In my previous column for SB Nation Philly I said I was ambivalent about the return of Sean McDermott. Apparently Andy Reid felt somewhat the same and decided that wasn't good enough. Either you completely believe in your coaches or you need to make a change. Reid fired McDermott.
I still believe McDermott has a bright future. He's been a successful positional coach. He did some good things as coordinator. The problem is that he's not the right guy for the Eagles under the current circumstances. I think part of the problem is following an ultra-successful and beloved coach like Jim Johnson. That's brutally hard to do. A change of scenery is probably the best thing that could happen. McDermott is already talking to other teams (CAR, DEN) and will be on some staff in 2011.
The Eagles now have a huge opening on the staff. How will Reid address the situation?
Defensive backs coach Dick Jauron is in the mix for the job. The Browns are also looking at him as a defensive coordinator candidate. Two outside names have already been mentioned, Jim Mora (the young one) and Billy Davis. I have to tell you, I'm not thrilled with any of these guys. None of them have a great track record, but it's hard to say how much of that is on them and how much is on the players they've had to work with. We have to keep things in perspective.
Jim Johnson came to Philly back in 1999. He had experience with multiple teams, both as a coach and coordinator. His teams had a reputation for being aggressive. They pressured quarterbacks and came up with turnovers. Johnson was an excellent zone blitz coach. He knew how to teach it and then use it effectively. Johnson wasn't a household name prior to 1999. His teams were up and down. Johnson made his mark with the Eagles because he finally had the right personnel to make his schemes come alive. Amazing how smart you can be with Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, Hugh Douglas, and Jeremiah Trotter as your players.
Jauron and Reid have a relationship that goes back to their time together in Green Bay. Jauron has experience as a head coach, coordinator, and positional coach. Johnson basically had autonomy when he was here and Jauron would be a good fit in that regard. He is the kind of person that Reid could trust with running the defense. My problem with Jauron is that he's never done anything particularly innovative scheme wise and he's never produced a great defense. The 2001 Bears led the league in fewest points allowed, but were middle of the road in yards. There isn't a strong trend with all of his defenses (great vs run, great pressure, great coverage, lots of takeaways, etc.). Jauron is a solid coach, but hardly a compelling choice.
Mora also has experience as a positional coach, coordinator, and head coach. He and Reid don't have a working relationship, but they have faced off a few times over the years. Mora has worked on the same staff as Marty Mornhinweg (SF late 90s). Mora obviously was also Mike Vick's head coach in Atlanta. Those connections can't hurt his chances. The connection that really helps is Steve Mariucci. He's a long time friend of Reid's and hired Mora as his defensive coordinator in San Francisco in 1997. The downside with Mora is similar to the issues with Jauron. Mora doesn't have a track record of great success. He's also not the most creative coach. He knows what he's doing, but doesn't have any great accomplishments to point to.
Davis ran the Cardinals defense for the last two years. Most of his prior experience came as a linebackers coach. He did work with some gifted defensive minds - Bill Cowher, Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau, and Mike Nolan. Davis took some of the creative ideas he learned from those coaches and used them in Arizona. When they worked, things were impressive. The problem is that the ideas didn't work often enough. That's why Davis was fired a couple of weeks back. The Cardinals made their share of big plays, but could not consistently stop people.
I think it is important for Reid to bring in a veteran coach. He gave McDermott a couple of years to develop, but that didn't work. The defense has a mixture of young guys and players in their prime. An experienced coach will be more likely to step in and get everyone on the same page. He'll know how to adjust his scheme to use the pieces that are already in place.
While I'm not enamored with the three candidates, all of them have the experience that I think the Eagles are looking for. This isn't the the time to take a chance on a young coach. There is a great deal of talent on offense. If the defense can play better, there is no reason the Eagles can't be among the favorites in the NFC in 2011. I know there are issues that must be dealt with. We'll get into those in the course of the offseason. By the sound of things, we may have a lot of time to talk before there is any action (please owners, NFLPA...get this thing solved).
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So what would I like to see on defense? I am a believer in the 4-3. Tom Landry invented it. Buddy Ryan perfected it. That's the defense I want the Eagles to run. The 3-4 is something many fans want because they see the success teams like the Jets and Steelers have. Switching to that scheme would require quite a few changes and wouldn't guarantee that we'd be as good as the Jets and Steelers.
I'm pretty open in terms of what style the defense plays. The Tampa 2 is simplistic, but has been very successful for the last 15 years. Gregg Williams does complex things with the Saints and puts out a good product. The Colts won a Super Bowl with small players. The Vikings have had success with big defensive linemen. The Jets front seven has a big reputation, but actually the Eagles had more sacks over the last two years than the Jets. The Jets play the run well and then do a masterful job in coverage. The Giants have a good defense, but I'm not sure how you'd describe it. They do focus on the line quite a bit.
One thing I would like is for the defense to be more physical. I'm going to be anecdotal on this issue since it is hard to quantify it. Over the years we've seen the Eagles beat the hell out of plenty of opposing quarterbacks. I'm talking about both sacking the guy and just getting in lots of punishing hits. When is the last time you almost felt sorry for an opposing quarterback? Didn't happen for me in 2010. Maybe Jake Delhomme in 2009, but part of that was him throwing so many picks. Ben Roethlisberger in Week 3 of 2008 is the last quarterback I can really think of as taking a beating. The Giants knocked something like 5 quarterbacks out of games this year. Did the Eagles do that in the last 3 years combined? I don't want the team to be dirty, but punishing the passer is part of the game.
The back seven has had no impact hitter since Brian Dawkins left. It would be nice to add a safety or linebacker that could really fly around and hit. The Eagles hoped Ernie Sims would be that guy. Didn't work. Jamar Chaney being in his second year and a healthy Stewart Bradley will help a lot in this area. Quintin Mikell is a solid hitter and tackler, but hardly strikes fear into opposing players who have to cross the middle.
One of my big frustrations in recent years is the lack of a shutout. The last one the Eagles had was in 1996. There were a couple of bad luck games in JJ's tenure when the only points came due to special teams plays. Still, the fact that teams with all that talent weren't more stifling bugged me. Johnson wasn't trying to develop a dominant defense. He played the percentages. I'd like a coach who would really challenge his players to be a dominant unit. That is as much motivation as scheme. This is where a guy like Mora would have some appeal. He is an excellent communicator and motivator. His personality also might be just what this defense needs right now. It doesn't sound like McDermott got along great with all of his players.
What about some other names that are being tossed around? Dave Wannstedt has a history of developing good defensive lines (college and pros). That certainly appeals to me. He's also a veteran coach. Eric Mangini I'm not as comfortable with. He was a good assistant with the Patriots, but those coaches haven't thrived with other teams. He's more of a high risk/high reward choice. Mike Singletary has never actually been a defensive coordinator, believe it or not. He went from linebackers coach to head coach. I don't see him as a good fit here.
Mike Trgovac is a guy with the kind of background that appeals to me. He was the defensive line coach for Ray Rhodes here in Philly. Trgovac did an excellent job during his stay here. He ran the defense for John Fox and the Panthers for a few years and had good success there. Trgovac is now the line coach for Green Bay and has done a good job with their young players. I like his track record as a line coach and also the fact he's worked with creative defensive minds like Fox and Capers. The big problem with Trgovac is that he's currently busy with the Packers. If they win on Sunday he's going to be busy a couple of more weeks. Do you wait on him?
There is no ideal candidate. That doen't mean the Eagles won't hire a good coach (or more importantly, the right coach). Think back to 1999. The Eagles coaching search had three choices: 1. Mike Holmgren 1a. Jim Haslett 3. Anybody else. Reid turned out to be the right hire and a terrific coach. Reid then set out to build his staff. Johnson wasn't his first choice to run the defense. Reid tried to hire Marvin Lewis away from Baltimore (Billick had just become head coach and was trying to hire Gunther Cunningham to run his defense, leaving Lewis in limbo). Lewis stayed and did great things with the Ravens. Johnson came here and did great things with the Eagles.
I'm both curious and excited to see what Andy Reid does. This is an important decision for him. It is also an interesting opportunity for some coach. Running the Eagles defense is a special thing when you consider the new coach will be following in the footsteps of Marion Campbell, Buddy Ryan, Wade Phillips, Jeff Fisher, Bud Carson, and Jim Johnson. The Eagles have had great defenses over the years. The new coach will have some talent to work with. This isn't like taking over a unit that couldn't stop anyone. The right hire could get the defense back on track pretty quickly and help this team get back to having postseason success.
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The Eagles also fired defensive line coach Rory Segrest. I always got the feeling he was a bit in over his head. Segrest might make a fine college assistant, but coaching NFL players is incredibly challenging and requires a level of expertise and teach skills that not everyone has.