March 04, 2021
There is plenty of ground between stifling and grooming. Somewhere in that large chasm resides the Eagles’ treatment of Duce Staley.
Universally respected at the NovaCare Complex as Philadelphia’s former assistant head coach under Doug Pederson, it became abundantly clear that Jeffrey Lurie was never going to pull the trigger on the player/coach who had been in South Philadelphia for 17 of the owner’s 26 years atop the franchise.
So what was missing from those 17 years Lurie and his organization got to know Staley when compared against the 17 hours gleaned from Nick Sirianni over two interview sessions in South Florida?
While familiarity breeds contempt is probably too harsh a phrase for this kind of decision, it at least points you in the right direction — Lurie just never thought that Staley was head-coach material. That, despite the unofficial NFL record for player endorsements and the popularity Staley had with the fan base, not to mention the goodwill Lurie would have received from turning lip service into action when it came to minority hiring at the top of his coaching staff.
The easy box to place Lurie in, in this ideologically-driven political environment when it comes to Staley, is the out-of-touch rich, liberal elitist who spends his days talking instead of doing.
Staley himself would refute that, so the best we have to go on is Lurie’s rambling statement after hiring Sirianni, who was just 16 the day Staley entered Lurie’s life as a third-round pick out of South Carolina.
“In particular, just because he's kind of like a son to me, I just want to talk about Duce. Duce is somebody very special to me. He's been a terrific player, coach, leader for us. He'll always be a Philadelphia Eagle,” Lurie explained. “... I love the man. I just believe, I think he believes, that it's best for his goal of being a head coach in the league to work for another organization for a while and set himself up the way many of the candidates have.
“It will help him. I just want the best for him. I think he'll be an excellent leader for wherever he is in the future. I just want to share that love for Duce, because he's very special.”
That’s the same counterintuitive thinking that made the Eagles consistently question Pederson’s decisions on his coaching staff vs. allowing the unproven Sirianni to populate his.
The Super Bowl-winner was essentially penalized for succeeding as an assistant under a future Hall of Fame coach with the best coaching tree of his generation in Andy Reid, versus ostensibly failing and being forced to go the transient route in an effort to “build relationships.”
Sirianni’s coaching roots were in Mount Union and IUP before meeting a run-of-the-mill head coach in Todd Haley to get his foot in the NFL door while Staley’s were in Philadelphia right under Lurie’s nose with Reid. Staley was also valued enough to be kept through the Chip Kelly and Pederson eras.
Staley was reportedly offered the offensive coordinator job after Frank Reich and John DeFilippo left following the Super Bowl LII win but turned it down because it didn’t include play-calling (probably a mistake in hindsight), instead taking the assistant head-coaching job where the main gist was being in charge of the team’s developmental program, which admittedly wasn’t a rousing success over the past few years. When Pederson was stricken with COVID-19 this past summer, Staley also took over the team on-site and likely would have been the head coach had Pederson missed actual games.
Yet Staley was passed over in both 2016 and 2021 by Lurie.
After a decade of coaching in Philadelphia through three different regimes, Staley finally recognized the glass ceiling wasn’t going to be broken. He got the same assistant head coach title in Detroit under Dan Campbell, but it came with a far better job description.
And the job description is always far more important than the title, but the grooming part of the equation trumps both.
“I told him, ‘You’re not going to be a token assistant head coach.’ I’m going to use him,” Campbell said earlier this week. “We had him in during our player evaluations on the whole offense and defense — though he wasn’t able to be in there very long because he had to go back with [offensive coordinator Anthony] Lynn and work offensively.”
Campbell knows what to do because Sean Payton did it for him in New Orleans.
“I’m going to keep him abreast of the cap and things of that nature, what we’re trying to do with free agency,” said Campbell. “He’s going to be primed and ready to be a head coach when it’s all said and done. All his bases are going to be covered. He’s going to be able to check off every box and say I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I know, I’ve been training for this — just like Sean [Payton] did for me. He’s going to be a true assistant head coach. And if something goes down and he needs to step in into my seat, he’s ready to roll.
“So that’s how I view it.”
For Staley, the opportunity to check the boxes is finally at hand.
John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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