What has Chip Kelly learned from his experience with the Eagles, his first job as head coach in the National Football League, as he assumes his position with the San Francisco 49ers?
Kelly’s 6-9 win/loss record certainly was a major reason for Kelly’s termination by Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie. Were there other, softer reasons? Kelly had Lurie’s trust when Kelly was given the responsibility for player personnel decisions in January 2014. What caused that trust to be lost during this past season?
A number of player personnel missteps by Kelly involved the replacement of talented players with those who were less talented. The Eagles’ defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL this past season, having given up 45 points in two games and 40 points in another.
Kelly wanted players who “fit the culture.” Kelly has stated that “culture beats scheme.” It appears that cultural fit took precedence over talent and learning how to work with players who could win games.
The headline of a Jan. 11 story by ABC News said, “Eagles CEO says coach following Kelly needs people skills.” Lurie is quoted in the story as stating he wants “someone who interacts and communicates very clearly with everyone he works with. We are looking for the best leader. It comes down to the leadership ability with today’s athlete and today’s world. It’s different than it was a long time ago.”
Based on Lurie’s statement, Kelly was not a person with the best people skills. Perhaps Kelly also did not effectively “manage up” in his relationship with Lurie. Lurie had sufficient trust in Kelly’s leadership style and abilities to give him the responsibility for player personnel decisions a year ago. Was there something else that occurred other than a 6-9 performance that made Lurie decide not to give Kelly another season to turn things around?
On Dec. 30, CBS News stated that “two Eagles players … told the Associated Press … that several players had met in groups in recent weeks to discuss their frustration with Kelly. They said they expressed relief … after the team announced that it had fired Kelly.” Apparently Kelly lost the locker room. His coaching style during his time at University of Oregon does not necessarily work in the pros. Did Kelly think about making adjustments to his leadership style?
One wonders if Kelly’s coaching staff offered their opinions on the player decisions Kelly made. Did the culture established by Kelly permit his coaches to share their views? All successful leaders welcome the opinions of those who report to them. They don’t flaunt their power, they are collaborative. Is this less common in the world of sports than it is in the business world? The leader makes the final decision, but that decision has a higher probability of success if the leader has the benefit of other opinions. As I have written in the past, this is how key decisions are de-risked – through discussion and debate. Other alternatives may emerge, better than those originally considered.
Kelly did not build collaborative relationships or political capital with those in the Eagles front office or with Lurie. Every effective leader knows that much can be accomplished through the informal organization, and political capital is a valuable currency. It creates supportive allies within organizations. It gives a leader more time to be successful, and their organization is more forgiving of mistakes.
All this being said, if the Eagles had made the playoffs, Kelly would still be the Eagles head coach. Winning overshadows all other issues.
As Kelly assumes his next head coaching position with the 49ers, he needs to ask himself what he learned as head coach of the Eagles. What will he do differently to ensure a more successful result? In the Jan. 16 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, columnist Jeff McLane wrote an article about Andy Reid, the Eagles head coach prior to Kelly and now head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. McLane’s article is subtitled, “Big Red (Reid) is a changed coach, and he’s thriving.” Will the same thing happen to Chip Kelly? Time will tell. I wish him well.
On Jan. 17, Doug Pederson, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator and former Eagles quarterback and assistant coach, was hired as the next head coach of the Eagles. Hopefully, Pederson has the leadership qualities Lurie is looking for and that Kelly was lacking.
Kelly’s tenure with the Eagles was very costly, financially and in terms of time and players lost. All of us want to make the right leadership selection decisions. Prior to hiring a direct report, understand the individual’s leadership style, determine their level of interpersonal and collaborative skills, and how they will go about building a great team below them. People are key to any organization’s ability to achieve results.
About the author
Stan Silverman is a speaker, writer and advisor who focuses on helping businesses and organizations cultivate leadership cultures. He currently is a Leadership Catalyst for Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Stan is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Drexel University, a lead director on the board of Drummond Scientific and and serves on the board of Ben Franklin Technology Partners. He is the former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Stan can be reached by email or at his website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com.