The Eagles dropped a news bomb on Tuesday night, firing Chip Kelly after just three seasons. Kelly went 10-6 in each of his first two seasons in Philadelphia, and he used that success to gain even more power in the front office. Many of Kelly’s roster decisions this offseason backfired — adding DeMarco Murray, Ryan Matthews, and Sam Bradford, while letting Jeremy Maclin go unreplaced — and they look even worse now than they did at the time. In a rare moment of prescient thought, here is how I ended a May article on how unusual the Eagles offensive turnover was:
But with all these aggressive and unusual changes to a very productive offense, Kelly has opened himself up to a lot of criticism if things don’t run smoothly in Philadelphia in 2015.
After a 6-9 season, it’s fair to say things didn’t run smoothly. But how unusual is it to fire a head coach who has posted a winning record after just three years? Pretty unusual.
Kelly will be the 10th head coach since 1950 to be with a team for 3 seasons, produce a winning record, and not come back for year four. Let’s look at the first 9, from best winning percentage to worst:
- Oakland John Rauch went 33-8-1 with the Raiders from 1966 to 1968, including an appearance in Super Bowl II. But — as hard as this might be to imagine — he butted heads with owner Al Davis, and resigned after the season to coach the Bills. Davis replaced him with John Madden, so it worked out okay for Oakland. More on why Davis and Rauch butted heads below.
- From 1997 to 1999, Bill Parcells went 29-19 as the head coach of the Jets. He “retired” after the season.
- Perhaps the best comparison to Kelly is a guy who is known for his brilliance on one side of the ball, but his stubborn ways as a man in charge. From 1998 to 2000, Wade Phillips was the Buffalo Bills head coach. As hard as this might be for younger fans to believe, he took the Bills to the playoffs in ’98 and ’99, and was then fired after the 2000 season! Buffalo hasn’t made it back to the playoffs since. So how come Phillips was fired? His handling of the Doug Flutie/Rob Johnson situation certainly didn’t help things, but the specific reason for his release was his Phillips’ insistence on keeping his special teams coach, which infuriated Bills owner Ralph Wilson.
- From 1963 to 1965, Al Davis was the Raiders head coach, and he posted a 23-16-3 record. After the season, he left to become the commissioner of the AFL, and selected Rauch as his successor. But Davis renounced after just a few months on the job after the merger agreement between the AFL and NFL had been reached (to Davis’ dissatisfaction). Davis returned to the Raiders as part-owner/GM, where he saw Rauch reach a lot of success with Davis’ players, but fail to win a Super Bowl.
- For whatever reason, Pete Carroll’s tenure with the Patriots is remembered as a failure. But Carroll went 27-21 in New England. Like Kelly, though, he had declining success each year. After the ’99 season, he was fired, which allowed the Patriots to hire a certain Sith Lord.
- This is where Kelly, at 26-21, would slot in. That would leave just Phillips and Carroll as head coaches who were fired after just three seasons and having as much success as Kelly.
- Another coach like Kelly and Carroll, in more ways than one, was the younger Jim Mora. He went 26-22 in three seasons with Atlanta, but the trajectory — 11-5, 8-8, 7-9 — didn’t inspire confidence. He was fired after three seasons, which included a possible flirtation with the University of Washington. Mora then went to Seattle, before finding success (so far) as the head coach at UCLA.
- The king of declining records would be Jim Caldwell, who went 14-2 with the Colts in 2009, 10-6 in 2010, and then 2-14 in 2011. Caldwell was never really credited with the success of the Peyton Manning Colts, so his 26-22 record in three seasons wasn’t enough to insulate him from firing after the bottom dropped out without Manning in his last year.
- Buck Shaw coached the 49ers for 9 seasons before joining the Eagles in 1958. He went 2-9-1 in his first season with Philadelphia, then 7-5, before posting a 10-2, championship-winning season in 1960. At the age of 61, he then retired. This is not exactly the Chip Kelly story, but Shaw’s 19-16-1 record does qualify as a man who coached a team for only three years despite posting a winning record.
- Shaw’s successor in San Francisco was former 49ers quarterback Frankie Albert. From 1956 to 1958, Albert went 5-6-1, 8-4, and then 6-6. Albert resigned after three seasons, though, and offered the following explanation “personal reasons because it is pretty difficult to maintain a happy home and live a normal life when my wife and children can’t go into a store or attend a game without hearing people call me a bum.” Good thing Albert wasn’t in Philadelphia!
It’s pretty rare for a head coach to be fired after exactly three years despite posting a winning record. Kelly is just the fifth, after Phillips, Carroll, Mora, and Caldwell. There is nothing magical about three years — it’s probably even weirder that John Fox was fired after going 46-18 in four seasons with Denver — but it does seem like a pretty short runway for a head coach with a winning record.
What do you think?