There was another year in which the Philadelphia Eagles retooled their roster for younger players who fit the ideology of its new, innovative head coach eager to install his defense. It was 1986, when former Chicago Bear’s defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan arrived with a trumpet in hand, proclaiming to the world that Philly had a winner in town.
The Eagles finished the1985 season at 7-9, and owner Norman Braman had enough of coach Marion Campbell‘s lack of aggression and imagination. He brought in Buddy to transform the team’s 3-4 base defense to the 46, but Buddy needed his players, his guys, to do it.
From the time he was hired to the time he finished his first season, Buddy made 32 roster changes and brought in 20 new players, 14 of whom were rookies. He traded starting linebackers Anthony Griggs and Joel Williams, and removed linebacker Reggie Wilkes, strong safety Ray Ellis, and cornerback Herman Edwards (he of ‘Miracle’ fame). In their place, Buddy built the defensive line around Reggie White, surrounding him with Ken Clarke and Greg Brown. He moved Mike Reichenbach into the starting MLB role, pairing him with Garry Cobb and rookie Alonzo Johnson. and he anchored the secondary with safeties Andre Waters and Terry Hoage.
Despite those roster moves, Buddy’s Eagles finished the 1986 season with a 5-10-1 record, regressing from 1985′s 7-9 finish, and the defense fell from being ranked 10th in the league to 17th. Which brings us to this point: for all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding Buddy’s arrival, his Eagles defense, version 1.0, was not very good.
What Chip Kelly et al is doing now is not all that dissimilar to Buddy’s efforts nearly 30 years ago. For example, Kelly is bringing training camp back to Philadelpia. Buddy did fthe same, scheduling three weeks of camp in the city before moving the team to West Chester University for ten days. And just as Buddy, Kelly is also bringing in his guys, injecting a new, winning culture ripe with potential.
In signing OLB Connor Barwin (26 years old) and H-back James Casey (28) from Houston, CB Cary Williams (28) from Baltimore, safety Kenny Phillips (26) from the Giants, safety Patrick Chung (25) from the Patriots, and NT Isaac Sopoaga (31) from the 49ers, the Eagles have brought in players with an average age of 27 whose teams went a combined 111-48-1 (69.4% win percentage) the last two seasons. A few of these names may very well be obscure to the next generation, and the 2013 season may not be regarded as a success, but culture change takes time.
By 1988, Buddy’s third year with the Eagles, only thirteen players remained from the squad that finished the 1985 season. With the acquisition of Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, and Jerome Brown, the team was more aggressive and much of the blandness and predictability that permeated Campbell’s tenure had vanished. It will be unrealistic to think that there will be substantial improvement in Kelly’s first season as Eagles head coach, but just as Buddy did, he is establishing expectation. With all due respect to Jeffrey Lurie, it’s Chip Kelly who is taking ownership of this Philadelphia Eagles football club. Kelly’s players will need to perform, regardless of result. If they don’t, then Kelly will bring more winners to town.Tags: Buddy Ryan, Chip Kelly, Connor Barwin, free agency, Isaac Sopoaga, James Casey, Kenny Phillips, Patrick Chung, Philadelphia Eagles