Eagles

Chip Kelly hired as UCLA head coach

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Chip Kelly hired as UCLA head coach

LOS ANGELES -- Chip Kelly is headed to UCLA with plans to create another Pac-12 powerhouse.

The coach who helped changed college football with his groundbreaking offense at Oregon agreed to a five-year, $23.3 million deal on Saturday to return to the sideline with the Bruins.

Kelly, who turned 54 on Saturday, spent the past year out of coaching after four seasons in the NFL. He entertained serious overtures from Florida this month before deciding to take charge of the sleeping giant of a program at UCLA, which hasn't won a conference title since 1998.

"I am thrilled to welcome Chip Kelly to Westwood," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "His success speaks for itself, but more than that, I firmly believe that his passion for the game and his innovative approach to coaching student-athletes make him the perfect fit for our program."

Kelly replaces Jim Mora, who was fired last Sunday with one game left in his sixth season in Westwood.

Kelly won three conference titles and reached four major bowl games in just four seasons (2009-12) in charge of the Ducks, who were turned into a marvel of exciting football by his no-huddle spread offense and up-tempo approach to almost everything they did.

Oregon went 46-7 during his tenure, reaching the BCS championship game after the 2010 season and also playing in two Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl.

Kelly then went 28-35 with the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers from 2013-16, getting fired from both teams after losing seasons. He was an ESPN football analyst this fall.

The Bruins almost certainly fired Mora early -- and ate more than $12 million remaining on his contract through 2021 -- because they hoped to land Kelly, the most coveted coach on the college football landscape.

Florida also pursued Kelly to fill their own high-profile job opening. But after the Bruins' presentation Tuesday, which included input from former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman and powerful booster Casey Wasserman, Kelly elected to return to the West Coast, where he already has recruiting contacts after years of landing California talent for Oregon.

"It is an absolute honor to join the Bruin Family, and I am grateful to Chancellor (Gene) Block and to Dan Guerrero for this incredible opportunity," Kelly said in a statement. "UCLA is a world-class institution with a distinguished history in athletics, and we will do our part to uphold its tradition of excellence."

Kelly's UCLA contract contains a $9 million reciprocal buyout, the Bruins said. UCLA will introduce Kelly in a news conference on campus Monday.

Jedd Fisch, Mora's first-year offensive coordinator, served as the Bruins' interim head coach Friday night when UCLA (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) beat California 30-27 to earn bowl eligibility for the fifth time in Mora's six seasons. Fisch was expected to run the Bruins in December through practices and a to-be-determined bowl game.

Kelly likely sees the opportunity to do big things at UCLA, which plays in the Rose Bowl in the nation's second-largest media market. Although the Bruins are frequently overshadowed by powerhouse rival Southern California, UCLA is hoping Kelly can be the ingredient that tips the balance back toward the Bruins, who had only seven winning records in the previous 14 years.

Although star quarterback Josh Rosen is likely headed to the NFL, Mora leaves behind plenty of elite talent at UCLA, which recently opened the $65 million Wasserman Football Center. The lavish training complex finally provides the Bruins with facilities approaching the standards of their Pac-12 competitors -- even Oregon, with its famously impressive trappings backed by Nike boss Phil Knight.

UCLA plays at Oregon on Nov. 3, 2018.

Kelly left Oregon with the school under investigation by the NCAA for recruiting violations. The Ducks eventually got three years of probation. Although the NCAA determined Kelly didn't know about the violations, he was still given an 18-month show cause order, requiring any school wishing to hire him to justify its decision to the Committee of Infractions. That order has expired.

Kelly jumped to the NFL and the Eagles, but he was fired late in his third season in Philadelphia despite posting winning records in his first two campaigns.

He spent 2016 in charge of the 49ers, but that troubled franchise abruptly fired him last winter after going 2-14.

Kelly becomes the Bruins' fifth full-time coach since 1995, when Terry Donahue left after winning five Pac-10 titles during 20 seasons. The Bruins won two more league titles in the late 1990s under Bob Toledo, but they haven't claimed another conference crown or appeared in the Rose Bowl game in nearly two decades.

Mora was arguably the Bruins' most successful coach since Donahue, going 46-30 and starting off his tenure with four consecutive winning seasons. Mora's second and third teams tied the modest school record with 10 wins.

But the Bruins declined sharply in the past two seasons. UCLA went 4-8 last year with one of the FBS' worst offenses. UCLA went undefeated at the Rose Bowl and winless on the road this season. The Bruins won just 10 of their last 27 games under Mora after their 28-23 loss to USC last Saturday night.

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Eagles' offense 'full steam ahead' with Nick Foles at QB

Carson Wentz is out, Nick Foles is in. 

And the Eagles claim their offense isn't going to change. 

On it's face, that seems somewhat absurd. After all, Wentz is more than an average quarterback. He's the face of the Eagles' franchise and was an MVP candidate through 13 weeks. Foles was once a Pro Bowler, but there's a reason he wasn't a starter entering this season. 

So how will the offense look different? 

"I don't expect it will look different at all," Foles said adamantly.  

Why is that? 

"Because it's our offense," Foles answered. "This is the Eagles' offense. This is the one that is the DNA of this team. And we're going to do what we do. We have so many tremendous players on offense that can do a lot of different things. We just have to go out there and execute and have a great week of work and just keep moving." 

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich finally admitted that there will be "very minor tweaks" to the Eagles' weekly game plans with Foles in at quarterback. But he made the same point as Foles, that the system is built around the QB, but also around the other talent on offense. 

There is, however, one pretty significant difference between Wentz and Foles. 

"Now, Carson has some unique physical traits that he does exceptionally well, but it's nothing that Nick can't handle," Reich said. "We're full steam ahead."

The Eagles run plenty of run-pass option plays, but head coach Doug Pederson pointed out on Monday that the Eagles very rarely use their quarterback to run the ball in those situations. And as far as RPOs go, Foles has used them plenty before. 

Another part of the offense that has been tailored to Wentz is the autonomy the quarterback has at the line of scrimmage. Wentz has been able to make calls and checks pre-snap based on what the defense shows. It seems like Foles will have that same ability, which is something he's excited about. 

"Understand this, he's a veteran player who has played and won a lot of games, not only here, but other places that he's been," Pederson said. "Nick's a highly intelligent football player."

Pederson said he and Foles will talk weekly to make sure his quarterback is comfortable with the plays that go into the game plan. So, theoretically, things could be different. But based on what the offensive leaders of the team have said, don't expect wholesale changes. 

Now, what might change about the offense isn't necessarily by design. Because of Wentz's unique physical gifts and escapability, he's able to make incredible plays. The escape in Washington, the throw to Corey Clement in the end zone, the deep flick down the sideline in Seattle, those are plays only a handful of guys in the world can make. It would be unfair to expect Foles to make them. 

But as far as game-planning goes, the Eagles are going to do what they've done. 

"I feel comfortable in this offense," Foles said. "I love this offense. We're going to run this offense. Nothing's going to change."

Foles dealt with elbow soreness during the summer, but says his elbow now feels "amazing" and is not an issue. That's good news for the Eagles, because at least Foles has plenty of starting experience. His backup, Nate Sudfeld, has never even been active for an NFL game. 

The Eagles' hopes in 2017 rest on the shoulders of Foles. 

"I've always been a gunslinger, just let it rip," Foles said. "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play loose, count on the guys, lead this team. There's no other place I'd rather be. That's why I came back here. ... I'm ready to step up and help this team win."

Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

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Doug Pederson needs to give his new QB some help

I know you're feeling conflicted right now. The Eagles are 11-2, tied for the best record in the NFL. They've already clinched the NFC East. Home-field advantage and a playoff bye are a very real possibility. But the Carson Wentz injury is an equalizer and then some.

On the bright side, the Flyers steadied their sinking ship in Western Canada by winning three straight. But the Sixers have dropped four in a row. Maybe the Phils will land Jake Arrieta or Manny Machado? Dare to dream. You're up, you're down. Welcome to Philadelphia sports. So what better time to provide some nice, healthy Rob's Rants? Letting things out can be therapeutic and after the Wentz news, I need to vent a little.    

Run-pass-option
It's hard to find fault with Doug Pederson this season. He's done an excellent job game planning and having his team prepared week in and week out, and his most impressive work has been his ability to overcome injuries. The Eagles have lost Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos, just to name a few. All of the above represent major core pieces and Pederson's team is 11-2. Losing Wentz trumps them all and presents the head coach's biggest challenge. So look at this not so much as a rant but a plea to Doug P. moving forward.     

Nick Foles entered the Rams game late in the third quarter with the Eagles trailing 35-31. Certainly a difficult spot for any backup. He hadn't taken a meaningful snap all season. Logic would dictate emphasizing the run to let him get his feet wet. This was not the late fourth quarter, no timeouts, need to move down the field quickly type of circumstances. Further, the Eagles have three very capable running backs.

Pederson elected to throw the ball five straight times and called pass plays on eight of nine in the possession. The Birds did wind up getting a field goal on the drive and Foles completed three passes, but you wonder if it's the wisest move to drop Foles back that much, that quickly. I know Doug has been aggressive all season and that in part has helped the Eagles get where they are, and I'm also well aware of the heat he took by many (including me) for being too passive in the Seattle loss. But with Foles' lack of mobility in the pocket and the left side of the Eagles' offensive line struggling mightily against the pass rush, a bigger dose of the run could have made his transition back to starter a little smoother. But beyond the Rams game, balance and a commitment to the run will be Foles' best friend, along with a strong defense.    

Sixers struggles
It's one thing to lose in Cleveland and New Orleans, especially without Joel Embiid for both games and Robert Covington vs. the Pelicans. It's another to drop home games to the likes of the Suns and the Lakers prior to those defeats. For that, there is no excuse. The Sixers have lost four in a row and stand at 13-13. They continue to turn the ball over at an alarming rate and of late have not come to play to start games, particularly at home. Some of this can be chalked up to youth. Some not so much.

They are losing far too many 50-50 balls. Too many offensive rebounds and second chances allowed. That's just hustle and want. They also need veterans like Jerryd Bayless to be better, especially in the absence of T.J. McConnell. I've pointed this out before in this space but the Sixers are beyond losing to the NBA's dregs. It would also be nice to get the No. 1 overall pick from this past draft on the floor at some point.    

Army-Navy
Let's close out this Rob's Rants on two positives. First, the 118th edition of Army-Navy football was played Saturday right here in Philadelphia. It is everything that is right about sports and our country. The men doing battle on that field at the Linc put sports into the context it deserves. Battle hard on the field, win or lose, respect to your opponent, represent our service men and women and country. Then it's on to further protecting and serving. They are truly unique individuals. And to have it played in the snow in such a cool setting was awesome.

DJ and the Kernal
Lastly, Dick Jerardi and Mike Kern both recently announced their retirements from the Philadelphia Daily News. They were as good of writers as this city has ever seen. They were even better people. I grew up reading them and had the opportunity as an adult to work with them professionally as a producer, then as a host and the pleasure was all mine. They knew of what they wrote, you learned something every time you read them, and they provided a sense of humor while doing it. Nothing beat our yearly Daily News Live Christmas Eve shows with Hall of Famer John Chaney. Their bylines will be missed.