregon and built one of college football’s most dynamic programs. The protocols he established there included scoring points, winning games and scoring more points.

Now he hopes to do the same in Philadelphia, where underachievement was the norm the last two seasons. As the Washington Redskins look forward to defending their NFC East division championship next season, the Eagles are a mysterious challenger because of their first new head coach in 15 seasons.

Questions about whether Kelly will bring Oregon’s spread offense to the NFL and his ability to succeed without the advantage of recruiting superior talent highlight one of the league’s biggest offseason storylines.

“It’s what do we feel, on this level, that we can run?” Kelly said when asked about the offense he plans to run in Philadelphia. “What’s going to fit? When you start to put a playbook together, there’s always more [rather] than less. But then I think any good coach will always tailor his playbook to his personnel.”

Kelly and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman were intentionally vague Friday when talking about their offensive and defensive systems. They discussed the possibility of transitioning to a 3-4 defensive front, but in this age of extreme paranoia and secrecy, all the talk might be misdirection.

One thing is certain, though: Chip Kelly is not Andy Reid.

Reid was the NFL’s longest-tenured coach when the Eagles fired him after a 4-12 season. Publicly, Reid often was gruff, surly. His interactions with media frequently were awkward, cold.

Contrast that with Kelly’s news conference here, which served as an introduction to media outside Philadelphia. When a reporter asked him about a report published last month that he was close to agreeing to be the Cleveland Browns’ head coach, Kelly responded: “Erroneous.”

“That was a quote from ‘Wedding Crashers,’” he added, citing the hit 2005 comedy. Everyone laughed.

It will take more than personality, though, to win games. The current focus to that end is the quarterback position.

Because Oregon ran the zone read option with great success — the Ducks’ offense averaged 44.7 points per game under Kelly — and because other NFL teams, including the Redskins, ran it successfully last season, the biggest question is whether Philadelphia will implement it.

The Eagles have an athletic runner in quarterback Michael Vick, 32, but they also have second-year quarterback Nick Foles. Foles is more of a conventional pocket passer, although he is mobile. Kelly coached against Foles when the player was at Arizona.

Kelly also emphasized how his offenses at the University of New Hampshire, which predated his tenure at Oregon, featured dropback passers.

“I want to coach Nick,” Kelly said. “I want to get a chance to spend time with him. I’m a big fan of his, the way he plays the game, his toughness, his ability to throw the ball, very accurate.”

Those decisions aren’t close to being finalized, apparently. Kelly has watched the Eagles‘ 2012 game film, but he’s not as familiar with the players as Roseman, who has been the general manager since 2010 and with the organization since 2000.

In the previous regime, Reid controlled personnel decisions. Kelly, however, expressed some disinterest in that side of the business. Their player evaluations are collaborative, then.

“The questions he’s asking, a lot of them are intangible stuff,” Roseman said. “That’s one of the hardest things about free agency and the draft is that you don’t know these players that well. We try to give [our new coaching staff] as much background as we know on the guys and their situation in Philadelphia and then help make the decision there.”

At this point, then, the newest version of the Philadelphia Eagles is more intriguing than anything tangible. The rest of the division is on alert.

“The challenges that Chip Kelly presents are obvious,” Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s just a darn good football coach, and he’s bringing that style of football to the NFL.

“I think we have seen glimpses of that the last couple of years where there has been a trickle up of college offenses to the NFL. And they are challenging. And his style is even different than some of the things we have seen. We are going to do a lot of studying of what he’s done to make sure we’re ready.”