PHILADELPHIA (AP) — No more summer commutes for Eagles players to Bethlehem.
The team announced Friday that this year's training camp will take place in its NovaCare Complex and Lincoln Financial Field after 17 years on the campus of Lehigh University.
Team president Don Smolenski says the decision was made, in part, because of the ready access to its equipment and facilities at its home base, including the training room and indoor practice venue, too.
He called it a difficult choice, noting the school and the city have "been part of our lives every summer for the past 17 years."
"There are so many people at Lehigh University who went above and beyond to accommodate us and to make training camp a special place for fans to travel each summer to get an up-close look at the team," Smolenski said in a statement.
The return marks the first time since 1943 that the team's training camp has been in Philadelphia.
Last year, former coach Andy Reid's oldest son, Garrett, was found dead at training camp after a long battle with drug addiction. Reid was let go at the end of last season after a 4-12 record and 14 years. He was replaced by former Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Smolenski said the team aims to continue its interaction with fans during the training camp — the dates of which have not yet been announced — calling that a "huge priority" for the organization.
"As such, we are currently planning to utilize the opportunities available to us at Lincoln Financial Field to have a number of open practices — which will be free— available to all of our fans," he said. "We'll announce those specific plans in the coming weeks."
Before first going to Lehigh in 1996, the Eagles held training camp at West Chester University from 1980-1995. Before that, the team held training camp at Widener University, Albright College and in Hershey, Pa.
"Lehigh University has enjoyed hosting the Eagles' Training Camp for the past 17 seasons on our campus and on our athletic fields," said Joe Sterrett, Lehigh's dean of athletics. "We realize the Eagles are embarking upon a new era for their team and we wish Coach Kelly and the team all the best in the upcoming season."
The move back to team headquarters is becoming something of a trend in the NFL. The New York Giants in January elected to return training camp back to their complex in East Rutherford, N.J., after 16 years at the University at Albany. One thing that has helped some teams make this decision is experience from the lockout. Two seasons ago, for instance, the Giants stayed home and skipped Albany because of the shortened training time after a resolution to end the labor strife was announced. The Giants would go on to win the Super Bowl that season.
"I'm excited that Eagles' Training Camp is returning to Philadelphia," Mayor Michael Nutter said. "I'm looking forward to visiting Lincoln Financial Field with other Eagles fans to give Coach Kelly and the team a warm welcome to the city!"
The Eagles are coming off a last-place finish in the NFC East. They went 2-10 in the conference and lost their last three games. Reid was fired on New Year's Eve, and Kelly was hired in January.
This week, as free agency began, the new-look roster began to take shape. The team signed cornerback Cary Williams and safety Kenny Phillips on Thursday, giving them four new faces in the defensive backfield in a three-day span. The Eagles had signed safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Bradley Fletcher Tuesday.
On Friday, Philadelphia acquired wide receiver Arrelious Benn and a seventh-round pick from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a sixth-round choice this year and a conditional draft pick in 2014.
"The guys that Coach is going to bring in here, they'll be ready to work and learn. We'll be in the same room, reading the same things, reading the same book. It will be as hard as you want it to be," Chung said. "We have to gel together, new brothers, and just get this going and start working."
"With all the additions that are coming in, we'll all be able to come in here and gel," he said. "I think things are going to click real fast and we'll get things going in a hurry and be able to be all on the same page. So I'm really excited and we're all going to hit it hard."
In Philadelphia, not Bethlehem.