Chip Kelly Fired by the Eagles: Leadership Skills for the 21st Century – Technical or Human?


Last week Chip Kelly was fired by Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, in the 3rd year of his contract. Chip came to Philadelphia from a winning Oregon team with a lot of fanfare and bravado. He was recruited heavily by Mr. Lurie and negotiated both a lucrative contract financially ($6.5M per year) and a lot of power over the team as Head Coach and General Manager. He had authority over all personnel decisions and seemed excited to be here and make a difference, trying to connect with fans.

His first two years were fairly successful, but with a lot of personnel turbulence – DeSean Jackson/Shady McCoy – as he tried to shift the players and team strategy to his “fast offense” that had been so successful at Oregon. Not bad, but his enthusiasm, emotion, and willingness to understand the Eagle’s Fans began to lag. 2015 was a different year with a mediocre record and very sporadic performances. Even with a dismal record they were still in the hunt for the NFC East with a huge surprise win over the Patriots and Tom Brady in New England. Headlines rang, “Eagles can still win the NFC EAST.” Unfortunately they completely collapsed against the Washington Redskins the following week. They were flat, played with no inspiration, and seemed like a completely different team. Why? What was going on? Who is accountable?

After the frustrating loss, Jeffrey Lurie moved quickly to dismiss Mr. Kelly. In his press conference, he was very open and candid about his reasons and what he would be looking for in a new coach. One might have thought that he would say that Chip was not ready for the NFL, or that he did not recruit the correct players to play the “fast offense,”or that he made too many bad judgment calls in critical situations, or that Jeffrey had made a mistake by yielding too much power to a brand new NFL coach which distracted his coaching performance. I think all of those are fairly accurate and contributing factors, but Lurie took a completely different tack.

Lurie said that the two main reasons he fired Mr. Kelly were that he could not communicate well with his key constituents (senior management, players, and fans) and that he was not able to connect emotionally with either the team or the fans. Both had lost confidence in him and were not inspired to support or perform well under his leadership. In looking for a new head coach, communication and the ability to connect will be the most important attributes Lurie assesses.

Wow!! Is that surprising to you? Are these the traits you are taught to develop in school or at most leadership training programs? Is this how you thought the Head Coach and GM of a major city NFL team would be measured? Are these the skills you work on daily and try to build and improve upon?

At CI² we believe that people and organization have untapped potential to grow and achieve. In this fast paced world of Digital Disruption, ubiquitous communication, and millennials driving trends, these Human Skills will become increasingly important. Every leader might want to think about this and assess his or her ability to communicate and inspire teams…. Do you do it as well as you think? More importantly, how do you help your 2nd and 3rd level leaders learn and practice these skills? Could Chip Kelly’s firing be the “Tipping Point” for you that makes you want to call us and learn more? If so please click here to connect with us.

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