Bleeding Green Nation is profiling all the potential candidates for the Eagles head coaching position in 2016.
The Eagles fired Chip Kelly earlier this week, which means the team will have a new head coach in 2016. Brandon listed 10 possibilities for the Eagles, today we'll look at one that is outside of that box but very much a coach on many teams radar.
Mike Shula, the son of Don Shula, one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, and brother of David Shula, one of the worst, has seen his profile raised significantly after the extremely successful season the Panthers have had this year. Cam Newton is as strong of an MVP candidate as there is this season, and has done so with his top WR from last year, Kelvin Benjamin missing the season with injury and top draft pick WR Devin Funchess contributing little. Despite those and injuries to and ineffectiveness by Jonathan Stewart that have limited the non-Cam Newton rushing attack of the Panthers, Carolina is 2nd in the league in scoring, 10th in yards, and 9th in DVOA. TE Greg Olsen and WR Tedd Ginn had career years at the age of 30, and Newton has 41 total touchdowns. Having Cam Newton will make any coach look good, but getting the best seasons out of veteran players and a high scoring offense with Tedd Ginn as the top WR is a strong selling point.
1988-1990 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (offensive assistant)
1991-1992 Miami Dolphins (coaches’ assistant)
1993-1995 Chicago Bears (tight ends)
1996-1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (offensive coordinator)
2000-2002 Miami Dolphins (quarterbacks)
2003-2006 Alabama (head coach)
2007-2010 Jacksonville Jaguars (quarterbacks)
2011-2012 Carolina Panthers (quarterbacks)
2013-present Carolina Panthers (offensive coordinator)
Why he could work
Shula has had a hand in developing quarterbacks for nearly two decades. In Tampa he coached Trent Dilfer to Dilfer’s lone Pro Bowl appearance in 1997, and Mike Alstott was a three time All Pro and Pro Bowler and Warrick Dunn made the Pro Bowl under him. In Miami Jay Fiedler progressed in every season where Shula was his position coach, he regressed after Shula left. In Jacksonville David Garrard made his only Pro Bowl appearance when Shula was his position coach. He was Cam Newton’s position coach in Newton’s first two seasons and offensive coordinator in his last two. Those may not be impressive feats on their own, but cumulatively they are more than other coaches who are dubbed "QB gurus" have ever had.
He also has previous head coaching experience, having coached the University of Alabama for four years starting in 2003. When Shula took over the Crimson Tide they were in a state of complete turmoil. Dennis Franchione had left for Texas A&M after a 10-3 season to escape a two year bowl ban and three years of reduced scholarships. Alabama hired Mike Price to replace him, but in the spring of that year Price was fired after allegedly having an affair with a stripper. To replace Price, the Tide hired Shula, who is an Alabama alum and was immediately behind the 8 ball: he had no recruits of his own, was unable to bring in a staff that was completely his, and the program was in a bowl ban.
In his first season the Tide went 4-9, but with close losses to ranked teams. In 2004 the Tide improved to 6-6, a respectable finish considering that starting QB Brodie Croyle was lost for the season after three games and the team was still under recruiting sanctions. In 2005, with the bowl ban lifted and Alabama in its second full season under Shula, Alabama went 10-2, ending the season ranked 8th. Things seemed on the rise, but there was a significant down note: Shula kept his starters in during a blow out of Florida, and up 31-3 he went for it on fourth down, resulting in star WR Tyrone Prothro suffering a career ending injury. Shula and the Tide followed up that season with a 6-6 effort, with Shula going 0-4 against bitter rival Auburn. After the season he was fired and replaced by Nick Saban.
Why he may not be the guy
While Shula’s resume may have more highlights than other candidates might have, he is a head coach candidate based almost entirely off of the career of Cam Newton and the 2015 Panthers season. Hiring a coordinator because of his most reason season is recency bias in action, and Shula received no interviews last year, making him as hot of a "hot candidate" as can be. His tenure in Alabama was not impressive, though it was not terrible either. He did interview twice for the Dolphins position in 2007, which had he gotten the job would have seen an ironic "swap" of jobs with Nick Saban, but the Dolphins instead hired Cam Cameron, who was fired after going 1-15 that year. To go from not on anyone’s radar to potential head coach is a warning flag, though not prohibitive.
One should be cautious of overrating the most recent season by a coach, especially one in Shula’s situation where he has a franchise QB entering the prime of his career. Just how much of that is Shula’s doing? In his favor, after some early season struggles last year he went back to Cam Newton’s strengths in college and focused on them and Newton got back on track. That flexibility may be very appealing to the Eagles after Chip Kelly’s my way or the highway approach. And he has been a part of the best years of other quarterbacks careers, indicating that while he may be fortunate to have Newton in Carolina, he’s been able to make the most out of situations that weren’t nearly as good. His head coaching experience at Alabama was nothing special, but it is head coaching experience that many other coordinators looking to become head coaches do not have.
Mike Shula is at least deserving of an interview. As a bonus, should he get the Eagles job, when things get tough we can ask "what would coach Don Shula do?"