In the end, Chip Kelly chose the NFL, giving the Eagles their guy.
Philadelphia hired Kelly on Wednesday, just 10 days after he decided to stay at Oregon. The 49-year-old Kelly, known as an offensive innovator, becomes the 21st coach in team history and replaces Andy Reid, who was fired on Dec. 31 after a 4-12 season.
FOXSports.com senior NFL writer Jay Glazer confirmed the news early Wednesday. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed yet.
He’ll be introduced at a news conference Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the Eagles’ practice facility.
Kelly, who was 46-7 in four years at Oregon, interviewed with the Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills in a two-day span after leading the fast-flying No. 2 Ducks to a victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.
The Eagles are known to have interviewed 11 candidates, including two meetings with Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. All along, Kelly was thought to be Philadelphia’s first choice in a long, exhaustive process that took many twists.
”Chip Kelly will be an outstanding head coach for the Eagles,” owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. ”He has a brilliant football mind. He motivates his team with his actions as well as his words. He will be a great leader for us and will bring a fresh energetic approach to our team.”
On the day he fired Reid, Lurie appeared to be describing Kelly when he said he wanted to find a ”real smart, forward-thinking coach” who is ”strategic, a strong leader, very comfortable in his own skin.”
The enigmatic Kelly reportedly was close to signing with the Browns after a long interview on Jan. 4. He met with the Eagles for nine hours the next day, setting up a soap-opera scenario in which the Eagles were competing with Browns CEO Joe Banner, their former president and longtime friend of Lurie who left the organization after a falling out.
But that roller coaster ended when Kelly opted to remain – temporarily – in Eugene, Ore. At the time, it was the second straight year Kelly had entertained overtures from NFL teams only to reject them. He turned down Tampa Bay’s job deep into negotiations last season.
The Eagles interviewed two other high-profile college coaches – Penn State’s Bill O’Brien and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. Both of them elected to stay with their schools and Philadelphia issued a statement saying it would continue its search as planned.
”There is no question we spent a considerable amount of time and effort looking at who we thought were the best collegiate candidates. We did so knowing that there was a remote chance that these coaches would leave their current posts,” the team stated on Saturday. ”We understood that going into the process, but we wanted to leave no stone unturned while trying to find the best coach. We have no regrets about the effort we made in that direction.”
Bradley was considered by many to be the leading contender, though former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and former Ravens coach Brian Billick were in the mix.
That all changed when Kelly had a change of heart.
The visor-wearing Kelly built Oregon into a national powerhouse. The Ducks went to four straight BCS bowl games – including a bid for the national championship against Auburn two seasons ago – and have won three Pac-12 championships.
Kelly originally went to Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, where he started devising the innovative hurry-up offense the Ducks are known for now.
Oregon finished last season 12-1. The team was ranked No. 1 and appeared headed for another shot at the national championship until a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford on Nov. 17.
It’s unknown whether the possibility of NCAA sanctions based on Oregon’s use of recruiting services factored into Kelly’s reversal. Kelly indicated in Arizona that he isn’t running from anything.
”We’ve cooperated fully with them,” he said. ”If they want to talk to us again, we’ll continue to cooperate fully. I feel confident in the situation.”
Following the bowl, Kelly said he wanted to get the interview process over ”quickly.” Turns out, it was anything but.