For a few months at the end of 2015, two of Philadelphia’s major sports franchises had head coaches who had jumped right from the NCAA to the pros: the Eagles’ Chip Kelly and the Flyers’ Dave Hakstol.
Hakstol is about to begin his third year with the team, while Kelly was fired with one game remaining in his third year. Both coaches were hired after their team hit a low point. Both made the playoffs in their first year behind the bench but fell short the next. They also made some questionable lineup moves but Hakstol, despite some fans’ grumbling, seems to be more secure than Chip was when he began his third year.
Below, we take a look at how the two compare and what that means for Hakstol’s future.
Chip Kelly was the Oregon Ducks’ head coach from 2009 through 2012 before joining the Eagles. He took the Ducks to a bowl game each year: the 2010 Rose Bowl, the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, the 2012 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. He lost the first two and won the last two. By the end of the 2012 season, his high-tempo offense had caught the eye of several NFL teams and, after interviews with the Eagles and other teams, he initially decided to stay with Oregon but later accepted the Eagles’ offer where he was the head coach and de facto general manager.
In his first year, Kelly lifted the 4-12 Eagles to a 10-6 record, winning the division. Unfortunately, they lost in the first round of the playoffs, at home to the New Orleans Saints. The team won 10 games the next year and had started the season with a 9-3 record to lead the division going into week 15. But injuries and late-season losses to divisional opponents cost them and they missed the playoffs.
By that point, many questioned Kelly’s ability to coach at the NFL level. Before the 2014 season, he re-signed Riley Cooper despite that he’d been caught using racial slurs in the previous offseason. A month later, the Eagles cut DeSean Jackson, who had just had his best year. Then, in the 2014 Draft, the Eagles took Marcus Smith in the first round. Smith was recently released without ever starting.
After the 2014 season, Kelly traded the Eagles’ all-time rushing leader, LeSean McCoy. After re-signing Cooper, cutting Jackson and trading McCoy, some speculated that Kelly’s motivation may have been based on race. In a less controversial but still questionable trade, he sent Nick Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford. The NFC East was bad that year, so the Eagles were in playoff contention despite a 6-8 record going into week 16. They lost again to rival Washington and were eliminated from the postseason. The Eagles fired Kelly three days later.
Dave Hakstol joined a team that had also bottomed out, but his situation was different from Kelly’s in that Hakstol is only the head coach and does not serve as a GM as Kelly did. And lucky for Hakstol, his GM has given him a good roster and is willing to be patient. But for how long?
Like Kelly, Hakstol was successful in the NCAA. He led the North Dakota Fighting Hawks to seven Frozen Four appearances in 11 years. When he joined the Flyers in 2015, he became just the fourth NCAA coach to jump to a head coaching job in the NHL.
As mentioned, Hakstol took the Flyers to the playoffs in his first season in 2015-16. The team played close to .500 for most of the year before posting an 8-4-3 record in February and a 9-3-2 record in March. They nabbed the second wild card playoff spot and took the division-winning Capitals to six games before being eliminated.
Just as the Eagles started well, Hakstol’s Flyers went on a ten-game winning streak early in the season. And just like the Eagles, they gave up the ground they gained shortly thereafter. As the team continued to struggle, Hakstol seemed unable to decide on a starting goalie and critics wondered why he gave so much playing time to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde while benching Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny and limiting Jordan Weal’s minutes.
Where Does Hakstol Stand Now?
By all appearances, Hakstol’s job is secure. His leash may be a bit shorter, but GM Ron Hextall continues to express confidence in him. If he wants to stick around longer than Kelly did, the Flyers need to take a step forward this year. They have put the days of reactionary moves behind them, but the front office will need to see progress if it’s going to keep Hakstol around.
He may have improved the situation in net, since Brian Elliott says he welcomes a platoon situation, unlike Steve Mason.
He split time in both St. Louis and Calgary. He told CSN Philly, “I’ve been in the same type of situation my whole career. It’s not something I shy away from or am concerned about. Obviously, want to play as many games as you can.”
Beyond that, Hakstol will need the top guys to bounce back and the young guys to contribute. The team has struggled offensively, but Hakstol will likely have second-overall pick Nolan Patrick in his lineup to help in that regard. On defense, he’ll probably rely on Ivan Provorov even more and hope that he can get Gostisbehere to play more like he did in 2015-16.
Hakstol might not necessarily have to make the playoffs to keep his job, given the talent in the Metropolitan Division, but if the team underachieves again, he may find himself in the hot seat.