PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Torn between loyalty to his players and accepting a new challenge, Chip Kelly ultimately chose the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles.
He just needed more time to make the decision.
“The hardest thing for me to do was to leave Oregon,” Kelly said Thursday at a news conference introducing him as the 21st coach in team history. “I knew it was a great fit, but it was whether I could leave what I have. I love those guys and it had to be a special place for me to leave.”
The Eagles hired Kelly on Wednesday, giving him a five-year contract and ending an exhaustive search to replace Andy Reid. The offensive innovator was lured away from Oregon, where he went 46-7 in four seasons and turned the program into a national powerhouse.
From the start, Kelly appeared to be Philadelphia’s top choice. But two days after a nine-hour meeting in Arizona with owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and president Don Smolenski, Kelly chose to stay at Oregon.
The Eagles continued interviewing other candidates, and were close to offering the job to Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley on Tuesday night. But Kelly changed his mind after thinking harder about making the move and talking to several people, including Reid who quickly moved on to become Kansas City’s coach.
“I knew this was the best spot, but there’s so much more to it,” Kelly said. “What happens when I leave? Who becomes the next head coach? What happens to those players? You’re not making reservations for dinner. You are changing not only your life, but a lot of other people’s lives.”
Kelly said he became emotional when he told players in a meeting that he was leaving, and added that he cried more than they did.
He went from a warm and fuzzy environment in Eugene, Ore. to a hero’s welcome in the city of Brotherly Love.
Fans greeted him at the airport when his plane arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday night and a sign reading “Our Chip’s Come In” was hung on two trees outside the team’s practice facility on Thursday morning. A few fans drove down Pattison Avenue honking their horns to salute the hiring.
“It’s a really exciting time for me. It was a difficult decision. There’s not many opportunities to coach in the National Football League, and every one of them is special,” Kelly said. “But this is an iconic franchise with an outstanding owner. I knew what this place was all about, and this is where I wanted to be. It was just a matter of figuring out how to do it the right way.”
The Eagles interviewed 11 candidates in slightly more than two weeks. While fans became anxious waiting for a new coach, the team emphasized a patient approach.
Perhaps they were waiting for Kelly to reconsider.
“The key was to find the right leader, not make the fastest decision,” Lurie said. “We never took `No’ as a full `No.’ We knew he was torn. And we knew there was no competition for Chip. It was just, did he want to stay or did he want to come to us?”
Though Kelly has no previous NFL experience, the Eagles are banking on him to turn around a franchise that has just 12 wins in the last two years and zero playoff victories since 2008.