What the #@$& is Chip Kelly doing?

Ten years ago, a little-known assistant coach from New Hampshire telephoned Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti with a request. Could he come watch Bellotti and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton install their spread offense during spring practice?

"We'd been beg-borrow-and-stealing from everybody in the nation," Bellotti said. "So I said, 'Sure.'"

He had no idea who Chip Kelly was.

Everybody knows now. Kelly might be the most enigmatic man in the National Football League, a modern-day Jimmy Johnson bucking convention as he tries to build the Philadelphia Eagles into a Super Bowl contender. He has shipped out star players. He's betting on players coming off serious injuries. He signedTim Tebow.

It is Chip Kelly's show.

Two years after Kelly made the trek to Eugene to watch practice, Bellotti chose Kelly from a list of seven candidates to replace Crowton, who had left for LSU. Two years after that, Kelly became the Ducks' head coach when Bellotti accepted the job as Oregon's athletic director. Four years after that, following 46 wins and four BCS bowl appearances, Kelly burst into the NFL.

Bellotti knows how Kelly thinks. He knows Kelly's mind is always running, much like his feet and his mouth. He understands Kelly's dry sense of humor, his creativity, his football intellect and his contempt for conformity.

So he was not surprised that Kelly gained total control of the Eagles' football operation, squeezing out general manager Howie Roseman in a move Kelly insists wasn't a power play-- although evidence suggests otherwise. After talking to Kelly at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, before January's college football national championship game between Oregon and Ohio State, Bellotti fully understood why.

"He felt like he and his staff could do that job, and there would be no translation," Bellotti said. "Anytime you have to communicate to somebody else what you want, and then they're taking your ideas, he said, 'Why can't we do it this way instead?' He said he and his coaches could do it without the middle man. I just know he felt he would have a better chance of getting what he needed on the field if he could draft or trade for or find a player in free agency that he needed, whether it's a three-technique defensive end or a SAM linebacker or a receiver who could stretch the field.

"I think he would call it 'efficiency.'"

What Kelly has done with that control has rocked an obsessed fan base dying to celebrate the Eagles' first Super Bowl victory. The pace of Kelly's offseason moves has been dizzying, and the talent he has parted with -- including quarterback Nick Foles, running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, offensive guard Todd Herremans and defensive end Trent Cole -- has Philadelphians questioning him.

Does Chip Kelly know what the#@$&he is doing?

It was surprising enough for the Eagles to release wide receiver DeSean Jacksonin March 2014 after Jackson had a career year in Kelly's first season in Philadelphia.

This spring, the team's transactions have sent shock waves through the league. The Eagles traded Foles, a fourth-round draft pick and a second-round pick in 2016 to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford, who is coming off his second ACL tear, and a fifth-round pick. Then they traded McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing two years ago, to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso, who also is coming off an ACL tear. Finally, they let Maclin leave in free agency for Kansas City, where he reunited with former Eagles coach Andy Reid.

In return, in free agency the Eagles signed running backs DeMarco Murray from Dallas and Ryan Mathews from San Diego to pair with incumbent Darren Sproles. They signed ex-Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell and formerNew York Giants cornerback Walter Thurmond in an attempt to fix the defense's biggest weakness. They kept linebacker Brandon Graham off the free-agent market by signing him to a four-year deal. They re-signed quarterback Mark Sanchez to a two-year contract and extended middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans for another year.

Then, the final free-agency bombshell: Tebow.

In the draft, Kelly used five of his six picks on defensive players. He selected Utah cornerback Eric Rowe, who played free safety for three years in college before switching to corner, in the second round, and Texas outside linebacker Jordan Hicks in the third.

With his first pick, 20th overall, Kelly selected Southern California wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who can play in the slot and on the outside and also return punts. To some Eagles fans, Agholor will forever be the first-round pick Kelly could have traded in a package to acquire Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Ultimately, while Kelly coveted Mariota, Tennessee's price to move out of the second overall pick was simply too steep.

With Kelly in charge, the Eagles have veered from the conventional method of team construction -- build through the draft, keep core players and use free agency and trades only to supplement positions of need -- to go all-in on other team's castoffs.

"It's either brilliantly innovative or it's leading the Eagles into a spiral downward to Dante's Inferno," said Mike Missanelli, afternoon sports talk show host at 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia. "Here's the thing people are worried about: They'll become the victim, and he'll be fine. He can run this team into the ground, and he'll have an $8 million-a-year college job waiting for him. [Fans] are leery about that, but they're putting that in a box, and in the meantime, they think they're sitting on something special."

But will Kelly's plan work?

One longtime former NFL executive said, like others, that while he is not privy to Kelly's plan, he sees merit in it. In Murray and Mathews, Kelly got direct runners whom he can use like he did LeGarrette Blount at Oregon. In this executive's opinion, Kelly tradedMcCoy, who will turn 27 years old before the season, at just the right time, even though McCoy averaged 1,231 rushing yards over the past five seasons and hasn't missed a start since 2012.

The Bills were so thrilled to acquire McCoy, they extended his contract.

"He had an impressive five-year run, but measure it statistically," the executive said. "Over time, most running backs have a five- to six-year run, then they decline relatively precipitously. They don't become bums overnight, and they don't fall off the cliff, but Buffalo made an extremely stupid mistake extending him. They should've played it out. He will not earn that money."

Critics of the move can point to the fact that McCoy is five months younger than Murray, but McCoyhas started 29 more games, has 527 more career carries and 2,266 more rushing yards than Murray.

St. Louis general manager Les Snead, who helped orchestrate the Foles-for-Bradford trade, said Kelly's choice in running backs makes perfect sense.

"Going back to Oregon, the ability to run the ball between the tackles north and south is something they need because I do think they spread you out," Snead said. "They use their tight ends a lot. I think. obviously. they value bigger receivers. So I understand the brands those guys [McCoy and Maclin] have, but I can certainly sit here and say, 'You know what, I see what they're trying to do,' or at least I think I do. Nowhere near where Chip knows what he wants to do, but I can understand the line of reasoning."

The former NFL executive said he questioned the Eagles' giving up a second-round draft pick next year as part of the Bradford deal. He chalked up that decision to the inexperience of 31-year-old Ed Marynowitz, whom Kelly promoted earlier this year to be his vice president of player personnel.

"I suspect Ed's new at it and didn't have anybody there to say, 'No,'" the former executive said. "St. Louis wanted to get rid of Bradford in the worst way. That's the only thing you could question."

A member of Kelly's coaching staff said simply: "If you were Chip, would you build around Nick Foles? No. He wants his own guys."

Which is why Roseman is no longer in charge of personnel. It's why Roseman's top two lieutenants, director of college scouting Anthony Patch and director of pro personnel Rick Mueller, were relieved of their duties following the draft.

Although Kelly denies his expanded role is the result of a hostile takeover, the circumstances leading up to the power shift are more than enough to cast doubt. In the locker room following the Eagles' win over the Giants in the season finale, team owner Jeffrey Lurie scoffed at a question about whether Roseman would continue as general manager. Two days later, with Lurie's blessing, Roseman fired Tom Gamble, the team's vice president of player personnel and one of Kelly's closest confidantes. Three days after that, following meetings with Kelly, Roseman and team president Don Smolenski, Lurie stripped Roseman of personnel responsibilities and gave them to Kelly.

"I feel bad for Howie, but it's pretty inevitable with these really strong, dynamic, CEO-like head coaches that have success," said another former NFL executive. "It's not always quite this fast, but they generally end up in this position."

As for Kelly's dumping so many high-wattage stars, Bellotti understands that, too.

"I think he wants people he trusts," Bellotti said. "If he doesn't trust you, it doesn't matter how good you are on the field. I think that basically is an issue. That's why he's tried to get so many Oregon kids. He knows them. It's a known commodity. In that business, you better know."

McCoy was understandably hurt -- and somehow surprised -- when the Eagles traded him to Buffalo. There had been rumblings last offseason that Kelly wanted to move McCoy, but the Eagles traded running back Bryce Brown to Buffalo instead.

McCoy maintained throughout last season that he was on good terms with Kelly, even though Kelly tweaked him in news conferences about his practice habits and running style.

Compounding McCoy's hard feelings about getting traded was the fact that news of the trade leaked -- according to Kelly, from Buffalo's side -- before Kelly had a chance to call McCoy or his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. There was more. According to former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who is a friend and mentor to McCoy, the team never asked McCoy to restructure his contract to reduce the $11.95 million he would have cost against the cap this season.

"Money was an issue, and that's something that you can resolve with players," Westbrook said. "It happens all the time. When guys are being paid an awful lot of money, you go to them and say, 'Hey, we love you here. You're a great player. We want to restructure you.'

"They could've done that if they wanted to do that, and according to LeSean, they didn't even call. I think as a veteran guy, I think it's a little bit disrespectful, and that's something Chip has to work on, especially being in his personnel-type of role. You can't treat guys like that, because sooner or later, it's going to catch up to you when guys come to free agency and it comes down to deciding between two teams."

While Westbrook, who talks frequently to McCoy, said that he believes McCoy "wants to put this Philadelphia thing behind him and move forward," McCoy's actions indicate otherwise. Last month, he told Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I don't think [Kelly] likes or respects the stars. I'm being honest. I think he likes the fact that it's 'Chip Kelly and the Eagles.'"

Later, in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN.com's Mike Rodak for ESPN The Magazine, McCoy said there "are no similarities" between Bills coach Rex Ryan and Kelly.

Asked what the problem was between him and Kelly, McCoy said, "The relationship was never really great. I feel like I always respected him as a coach. I think that's the way he runs his team. He wants the full control. You see how fast he got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players. He got rid of them the fastest. That's the truth. There's a reason. ... It's hard to explain with him. But there's a reason he got rid of all the black players -- the good ones -- like that."

Kelly, through a team spokesperson, had no comment.

McCoy isn't alone in his assessment. Former Eagles assistant coach Tra Thomas, who was let go by the team earlier this year, told Philadelphia TV station Fox 29 in March that there are "some different players" who "feel like there is a hint of racism" from Kelly. Thomas pointed to the racial makeup of Kelly's coaching staff -- only one head position coach, Duce Staley, is African-American -- and Kelly's support of Riley Cooper after Cooper was caught on video using a racial slur at a concert in 2013.

"You don't want to go out and just call someone racist, and that's not what I'm saying at all with that," Thomas told ESPN.com. "That's not something I felt personally from Coach Kelly, and I don't think he's running around with that in mind.

"What I was saying about some of the issues that I heard in the locker room is it's just something players have come and said to me just as players. ... I don't think it was anything where there was a racial slur thrown at them or anything. It was just something they felt, and when they were coming in and talking about it, it was just how they felt about the situation."

Thomas said that when the Cooper video went public, it was an issue for many Eagles players.

"Guys on the team were like, 'Really? Wow,'" he said.

Then the Eagles gave Cooper a five-year, $25 million extension in February 2014.

"They brought him in, gave him a contract extension. As players, what can you say? What can you do?" Thomas said. "You just have to ride that out."

This offseason, Kelly has signed a number of African-American players, including Maxwell and Murray, who landed deals potentially worth $63 million and $42 million, respectively. Five of the six players the Eagles selected in last week's draft are black.

Reid has watched from afar as the man who replaced him has dismantled the roster Reid assembled. Foles, Jackson, Maclin, McCoy, Cole and Herremans, Reid drafted them all.

"I haven't asked, but I don't think it's anything personal," Reid said. "It's just the way it is. ... Everybody has to do it their way, which is important, and then you just let it play out and see how it goes."

But Reid knows the perils of relying on free agency and trades to build the nucleus of a team. In 2011, the Eagles traded for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and signed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin, offensive lineman Evan Mathis, running back Ronnie Brown and quarterback Vince Young.

The so-called "Dream Team," regrettably named by Young, finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The Eagles cratered the next year, finishing 4-12. Reid was fired. Kelly was hired.

"It's a very difficult proposition when you're bringing in almost hired guns and trying to get them all to work together for the same cause," Westbrook said. "And I think you saw that a little bit with Andy toward the end. ... Obviously, no one knows at this point, but it will be interesting to see how building through free agency this year will turn out."

Can Kelly's team-building method work?

"Our approach to free agency this year was quite simple: We needed to get better, in our opinion," Marynowitz said. "We're very confident in the evaluation of the players we had on our current team, and we're very confident in the evaluation of the players that might have been available to us in free agency. We look to maximize that segment of the process. We feel like we improved and got better, and that's why we made those decisions."

Westbrook, for one, isn't so sure.

"You have to have a quarterback to be successful in this game, and I'm not talking about winning 10 games and not making the playoffs or winning 10 games and making the playoffs and losing in the first round," Westbrook said. "I'm talking about division championships, conference championships, trying to make it to the Super Bowl, that type of success.

"You have to have a pretty good quarterback to do that, or a rock-solid defense, and I don't know that they have either one of those yet."

If the roster is healthy, the Eagles might have both. The problem is that so many of their offseason acquisitions -- Murray, Mathews and Thurmond, in addition to Bradford and Alonzo -- have extensive injury histories. Health will go a long way in determining whether Philadelphia will have one of the league's most feared offenses, both for its tempo and talent, and a defense that should be significantly improved against the pass and strong up the middle.

"If anyone wants to poke holes into his team-building philosophically, [signing injured players] is where they're going to poke," said ESPN NFL Insider Louis Riddick, a former pro scout and personnel director. "It's the durability factor, which is significant and real. Those are very real concerns, but from an overall team philosophy, what he's doing makes sense. He wants a big, strong, long, powerful football team that can bully you and push you around and play a physical type of football game."

Will it work? Can Kelly get the Eagles back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season and just the third time in franchise history? Can he win the big one?

"If those free agents that were hurt stay healthy, they'll win a lot of football games," Riddick said. "That's the problem. That's the whole thing. There's the other football axiom that comes into play: The best kind of ability is availability, period. If those guys can be available, they're going to win a lot of football games. If they don't stay available, then he's going to get criticized harshly."

Or run out of Philadelphia. Being good won't cut it. Only being great will.

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