clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

John DeFilippo: Next in Line

New, comments

Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan — young bucks are taking the NFL coaching ranks by storm. Eagles’ QB coach John DeFilippo looks primed to join them.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Minicamp Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In his characteristic threads—windbreaker, shorts, and sneakers—Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo watches rookie QB Carson Wentz work through a routine handoff drill. DeFilippo checks to ensure Carson completes his drop and turns downfield, as if to throw a football he no longer holds, perhaps fooling an unsure safety into defending a phantom play-action pass.

“Here we go...good!” Carson had just hit the top of his drop—DeFilippo is already sprinting to a different section of the field. “QBs, we’re outta here, we’re outta here, we’re movin’, we’re movin’, we’re movin’.”

There are not enough hours in the day for Coach DeFilippo. Affectionately called Coach Flip, he’s the mastermind behind Wentz’s meteoric second-season rise and one of the hottest names on the NFL coaching circuit. Mike Pettine, ex-defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, recalls DeFilippo’s office light outlasting all others during late evenings in the Jets facility, where DeFilippo was the QB coach back in ‘09. When Pettine moved on to become the head coach of Cleveland, he hired DeFilippo in 2015 as his offensive coordinator.

While juggling acquired veteran QB Josh McCown and hotshot second-year QB Johnny Manziel, DeFilippo constructed one of Cleveland’s most prolific offenses: 4,156 passing yards (4th-most in franchise history), 2.0 INT % (2nd-best), and a 4,100 passing yard, 1,500 rushing yard season for the first time since 1986. In an effort to assist Manziel—who played far better under DeFilippo than he did in 2014 under then-Browns’ OC Kyle Shanahan—Flip installed semiweekly worksheets for his quarterbacks, to test their understanding of his offense.

To this day, DeFilippo hasn’t shaken the habit. As Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic writes:

Every Friday, DeFilippo hands his quarterbacks a test that also serves as a tip sheet. It’s 20 to 30 pages and about 55 questions with photos and text containing information about the upcoming opponent. If the defense is showing a certain look pre-snap, how should they adjust the protection? If Wentz reads zone coverage on a specific passing concept, where should he go with the ball? If a cornerback is playing a specific leverage, how is the receiver supposed to adjust his route?

“I like to have a lot of juice,” DeFilippo says through a smile when discussing his dogged coaching methods. “I like guys that move fast, talk fast, do everything fast. I think when you train that way and you practice that way, when the game’s moving fast on Sunday it slows things down for you.”

Even to the last man on the depth chart, DeFilippo refuses to turn the dial even one notch down. When promoted to the active roster following the ACL tear of Carson Wentz, once third-string QB Nate Sudfeld joked that he was grateful to have graduated from Coach Flip’s pregame workouts. Before Sudfeld’s promotion, DeFilippo would run him through a fierce 45-minute drill session every Sunday morning, testing not only his mechanics and arm, but his mental preparedness for a game in which he couldn’t possibly play.

DeFilippo’s boundless energy and youthful pursuits—he’s a notorious sneakerhead—harmonizes with young quarterbacks specifically, adding to his appeal as a potential hire for rebuilding NFL franchises. In his years as an NFL QB coach/offensive coordinator, DeFilippo has worked with JaMarcus Russell, Mark Sanchez, Terrelle Pryor, Derek Carr, Johnny Manziel, and Carson Wentz—all in their rookie seasons. The careers of a few names listed may not impress, but DeFilippo hasn’t gotten more than two seasons with a single quarterback in his career. What he can concoct with some stability remains to be seen.


NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a comfortable 50 degrees on a cloudless day at Lincoln Financial Field. Coach DeFilippo jogs onto the sideline, rocking longer pants—shorts would be unbecoming for game day—with the otherwise typical get-up. His second-year QB and MVP candidate is about to complete over 60% of his passes, throw for 227 yards, and rack up 3 touchdowns against the Chicago Bears—all in three quarters of play.

Little does DeFilippo know that on NFL Network before the game, NFL Analyst Brian Baldinger dropped his name as a potential target for the Bears, when they inevitably look to fill some coaching vacancies and groom their shiny new QB, Mitchell Trubisky. But Baldy isn’t talking offensive coordinator for Coach Flip—no, he’s got greater heights in mind for the up-and-comer:

Sharp, sharp, really sharp. Like he’s the smartest guy in the room. He would be unbelievable with a young quarterback. Everywhere he’s been Flip has been good. High energy, nonstop. If you’re looking, he’s head coach material. He’s like McVay.

Sean McVay, head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. turned around a franchise mired in mediocrity, hauled QB Jared Goff from the rancid pits of “BUST!’ after a dreadful rookie season, and has the inside track to a Coach of the Year recognition in his first season at the helm. Head coaching comparisons don’t get much better than that.

But the comparison extends beyond the magnetic vigor of youth and quarterbacking savvy of experience—both are wizards on the chalkboard.

DeFilippo has gained the love of Philadelphia fans everywhere for his occasional guest appearance on Eagles Game Plan, the weekly film-centric show hosted by PhiladelphiaEagles.com. While most guests detail the aspects of their selected plays that would interest the general watcher—why Wentz made a certain decision; how the play design left Ertz wide open—DeFilippo fires off reads, audibles, and protections as if he were installing an offense. The other coaches--HC Doug Pederson, OC Frank Reich, RB coach Duce Staley—speak colloquially to the host, Ike Reese. DeFilippo turns to the camera, looks straight into the lens, and addresses the listener directly.

Compare these two clips: the first from Pederson, the second from DeFilippo. Included with both is the first ~150 words that each says.

We kinda knew Denver, when we went big people, they were gonna bring 6-2 Goal Line (personnel) into the game, and so, felt like that our best opportunity was to get Carson on the edge. And so, all we're doing here is bringing Trey (Burton) down in motion, and we're basically sealing with Isaac (Seumalo) right here. Brent Celek does a nice job, and then Trey is actually gonna work through here on a crossing route. As you know, being a linebacker, you get guys moving in front of your face, it kinda moves your eyes just a little bit, and then we're trying to get the back into the flat.

This is kinda the gist of the play, and then Alshon working the back half of the end zone. This (read) is primary, for Carson, this is primary, this becomes secondary, and he actually gets his eyes back to the back part of the end zone and throws a laser to Alshon with great protection here on the pocket.

Well, first thing we knew is a couple of things. We knew the Redskins like to play what we called “middle of the field open” on second and long, so if there's a single safety middle here, we call that “middle of the field closed.” “Middle of the field open” means that there's two safeties, so we're calling this route for “middle of the field open,” so we knew on second and extra long, there was a good chance the Redskins were gonna be “middle of the field open.”

We have three types of reads for the quarterback: we have pure progression reads, which are literally no matter what the coverage is, one to two to three; we have a single-high, two-high read—literally, we're reading one side of the field if it's two-high, another side of the field if it's single safety middle; and then we have what we call levels throws, okay? Levels throws are an example of this play right here.

At the end of their respective bits, Pederson has stopped and started the tape three times, and has already moved on to a different camera angle. DeFilippo has not yet rolled a single second of film.

Keep his clip running, and Flip’ll barrage you further:

...Hollins works vertical with speed on what we call a circle post...

...Alshon’s gonna get into the wake—when we say get in the wake...

...we’re reading depth, width, and hips of this safety here, and we say “two outta three”...

...we knew they would cut the crosser with either the corner or the safety here...

...this is what we call a throw “covered about to be uncovered”...

...we knew when we crossed the 30, the Redskins wanted to be a “middle of the field closed” team...

...we call this a “faith throw” in the red zone...

...we call that a “take two” deep cross...

DeFilippo takes not a moment to consider how pertinent this insight may be for the casual fan—why would he? Coach Flip’s orientation to detail draws the world in black and white: either you understand something at its deepest, most nuanced level, or you don’t understand it at all.

Coach DeFilippo knows he’s a workaholic—his wife has told him as much, he sheepishly admits in an interview as the newly-minted OC of the Cleveland Browns. “I wake up every day thinking that someone is out-working me, out-scheming me...that drives me. You can never watch enough tape, you can never study enough—you can never study people enough.”

Those listless nights have begun to pay off: DeFilippo is one step away from proving he can punch with the heavyweights.


NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Coach DeFilippo sits in front of a brown and orange backdrop, his hair markedly more pepper, less salt than any Philadelphia fan would expect. Almost three years ago he took this seat, hosting his introductory press conference as the offensive coordinator of a Cleveland Browns team that might—just might—have some hope for the upcoming season.

Asked about his success with young quarterbacks, Coach DeFilippo shares how he coaxed so much production out of since-fallen QBs like JaMarcus Russell and Terrelle Pryor.

Well, I think the first thing you do is get a personal connection, and see how they learn. I spend a lot of time developing how guys learn, and some guys are visual guys; some guys need to be coddled a little bit; some guys need to be ripped. So I think you find that connection on how a guy learns best, and you go that route. I think I’ve done a fairly decent job of finding that out with the different quarterbacks I’ve coached.

Bump the clock up a year, and DeFilippo finds himself in a new seat: a life-sized depiction of Sam Bradford behind him, a tablet emblazoned with the Philadelphia Eagle before him. He’s tinkering with yet another tricky QB room: incumbent starter Sam Bradford coming off of injury; system-familiar journeyman Chase Daniel; prized #2 overall selection Carson Wentz. When asked about the rookie’s demeanor through his inevitable growing pains, DeFilippo takes a firm stance:

That’s one thing we coach with all of our quarterbacks: body language playing this position is very important. Everyone’s looking at you—from fans to coaches to your teammates—everybody on the field’s always watching you and how you react to certain situations. When there’s a situation that we have a “body language fine” like we call it, it’s pointed out, it’s corrected, and that’s not how the Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks are gonna act.

Great football minds have risen to and fallen from power like monarchs and kingdoms—DeFilippo knows this all too well, having worked under names like Lane Kiffin and Rex Ryan. It’s not enough to know your stuff. Head coaches are leaders of men, and the emotional quotient is as critical—if not more so—than the intelligence quotient. Body language and personal relationships go just as far as pitches and catches.

Over his 9 years in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, DeFilippo has seemingly fielded the question hundreds of times: what does an NFL QB need to succeed? A rabid worker, he often mentions work ethic and the passion to improve; a film nut, he remarks upon the agile mind and expansive recall; but his first answer remains unflinchingly the same: “If you don’t have great character playing the quarterback position in the NFL, you have no chance for success.”

Character stands paramount for DeFilippo in his quarterbacks—and predictably, it is the standard to which he holds himself as well. He has lauded Carson, and hoped for himself, that both men are “the same person every day.” DeFilippo knows that a coach—a teacher, as he would qualify it—must be a predictable figure, consistent in the manifestation of their character. An organization cannot be built around a tempestuous individual, governed by the swells of their emotions. Just as his quarterbacks must have the short memory to bounce back from mistakes, DeFilippo remains driven by his standards, not by his successes and failures.

When DeFilippo was blocked from interviewing for the Jets’ offensive coordinator position by the Eagles after the 2016 season, he made those standards clear: “My goal this year is to become the best QB coach in the National Football League. And usually when you have that mindset, that one day at a time mindset”—he grins through his words once again—“things have a way of working out.”

You can check off that box: DeFilippo is the best QB coach in the league. Greater aspirations undoubtedly swim under the surface for such a potent mind and magnetic personality—though he’d never admit it, now matter how hard you pried. DeFilippo will firmly root his attention, daily and nightly, in preparing backup QB Nick Foles for a deep playoff run. But, forced to wait in the wings, NFL franchises are restlessly chomping at the bit.

On Wild Card Weekend, as Philadelphia enjoys a first-round bye, DeFilippo will be available for a round of interviews for OC and HC vacancies alike. They won’t be his first—he interviewed for San Francisco’s 2015 HC job, eventually filled by Chip Kelly—but they will be far greater in number and competitiveness. DeFilippo is the next young, dynamic, charismatic head coach of the NFL—it’s just a matter of which franchise first takes that bold swing for the fences.