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February 20, 2023

John McMullen: Eagles entering complicated times with staff changes aplenty

The Eagles hiring process for assistant coaches and coordinators is a bit complicated.

When it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles, an organization where every decision is debated endlessly by an obsessive band of followers, there remains one area with some real mystery to it.

The coaching staff and how it’s assembled still has plenty of secrecy to it so much so that if Elon Musk were a hardcore football fan he might drop $40 billion or so to scoop up a social-media app to try to clean things up.

Every once in a while you may get a quick peek behind the curtain — often an inadvertent one. 

That was best highlighted by a pair of developments over the past couple of weeks.

First came the confirmation of Vic Fangio’s status within the organization in the lead up to the Super Bowl LVII when the Eagles actually hired the godfather of modern-day defensive football for a two-week consultancy gig in advance of the big game.

By doing so it proved that Fangio, now the defensive coordinator in Miami, was never formally part of things before that point despite an early-season report that stated he was on board as a consultant. That bit of misinformation took off as accepted fact by many despite the best intentions of yours truly and some reporters to correct the record, even reaching the heights of the super plugged-in like NFL Media’s Ian Rappoport.

The other interesting nugget was unveiled by Nick Sirianni himself at his season-ending press conference last week when the head coach matter-of-factly noted that both Jonathan Gannon and Shane Steichen, the new head coaches in Arizona and Indianapolis respectively, were locked in as the coordinators before the Eagles even turned to Sirianni to become the man in the big chair.

One of the tropes around Philadelphia football is that Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman micromanaged Doug Pederson when it came to his coaching staff to the point of chasing the Super Bowl-winning coach out of town only to promptly turn around and give a rookie head coach full autonomy with his first staff.

“As a matter of fact, really the offensive and defensive coordinator, when you [GM Howie Roseman] hired me, we knew who we were hiring at those spots,” Sirianni explained. “The grind was getting the soldiers, getting those other guys in place that we felt really good with.”

The tail wagging the dog in both instances was easier than normal because Sirianni happened to have a history with both Gannon and Steichen so it was a natural leap to assume the new coach was directing things. In actuality, most reporters who cover the team on a regular basis knew Gannon was coming no matter who the new coach was. Steichen’s pre-approved status was a little bit of news, however. Meanwhile, circling back to Fangio, most had the knowledge that Philadelphia was using his defensive scheme and he is a Scranton-area native who happens to be a Phillies fan.

The speculation all fit together perfectly but it was also all incorrect.

Heck, even the assumption that Fangio was helping the defense before the Super Bowl loss to Kansas City was faulty intelligence. Fangio, like his mirror Marcus Brady, was helping the other side by scouting the looks of the offense and explaining what the Chiefs’ defense might do in reaction to it. Brady, the former Colts offensive coordinator, was the one doing that for the defense as the Eagles searched for every advantage possible.

It was plainly obvious other names on the current coaching staff like holdovers Jeff Stoutalnd and Aaron Moorehead were approved and encouraged by Roseman and the organization while the GM was also responsible for finding names like Brian Johnson, the presumptive favorite to be the next OC, and Jemal Singleton, the assistant head coach.

At that point, Sirianni interviewed them and ultimately gave his thumbs up.

While not nearly as sexy as the antinomy of authority from management vs. head-coaching autonomy, the collaborative process has generated a coaching staff that is the envy of the league with two coordinators being pilfered from a Super Bowl team for the first time in nearly three decades (San Francisco in 1994 when Ray Rhodes came to Philly and Mike Shanahan started in Denver).

Meanwhile, Johnson, passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo, secondary coach Dennard Wilson and linebackers coach Nick Rallis had gotten coordinator bites over the past two years

Rallis broke through with the help of Gannon in Arizona and is now the youngest coordinator in the NFL at 29 after the Cardinals went with him on Saturday night.

So far the Eagles’ attrition chart reads Steichen, Gannon, and Rallis with potentially more to come after two years of still waters.

The honeymoon phase between Sirianni and the organization is still chugging along after two seasons have produced two postseason berths and an NFC championship

“We discuss everything in the offseason. We're going to discuss everything,” Sirianni said, “Again, we have so many bright minds in here. And it's a team sport. We play the greatest -- we're involved in the greatest team sport there is.

“We don't go out into the field and say, hey, you've got it all. Hey, [C] Jason Kelce, you've got it all on you today. We do it as a team. Or,[QB] Jalen [Hurts], you've got it all on you today. We do it as a team. That doesn't just stop on the field with our players; it goes into the front office with the coaches, the coaches with the scouts, and everything and just with everybody.”

Sirianni’s first staff was an amalgamation of the old cohabitation matrix Roseman and Joe Douglas would preach.

“... The first staff that we hired, was it just guys that I knew? No. We wanted to get the best coaches,” Sirianni said. 

“And we ended up doing a lot of that just, Howie, do you know anybody here? There's a lot of back and forth in there, just like there is when we're talking about a player and say what do you think, Kenny — you've heard our [RB] Kenny Gainwell story, look at this guy, we both love him. Let's get this guy. That's just the way that good organizations, good football teams work. And I value that relationship.”

The sequel is always tougher, though. 

Pederson had trouble replacing Frank Reich and John DeFilippo and when the now-Jacksonville head coach’s ideas for replacements faltered, the second-guessing gained a foothold. From there, failing to meet expectations generated the need for scapegoats.

One man at the top can turn collaborations that work into authoritarianism with the flip of a switch. That’s how Mike Groh, Press Taylor, and Carson Walch turned from “good, young coaches” to overmatched ones in an instant. 

And if that can happen to a Super Bowl winner it can surely repeat itself with a big-game loser, especially with expectations sky-high after one of the best seasons in franchise history.

Sirianni would be wise to learn from that recent history and perhaps correcting the record is proof he already understands it.

The most powerful always have control of the narrative and when information is scarce or even incorrect, it’s even easier to manipulate.

John McMullen is a contributor to and covers the Eagles and the NFL for JAKIB Sports and ESPN South Jersey. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL, and a daily contributor to the top-rated drive-time radio segment in South Jersey. You can reach him at Follow John on Twitter here.