Chip Kelly is today’s version of Jimmy Johnson.
Disclaimer: Many of the following quotes are from Jeff Pearlman’s “Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty“
Remember Jimmy Johnson? In the history of the NFL, there may not be a more intriguing and fiery head coach than the Port Author, Texas native. Although Johnson was unconventional in terms of his coaching and his attitude towards many things pissed off many of his players, the only thing Johnson cared about was whether his team would win.
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Despite having success at Oklahoma State, Johnson’s name really emerged amongst the national spotlight when he became the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes in 1984.
After five years with the Hurricanes, who were really the villains and the bad boys of college football, Johnson took football by storm.
Johnson had shown many times at Miami that his desire to win sometimes was too much and having him as head coach came with a ton of repercussions. Around the same time, an Arkansas oil drilled named Jerral Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys.
After a failed attempt at buying the San Diego Chargers, Jones bought the Cowboys, a laughingstock franchise at the time.
His first move with the Cowboys was one that questioned many people. Jones would hire his long-time friend Jimmy Johnson to be the Cowboys’ head coach. What that meant is that the Cowboys would be moving on from Tom Landry, a coach that had been with the team for 30 years including two Super Bowl victories. By choosing Johnson over Landry, the narrative became that two long-time friends would take over the Cowboys.
During their playing years together at Arkansas, Jones and Johnson were best friends and they dreamed of working together in the future. Their dream was made reality when Johnson was officially brought on to be the head coach 1989.
While Johnson would go down to be one of the Cowboys’ best coaches of all time, if not the best, the start of his Dallas tenure was rocky to say the least.
In his first season with the Cowboys, Johnson showed his loyalty to his Miami players. The year before, the Cowboys were the worst team in the league and because of that, they were awarded with the No. 1 pick. That player would be Troy Aikman. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, with a rocket for an arm, Aikman really was everything professional teams wanted in a quarterback.
Despite that, Johnson saw wasn’t the biggest fan of the UCLA product.
Three months after the Cowboys selected Aikman first overall and Jones declared him as the guy going forward, Johnson convinced Jones to use a first-round pick in the supplemental draft on Steve Walsh. The same Steve Walsh that played for Johnson at Miami. Aikman was surprised and worried. Walsh talked about the quarterback position, “Troy felt threatened by me. I understood it. Jimmy was my college coach, not his.”
Walsh was the prime example of Johnson showing favoritism towards Miami players. This would continue for years in Dallas and so would the obscurity.
In 1989, the Cowboys had four Miami players on their roster. Michael Irvin and Willie Broughton were mainstays on this team, but Randy Shannon and Steve Walsh were nothing special. In 1990, however, the number of Miami players on the team grew to seven.
Jimmie Jones, Alonzo Highsmith and Daniel Stubbs were all brought in. The last two, however, did not make much of a difference for the Cowboys. In 1991, the Cowboys would use the first overall pick in the entire draft on Miami defensive tackle Russell Maryland. This move wasn’t popular amongst the player personnel staff and Johnson’s affinity for Miami players was questioned even further.
In 1992, the Cowboys were Super Bowl champions. On that team, there was only four Miami players, but all four were difference-makers. Irvin, Maryland, Jones, and Alfredo Roberts were all real good players and they were all vital to this team’s Super Bowl win. Out went underperforming Miami players like Alonzo Highsmith, Randy Shannon, and Daniel Stubbs, and in came players like Charles Haley and Darren Woodson.
So what did Johnson learn? Well, he learned that showing favoritism towards his old players would burn him in his NFL career.
Imagine if Johnson had picked Steve Walsh to start over Troy Aikman. Before the start of the 1989 season, Johnson pulled the Cowboys’ announcer Brad Sham into his office. Johnson started saying, “You know what I’m thinking of doing, I’m thinking of starting…” Immediately, Sham cut off Johnson and said “Jimmy, if you start Steve Walsh the fans will burn your house down. You have to give this Aikman kid a chance.”
Fortunately enough for Cowboys fans, Johnson did and the end result would be three Super Bowls in the 1990s, two with Johnson.
So this poses the question, who is this generation’s version of Jimmy Johnson? That coach is no other than Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Although times are completely changed and the NFL is evolving more than other, we still see the same tendencies Johnson showed and this offseason has shown to the highest level of how similar Kelly and Johnson really are.
Both coaches wanted a bigger say in the front office. Kelly got his wish this offseason and it has led to a bevy of questionable moves. Let’s get started with the LeSean McCoy trade. Don’t get me wrong, Kiko Alonso is an extremely talented player, but he is also a guy coming off a knee injury and given how Chip’s offense relies on speed and cutting ability, McCoy really was the perfect back for this offensive philosophy.
Currently, the Eagles have eight Oregon players on their roster. Jeff Maehl is an exclusive rights free agent and Casey Matthews is an unrestricted free agent, so they basically had ten on their roster this past season.
The eight on the roster right now are Alonso, Brandon Bair, Kenjon Barner, Taylor Hart, Josh Huff, Wade Keliikipi, Will Murphy, and now Walter Thurmond. Besides Alonso, Huff, and perhaps Thurmond, who will likely be the team’s No. 2 cornerback in 2015, the Eagles really do just have Oregon players rounding out their rosters.
There’s no Michael Irvin on this team. With free agency taking shape, even with the trade for Sam Bradford, the possibility of trading for Marcus Mariota, the quarterback Chip referred to as the best he’s ever worked with, is really not out of the question.
The scary thing with Kelly is that he has a way out. With his higher position inside the organization, Kelly will have the ability to make decisions regarding the team’s future. If Kelly does indeed trade for Mariota, he will have to mortgage the team’s future.
If that happens and the Eagles fail over the next two years, Kelly will probably lose his job. However, he will have a job waiting for him back at the collegiate level. That being said, there is room for questionability with Kelly.
Knowing that he could have success at the college level, Kelly is basically in a win-win situation.
Regardless, the key to building a Super Bowl-winning franchise is to make the right decisions, whether those decisions come in free agency or through the draft. Johnson was able to become a Super Bowl coach because he saw the bigger picture and he saw how showing bias towards his Miami players failed.
Will Kelly ever throw aside his Oregon players? That’s yet to be seen, but if Kelly does in fact reel in Mariota, it’s clear that the Eagles are throwing their all of their chips, pun intended, on the table.
Chip, the face of the Philadelphia Eagles’ franchise for the next decade is at your hands. What you do with it could go down as one of the biggest busts in history or it could also go down as one of the brightest spots in the Eagles’ franchise.
Nevertheless, the Eagles have already added two Oregon players this offseason, and that number could very well go up as the draft nears and free agency continues.
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