January 11, 2021
To the surprise of many, the Philadelphia Eagles parted ways with head coach Doug Pederson on Monday, three years removed from winning the franchise's first ever Super Bowl title.
Regardless of what went down behind the scenes that led to Pederson losing a job that owner Jeffrey Lurie openly admitted he "didn't deserve to be fired" from, the Eagles will have to quickly shift their focus to bringing in someone to replace Pederson, as they're the last team in the NFL to fire a coach, meaning they're already lagging behind in the interviewing process and must be careful not to lose potential candidates to other openings.
Whether or not Pederson deserved to be fired is a question that will be debated for some time in Philly and perhaps now is not the best time to come to a conclusion one way or the other. After all, an ultimate verdict can only be rendered once we see who the Eagles hire, what sort of impact that has on the team and how successful Pederson is at his next destination (and there will be a next destination).
There are a lot of different ways the Birds could go in hiring a new coach, whether it's an internal hire (like Duce Staley), an up-and-coming coach from the NFL ranks (a la the Chiefs' Eric Bieniemy and Mike Kafka) or a college head coach looking to make the transition to the pro game (perhaps Jalen Hurts' college coach Lincoln Riley fits the bill).
The list extends well beyond those three to guys like Brian Daboll, who has worked wonders with Josh Allen in Buffalo; Arthur Smith, the Titans offensive coordinator; the Ravens' Greg Roman or James Urban, who figured out how to design a successful offense around Lamar Jackson and could try to do the same in Philly, whether that's with Carson Wentz or Hurts; there's 31-year-old Joe Brady from the Panthers; or currently unemployed Jim Caldwell, who would be a potential veteran coaching hire for the Birds; or Byron Leftwich, who took over as the OC in Tampa this season; and if the Eagles opt to hire their first defensive-minded coach in two and half decades, they could go with 49ers DC Robert Saleh. The list goes on and on.
But, with several other teams with head coaching vacancy already interviewing multiple candidates, the Eagles will have to get a jump on it if they want to ensure they get "their guy." But to hear Lurie tell it, the organization is in no rush to name Pederson's replacement.
"There are a lot of good candidates out there," Lurie said. "We'll think both inside the box [and] outside the box. I just want to say, there will be no rush here. This notion of an NFL team making a very important decision for itself and its fan base and rushing to a decision is unlike any in business, and I just don't think that's warranted.
"If we find a head coach soon or it's early February, it's totally great. If we're the last team picking a head coach, that's great, too, because then you have all the opportunity in the world. There's no rush. There's no pressure. There's nothing that should drive you from a decision based on just rational thought and careful analysis and getting to know the person as best you can."
So, what will Lurie be looking for in a head coaching candidate during the search that he said he would be leading?
"In terms of the characteristics [we will be looking for], I'd rather not specify. But I can tell you that no matter who we have, it needs to be a leader of coaches, a leader of coaches, and someone who represents the organization in a great leadership way. We had a lot of that with Doug, so it's going to be — leadership is an important characteristic. You brought up offense, but I think there's a couple ways to skin that cat. You can hire somebody really steeped in offense, or you've seen great offenses coached by head coaches that are coming from the defensive side. So, I don't think there's any predilection for one over the other.
"But I do think somebody who is constantly curious of where the league is headed and what you need to do to have really good units. And again, without a really good elite offense, I tend to air on that side. But not that side of the ball for head coach. That doesn't matter."
While Lurie didn't get specific there, as promised, it is important to note that he doesn't appear to feel hiring an offensive coach is necessary, although each of the last three coaches he's hired (Andy Reid, Chip Kelly and Pederson) have been very much that. That essentially leaves the pool of potential candidates wide open to everyone listed above, and then some.
Lurie was also asked about the importance of hiring a minority head coach, something the Eagles haven't had since Ray Rhodes and something they been lacking at other major coaching positions (specifically coordinators) in the years since. Lurie said that bringing in great minority candidates is "top of mind" and pointed to Duce Staley as both a potential Black coach the team could hire as well as a potential internal hire the Eagles could make. It's also worth noting that Staley was the only internal candidate Lurie mentioned by name.
"I would expect Duce Staley to be a candidate," Lurie said. "He's a great representative of the Eagles and knows our values and I would expect him to be a part of the search as well."
Whether or not the Eagles have already starting speaking to candidates is unknown — it would, after all, be a lot easier in 2020 to quietly interview people over Zoom without the public catching wind — but Lurie did admit that he's always looking for ways to improve his team, and scouting a future head coach, even while his current coach is still very much under contract, is something he's always doing.
"So I think we always do that. I know I always do that," Lurie said. "I'm always watching every game to see what I can learn about offensive schemes, defensive schemes, coaches, people who think outside the box. You're always kind of looking. We always basically do ongoing research no matter what. When we're winning the Super Bowl, you do ongoing research on -- because you know you may lose people."
Perhaps that should be viewed as a warning to potential hires — it might not matter how good you are if the owner falls in love with another coach. Beyond that, the Eagles have a lot of warts they're going to need to hide if they try to lure one of the popular coaching candidates away from other teams, as we outlined earlier on Monday. From a tough salary cap situation to an aging roster to the fact that the coach likely won't have much control over said roster, there are a lot of reasons why candidates could shy away from Philly if there's another offer on the table.
But Lurie doesn't see any of that as an issue. In fact, he believes the Eagles job is as attractive, if not more attractive, than any of the other jobs out there. For starters, Lurie thinks that his style of ownership is one that should be appealing to a candidate.
"First of all, I would think it's a very, very attractive job because if I'm a coach, first thing you want to know is if you're going to have as much resources as possible to create a successful team," Lurie said. "Are the facilities good? What's the organization's track record over the last ten, 20 years? Are they a team that rarely makes the playoffs? Are they a team that's satisfied to occasionally make the playoffs? How many division titles do they have? Do they ever get as far in the playoffs in the way they build their roster or is it just one-and-done or did they get to championship games and Super Bowls and things like that? That's what I'm looking for."
That's fair, but when those are the expectations every year — and realities of the situation make it nearly impossible to live up to those expectations — you wind up in the situation in which the Eagles currently find themselves, firing a Super Bowl winning coach after one sub-.500 season. (And yes, it was an exceptionally bad season, but a large part of why it was so disappointing is due to the unrealistic expectations put on this team.)
What about the terrible cap situation?
"Cap room is a one-year phenomena in this league," Lurie continued. "Anybody who really understands the cap knows that you can transition away from a difficult cap situation in about 12 months. And so anyone who has that short-term thinking in terms of cap utilization probably wouldn't be the right coach for that."
Let's hope that's the case, because the Eagles are in about as dire of a cap situation as you'll find, and a large chuck of their cap space is going to be bogged down by a quarterback who was benched last season. Speaking of Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts...
"On the quarterback situation, we've got two really interesting assets," Lurie said, interestingly choosing to dub the two as "assets" rather than players. "They are both young. They are both hungry. They are terrific people, very different and terrific people. A coach is going to have options. A coach is going to have an ability to fix what he feels is necessary in our offense and have a potential star in Carson [Wentz] and a potential star in Jalen [Hurts]. That gives us an asset, also, so that if we end up deciding on one some day, the other is a really good asset."
That certainly makes it sound like a decision between the two is coming, and it will be interesting to see if that decision is left in the hands of the next coach or comes from above his head.
And finally, Lurie threw some chum in the water to whatever fans may have been listening to his press conference, capping off his new coach sales pitch by talking up the fanbase and the city as a whole.
"The best fan base in America; there's other great fan bases, but this community really, really cares about their team; the culture of the team and how competitive they are and they want to win divisions," Lurie said, adding that looking at just the current state of the team would be short-term thinking by any candidate. "They want to win and get to championship games and further. ... I would say, you want to win and you want to win big and you want to have a fan base that's there for you no matter what, Philly is the best possible place.
"It's the best to own a team and it's the best to coach a team. And yeah, tough, at times. I love that. I absolutely love that. And there's a lot of places in America and the NFL where it's very different and they haven't had the performance of their organization. They haven't necessarily had the full commitment and the resources that are almost unlimited in terms of what we devote to football. So I look forward to having that conversation. We've always had it.
"We've never had a problem attracting anybody, and I think we've got a lot of really great positives, as does Philadelphia as a city. Love the city. I think it's just one of the real underrated cities in America. And you can't underrate that. You devote your life to football, you're in the place you're in, and Philly is a great place to be, to coach, to live, to have great schools, great hospitals. It's kind of a win, win, win, win."
That's great and all, but if you can win a Super Bowl and get fired less than three years later, does any of that other stuff really matter? I mean, how important are schools and hospitals if you might only be living there for a couple of years?
Perhaps the Eagles next coach can buck the trend developing down at NovaCare and last a bit longer like Andy Reid. But if there are expectations to win right away, it might be tough for him to live up to those expectations right out of the gate. Expectations are everything. And they're always high in Philly.