Don’t give me Creed. Don’t do it. Don’t reply to the collective misery of Philadelphia sports fans in 2015 with “but Creed was good—he’s from Philly.”
He isn’t real. And when we look back at the calendar year of 2015 in the City of Brotherly Love, it’s going to be hard to admit what happened to the five professional sports teams is real either.
It can’t be real. This year, this miserable year, cannot be real.
From Chip Kelly’s firing to the Phillies’ cellar dwelling to the Flyers’ and Union’s rebuilding to the absolute failure, perhaps on purpose, of Sam Hinkie’s “Process” with the Sixers, there is no city on the planet that had a worse 2015 in sports than Philadelphia.
How do you want to relieve the despair? Should we go chronological? By level of misery? By uniform color?
Let’s start with the biggest news of the horrible lot, that Chip Kelly was fired with one game to go in a 6-9 season, his third in charge of the Eagles and the first in which his team didn’t win 10 games. It wasn’t the losing that made 2015 for the Eagles so tough, it was the expectations. After making the playoffs in year one and nearly doing it again in year two, people looked at the roster Kelly assembled after cutting loose most of Andy Reid’s top players and thought this team could easily win the NFC East, especially after Dallas was riddled with early-season injuries to key players.
Philadelphia’s offense looked anemic under Kelly this season, thanks in large part to the players he brought in being unable to block or catch or find the proper running lanes. And that wasn’t even the team’s biggest problem. The defense was a disaster at times this season, ranked 28th in the league in points and 30th in yards, unable to stop any opponent on third down. And as bad as both of those units were, the special teams, namely the rotation at kicker, may have cost the team at least two or three wins and in a roundabout way, Kelly his job.
It’s usually hard to blame the coach for underperforming players, only in 2015, Kelly was the one who brought them all in!
Kelly won the off-season battle against GM Howie Roseman, with owner Jeffrey Lurie giving the coach the keys to the Eagles franchise. It didn’t take long for Kelly to ram it into a tree, over and over again. (At least the guy does everything fast.)
The Eagles traded their mediocre quarterback and a second round pick for another mediocre quarterback, Sam Bradford, who is hurt all the time. They traded their franchise-leading running back away for a linebacker coming off major surgery, Kiko Alonso, and some cap freedom. Alonso had a horrible year, when he was healthy enough to stay on the field, and that cap freedom led to the overpaying of Byron Maxwell who got a six-year $63-million deal that almost immediately looked like a huge mistake, and, let’s not forget, DeMarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher in 2014 who Kelly benched for most of the second half of the year because he clearly didn’t fit the system. Kelly’s system.
Murray saw himself stuck behind Ryan Mathews, another signing this season, and Darren Sproles—the latter of which made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player—and sometimes behind Kenjon Barner, another Oregon product Kelly had far too much faith in at the NFL level.
Like most in Philly, it wasn’t hard to buy in to Chip Kelly as the savior after a decade of mediocrity under Andy Reid. Three years later—shoot, less than three years—and the team is worse off than before, with a roster that makes no sense, no franchise quarterback, a thin and aging offensive line and no idea what to do next or how long it’s going to take.
2015 was a horrible year for the Eagles.
And, yet, for the other teams, maybe it was worse.
The Flyers fired head coach Craig Berube in April, then sold off half their defense at the trade deadline in an effort to rebuild. The franchise hired Dave Hakstol in May, a college coach with no NHL experience who, while respected in the industry, seems to have gotten the job because of his success at North Dakota coaching GM Ron Hextall’s son. (Ed note: I forgot Flyers fans take EVERYTHING literally…and extremely personally.)
In the calendar year, under Berube and Hakstol, the Flyers are 34-28-18 through games ending on December 29. They currently sit 20th overall in NHL standings out of 30 teams, and BOTH of those marks are by far the best of any professional team in Philly this year.
The Union have been a disaster in MLS almost since their inception. Their 10-17-7 record was ninth out of ten teams in the conference and 19th overall in the 20-team MLS table. The Union did manage to make the US Open Cup final for the second-straight year and, for the second-straight year they lost, in heart-wrenching penalty kicks, leaving 2015 another year without any hardware.
Almost immediately after the US Open Cup loss, the team cut ties with CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz this October, marking the end of a mismanaged era for the fledgling franchise. And still there were two worse teams this year.
The Phillies were so bad in 2015 their manager quit during the season.
On June 26, in the midst of a horrible season of baseball in Philadelphia, Ryne Sandberg told his bosses he would rather not be a manager in the Major Leagues than coach that team.
That’s how bad things were for the Phillies in 2015.
It started in spring training when Cliff Lee went down for the year. It continued at the trade deadline when Cole Hamels was traded, an inevitability, but still the official signal that the 2008 team that won the World Series was officially just a memory. In August, fans saw the departure of beloved Phillie Chase Utley as well. Ryan Howard’s albatross of a contract is still swing-and-missing in Philly though. So that’s something.
The Phillies ended the 2015 season 63-99, the worst record in all of baseball. General Manager Ruben Amaro was fired on September 10, probably two or three seasons too late to make much difference. It was bad for the Phillies. It’s still bad. But it could be worse.
And that leads back to the Sixers, and The Process. And disaster.
In the calendar year 2015, through December 29, the Sixers are 16-69.
Sixteen wins. Sixty-nine losses.
Where to even start? For the third-straight year in Sam Hinkie’s rebuilding process the Sixers failed to get the top overall pick, missing out on Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell and taking another center, Jahlil Okafor, with the third pick. Okafor looks like he can play, but pairing him with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid had Sixers fans confused as to what Hinkie’s Process really is.
We still don’t know. Embiid hasn’t played a game for Philly in two years, needing another foot surgery in August that could sideline him, well, forever. We don’t know, and inexplicably, neither do the Sixers, who drafted Embiid in 2014 despite the injury concerns.
Hinkie took tanking to a new level in 2015, as the Sixers are 2-31 on the season with zero hope of competitiveness anytime soon. And still most fans had bought in to the Process. That is, until Sixers owner Joshua Harris told us to stop, hiring Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations in early December, thereby arresting the Process in its tracks. It’s worth noting that almost immediately after news of Colangelo’s hiring broke, so did the report the move was forced upon the Sixers by the NBA, the commissioner and the other owners. That’s how bad things are in Philly, and how bad of an NBA owner Harris has been.
Hinkie wasn’t fired by Harris, though, he was merely neutered, which is exactly the kind of half-measure Hinkie, himself, refused to make as the puppet master in Philadelphia. The Process is about swinging for the fences. Going all in to find that one star. They’re still swinging. They’re still looking.
The Sixers are a disaster.
The whole city is a disaster.
And yet…maybe there is hope in 2016.
The Process might actually work for Hinkie and the Sixers. The team holds their 2016 draft pick, almost guaranteed to be a top 3 pick again, and percentage-wise, the odds-on favorite to get the top pick in the draft, finally. The Sixers also hold the Lakers’ top pick (top three protected in 2016 and 2017), which could manifest this year if Los Angeles gets its act together. They have the Heat’s first pick, which is top 10 protected and should manifest this season, and the Thunder’s top pick, which is top-15 protected and will almost certainly deliver. Plus, Philly has some protection, as they have the right to swap picks with the Sacramento Kings in the first round should the Kings have a better pick than they do.
All that is to say, if the Sixers land the top pick and get Ben Simmons, and add him to a roster of Noel, Okafor, maybe Embiid, definitely Dario Saric who is coming over next year, perhaps a guy like Robert Covington, if he gets back into form, and two or three other lottery picks—Kris Dunn we look your general direction—the Sixers could be the most exciting young team on the planet and an Eastern Conference contender within three or four years. That’s if they get the top pick, which they haven’t yet. Still…the Process might work!
The Phillies are in full rebuild mode and brought in Andy McPhail—the best last name in Philly sports by a mile in 2015—to revamp the front office and get some damn analytics on their side. It’s going to take some time, but there might actually be some direction for the Fightins.
The Union hired former US International Earnie Stewart as sporting director in October, a sign the club might finally have some direction on the field, and off, as well. Also, LOOK AT HIS EYES.
The Flyers are, well, the Flyers, but there is hope for the future with Hakstol as the franchise rebuilds under Hextall. Plus, they are the only team with a winning record in town, so let’s be happy about something, shall we?
And that leaves the Eagles. We have no idea where the Eagles will go in 2016 and much of that will depend on who they can hire to run the team. It’s ironic that the day Kelly was fired, Gus Bradley—the man famously sitting in an interview for the Eagles job when Kelly called Lurie to accept after previously declining—was given a vote of confidence in Jacksonville. There are other viable candidates, though, and it’s not like anyone would turn down a chance to run a franchise, but there are a good number of jobs open, and it’s a wonder if the one in Philly is even close to the most attractive, especially given the expectations.
And yet, at least there’s a future to look forward to in 2016.For those of us who bought in to Kelly’s methods, it’s time to admit it failed. He failed. The franchise failed and the owner, in giving Kelly total control, failed as well. But it’s time to move on.
2015 was a year of failure in Philadelphia. At least it can’t get any worse in 2016.