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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lurie: Still a 'long way to go'

ARLINGTON, Texas --- About a year ago Sunday night, Jeffrey Lurie was being hustled in and out of an Eagles locker room, trying to avoid the inevitable questioning and trying to avoid the many jabbing, pointing fingers of blame.
A year later, he was in the middle of an Eagles locker room, accepting handshakes, the owner of an NFC East championship team.
“What can I say?” Lurie said after the Birds' 24-22 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. “It's a big difference. But when you are down, it gives you an opportunity to change things. And we had one losing season last year and it drove us all to try to make a great decision on who we wanted to lead the way out of that and onto bigger things.
“You've got to really analyze it and make a bold decision. And we wanted to make a bold decision.”
A day after the Eagles ended their 4-12 2012 season, Lurie fired Andy Reid, his friend, his coach for 14 years. He would replace him with Chip Kelly, from the University of Oregon, with exactly 14 fewer years than Reid as an NFL head coach.
The result: A 10-6 season, the division championship and a first-round playoff game scheduled against the New Orleans Saints Saturday night in the Linc.
“I didn't have any worries that Chip would not be able to translate to the NFL,” Lurie said. “That was the least of my concerns.”
In Kelly, Lurie would invest in a different offense, a faster one, one more dedicated to the run. Kelly would make some personnel changes, some scheme changes and some changes that were even more subtle.
“A new offense, a new defense, hiring great people,” Lurie said. “And the main thing when you change coaches, and we do it so rarely, is to institute a new program and a new culture. And it is, 'Can you create it?', and, 'Can you get it across?'”
In Lurie's view, that's what Kelly had done, regenerating a positive spirit just 365 days after so many hard feelings would be followed by so many hard choices.
“This locker room is as good as it gets in sports,” Lurie said. “And I think that is a credit to the coaches and to the players. There is amazing chemistry and it is an incredible locker room. And that is a big part of sports.
“There is just so much to Chip,” Lurie added. “Obviously, he is extremely bright. But what you really saw was leadership at all times, whether you are riding high or riding low, facing big obstacles or small obstacles. At all times, Chip brings people together. He brings players together, coaches together. And that's what we are looking for. It's not easy to change coaches and find a coach that you really want go go after. But we were patient and went after Chip.”
Lurie was patient in the selection process. But 17 weeks later, he was a bit less calm.
“It was extremely nerve-wracking,” he said of the division-clinching game. “That would be an understatement. I expected it to be this way. I didn't expect it to be an easy game.”
The two-point victory was not easy, nor was the division championship, which required an entire regular season to achieve.
And, yes, Lurie knows that there are some other championships, plural, that he has semi-promised and continues to stalk.
“Again, a big win tonight, winning the division in Chip's first year,” Lurie said. “It's spectacular. But we have a long way to go --- a long way to go.”


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