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December 06, 2017

Eagles' assistants likely to be poached for head coaching jobs this winter

When the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday, it will be a matchup of two head coaches in Doug Pederson and Sean McVay, who are the favorites to land NFL Coach of the Year honors.

The Eagles' and Rams' coaching staffs are very similar, in that they were constructed to give their young quarterbacks a chance to succeed.

At the end of the 2015 season, in the wake of the Chip Kelly era, the Eagles had started five different Week 1 quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, and Sam Bradford) in the previous seven seasons. Their quarterback instability in that regard was topped only by the Cleveland Browns, who started six different quarterbacks during that same time frame. 

The Eagles' objective during the 2016 offseason was clear. They wanted to draft a quarterback and surround him with a quarterback-focused coaching staff. Since Kelly's firing, the Eagles have assembled the following staff members with quarterback experience:

  1. Head coach Doug Pederson: Former NFL quarterback, quarterback coach, and offensive coordinator.
  2. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich: Former NFL quarterback, quarterback coach, and offensive coordinator.
  3. Quarterback coach John DeFilippo: Former quarterback coach and offensive coordinator.
  4. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh: Former college quarterback, college quarterback coach, college offensive coordinator, and NFL wide receivers coach.

Clearly, that approach has paid dividends, as the Eagles' staff helped grow an FCS quarterback from North Dakota State in Carson Wentz into one of the best quarterbacks in the league, worthy of MVP consideration, in his second year in the league.

The Rams' timeline wasn't quite the same, as they drafted Jared Goff a pick before Wentz in 2016, but under the old Jeff Fisher regime. After an awful 2016 season, the Rams cleaned house, and borrowed the Eagles' approach in 2017, hiring a quarterback-focused staff of their own, led by McVay.

With success comes copycats. 

One of the hottest names to be considered for a head coaching job this offseaon is DeFilippo, whose work with Wentz and the Raiders' David Carr has been widely recognized. Read any "2018 NFL head coach candidate" article, like this one by ESPN's Dan Graziano for example, and you'll rightfully find DeFilippo's name.

And it may not stop there. Consider these two points: 

  1. The 2018 NFL Draft class is thought to be very deep and talented at the quarterback position. 
  2. Simultaneously, it is believed by some that there could be seven or more head coach firings during or after the 2017 season. The New Giants have already moved on from their head coach, Ben McAdoo, earlier this week.

The combination of those two factors are going to leave quarterback gurus with experience in demand. That will put Frank Reich on some teams' radar this offseason as well. Reich has four years of offensive coordinator experience, to go along with three years as a quarterbacks coach and two as a wide receivers coach. Reich got a sniff last offseason, even before Wentz's overwhelming success, as he reportedly interviewed with the Buffalo Bills' head coaching vacancy last offseason.

Jim Schwartz could get some looks as well.

After five years as the Detroit Lions' head coach, Schwartz has had two very successful defensive coordinator stints. First, with the Bills, Schwartz oversaw Buffalo's fourth-ranked defense. In Philly, Schwartz took a 30th ranked defense and turned them into one of the best units in the NFL in less than two years.

If you go back to 2015, the most successful hire that offseason was defensive-minded coach Dan Quinn, who left Seattle to become the Atlanta Falcons' head guy. In the Falcons' case, a defensive-minded coach made sense, since the Falcons' defense was the weak link, and they already had an established franchise quarterback in place in Matt Ryan.

A potential coaching vacancy similar to Atlanta's that offseason that may make sense for Schwartz is Indianapolis, depending on what they think of Andrew Luck's health. Beyond the Colts, it's tough to find many mirroring situations. If you squint hard enough, maybe the Cincinnati Bengals?

And then there's Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp.

Since Fipp's arrival, the Eagles have arguably had the best special teams units in the NFL. Their rankings via Football Outsiders since Fipp's arrival:

Year NFL Rank 
2013 25 
2015 10 

So far in 2017, Football Outsiders ranks the Eagles' special teams 10th, which should be viewed as an accomplishment considering Fipp was tasked with replacing Darren Sproles, Caleb Sturgis, and Chris Maragos, mid-season. 

The Baltimore Ravens made an inspired hire when they plucked longtime special teams coordinator John Harbaugh from the Eagles way back in 2008. Harbaugh has since gone 90-64 in the regular season, 15-10 in the playoffs, and won a Super Bowl. Somewhat surprisingly, teams around the league have chosen not to copy the Ravens' approach.

Fipp has head coaching aspirations, but is a long shot. Still, he and Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub are worth keeping an eye on.

The Eagles' 2017 season has been a successful ride, but it could come at a cost whenever it is over.

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