Lurie: Firing Chip was ‘clear and important decision that had to be made’

A whirlwind 24 hours of speculation for the Philadelphia Eagles came full circle as Jeffrey Lurie stepped to the podium at NovaCare Complex on Wednesday about 17 hours after the press release heard all around Philadelphia and the NFL was released.

Chip Kelly had been fired by the Eagles on Tuesday night, and Lurie spoke of the decision on Wednesday afternoon.

"It's never an easy decision to change head coaches," Lurie said. "It was a clear and important decision that had to be made."

The decision comes with one game left in the 2015 season, days after the Eagles playoff hopes came to an end with a 38-24 loss to the Washington Redskins. It dropped their record to 6-9.

"This has been one of the most disappointing seasons I've ever had to endure," Lurie said. "I didn't feel that our preseason success would have anything to do with our regular season. I've never believed that. It was surprising because I thought we were on the verge of something that could be very special.

"Sometimes there's a culture within an organization with players that create a momentum and energy and fluidity. We never achieved that. It was too inconsistent. The difference between winning the division and not might have been slight, but this was not a strong division and you've got to look at things outside of just winning the NFC East. I think it's a bigger situation than that."

Obviously, Lurie was going to have to answer several questions regarding the decision. First off, why were the Eagles choosing to make the decision? 

"It's important to really carefully evaluate and analyze, not to be impatient," Lurie said. "Every season I have to carefully look over everything. This was really a three-year evaluation. A three-year evaluation of where we were heading, what is the trajectory, what is the progress or lack thereof and what did I anticipate for the foreseeable future and that's why the decision was made.

"Last March, I said with Chip's vision, it was an opportunity that he wanted to lead the way to try to go from good to great. I remember saying that there are dangers in that. Making significant changes, you can easily achieve mediocrity. It would be a shame not to try, but the end result was mediocrity. As the owner of the team, I've got to look at the progress and the trajectory of where it's headed. It's disappointing to me, but that is the danger when you take the risk."

Clearly, the firing had to do with results. But Kelly's need to take control of player decisions put him in a greater spotlight and it ultimately cost him.

"I wanted to make Chip accountable for everything he wanted to have happen," Lurie said. "One of the ways to make him accountable was to have him make those decisions because that is what he insisted on decisively doing. If you want to make those decisions, be accountable for them. There was a risk involved in allowing Chip to have that kind of say over player transactions. Sometimes the risks don't work, and in this case it didn't work.

"There was really no choice in maximizing Chip without him having the lever in terms of making those decisions. You either were all-in or find a new coach in terms of the trust. The choice was let's see if that's going to work. The results, part of that is the reason we're here today."

With the reasoning much clearer, the timing still remained a mystery. Why on the Tuesday before the team's final game would Lurie pull the trigger on Kelly?

"Three reasons for the earliest timing," Lurie said. "One, I wanted to get a jumpstart on our head coaching search. I knew already what we were going to do and I thought having six extra days was pretty important. Secondly, in fairness to Chip, it was a good way for him to also view the marketplace and see what's possible in terms of employers. Most importantly, however, was the opportunity to spend a lot of time with our players. I've already started that process. That was the defining decision.

"When you make a decision the Monday after the last game, the players really go for some physicals and disperse. They are anxious to go home. In today's world, at least the way I like to run things, I want to hear from the players. I want to engage them and have them understand what they felt was lacking I need to understand, but also be a sponge. What is leadership like in today's world? You're dealing with 22 to 35 or more aged people, people who are elite athletes trying to perform at the very peak of their profession. There's a lot of issues. What is leadership like in today's world? It's very different than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. I'd like to think we're always going to be on the progressive end of how to lead. That's top down but it's also through the head coach and people the head coach surrounds himself with. If I waited until Monday, there would be so much less of that opportunity."

Among the other revelations from Lurie's press conference were the roles of the rest of the front office and some of the qualities and factors that will go into hiring the next head coach.

First off, Howie Roseman will retain his role as vice president of football operations and oversee player personnel, which will be handled by the recently-promoted senior director of player personnel Tom Donahoe. Roseman and Donahue will handle player decisions with the new head coach. Lurie, Roseman and Don Smolenski are serving as the key three in the coaching search. They were the key players in the hiring of Kelly.

"We knew what the potential pitfalls were. He was our first choice," Lurie said. "It was a unanimous decision we all had in the hiring process. I thought after 15 years of going in one direction that there was a reason to do that. I'd hate to ever be risk-averse. I don't ever want to operate that way whether it's acquiring a player or picking a head coach. It's much better to go for it than say other teams are doing it that way. That's not the way we've ever operated. When you make a bold choice, there's increased risk and sometimes it just doesn't work out when you take risks.

"I think the best approach is a real collaborative approach. In this case with Chip, I think there were some very good reasons to be bold about what he wanted to be able to accomplish and do, however, going forward, I think a much more collaborative approach between player personnel and coaching is the way to go.

"I'm very confident that this search will be done very professionally as the last one was. We uncovered several excellent candidates. I'm excited about starting that search. We've already started last night."

There will obviously be an extensive list of coaching candidates for the Eagles and Lurie said there is no limits on where they will look.

"No category is diminished here," Lurie said. "We're going to look at NFL coaches, NFL coordinators, college coaches, retired coaches, any category you can come up with, if we think it's the best candidate. We're looking for the best leader. I've looked carefully at coaches around the league and where they come from. I don't think there's any clear evidence of offense over defense. It comes down to the leadership ability with today's athlete in today's world. I don't treat offense or defense differently."

Lurie said he is clearly looking for leadership. But his description of what he is looking for in a new hire said a lot about where the team was with Chip Kelly and why they decided to move on. The more Lurie spoke, the more he described the opposite of Kelly in terms of a relationship with the rest of the organization.

"In terms of what we're looking for in a coach, it's several things," Lurie said. "No. 1, a smart strategic thinker. That's a given. You've got to be looking out for the short-term, mid-term and long-term of the franchise. Looking for somebody who interacts very well and communicates clearly with everybody he works with and comes in touch with, understands the passion of our fans and what it's like to coach the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It's a unique and incredibly passionate fan base that just wants to win. You've got to incorporate that in your life, in your heart and you've got to be willing to do that. You've got to open your heart to players and everybody you want to achieve peak performance. I would call it a style of leadership that values information, all the resources that are provided, and at the same time values emotional intelligence. I think in today's world of the way businesses are run and sports teams are run, that a combination of all those factors creates the best chance to succeed and it's not easy to have."

Having to move on from Kelly is a tough reality check for Lurie and company. While the decision needed to be made, the Eagles were in a better place when they moved on from Andy Reid than the three years later as they move on from Kelly. But Lurie doesn't think the roster is as much the problem as the coach and GM that wasn't providing enough leadership for his group.

"I don't see it [as rebuilding] in any way," Lurie said. "The tempo is unique. But the kinds of players, whether it's Darren Sproles, DeMarco Murray, Sam Bradford, Vinny Curry, these are players that can fit in any system. It remains to be seen if we run a high-tempo type of offense or not. That will be determined by the new head coach. But I don't see any players on the roster that one would say are only a fit for a Chip Kelly team. We have to increase the talent level and increase the performance level of those we have. That's the key. It's not a fit system type of situation."

In his opening remarks, before taking questions, Lurie made it a point to publically thank Chip Kelly and noted that there wasn't a harder working person in the last three seasons. But as the Eagles prepare for one final game in a disappointing season, it officially marked the end of the Chip Kelly era, the risk that didn't reap the rewards and left a pretty big mess behind.

"I look forward to watching Chip succeed wherever he goes. I think he really will," Lurie said. "But I also look forward to a real improvement in where we're headed and very much look forward to the 2016 season where we'll have an opportunity with a new head coach, new leadership and the opportunity for the players and organization and everyone involved to perform up to their maximum."

You can watch Lurie's press conference in it's entirety here.

Kevin Durso is managing editor for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.