It’s been a bit of an interesting week for Doug Pederson and I’m not even referring to his water bottle moment.
Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Eagles head coach definitively said offensive coordinator Mike Groh and wide receivers coach Carson Walch were going to return on his 2020 staff. Here’s the transcript:
Q. Now that the season is over, how do you assess the job of Offensive Coordinator Mike Groh and Wide Receivers Coach Carson Walch, and do you expect them to be on your staff next year?
DOUG PEDERSON: I think both of those guys did an outstanding job for me this year. There were a lot of things we faced on offense as you know, through adversity, through injury, through many different facets of trying to get the pieces together. So my hat goes off to both of those gentlemen because of the game plans that Mike and I and the offensive staff put together, first of all. Then here towards the end of the season, Carson Walch having a big impact on getting these young players ready to go and to play at a high level. That’s not easy. For guys to basically come off our practice roster, who were within weeks of being on our roster or being on the practice squad, to be elevated to game status, it’s not easy to do, and these two gentlemen did an outstanding job for me, for the team, and really put us in a position to be in the postseason here at the end of the year.
Q. Will Coach Groh and Coach Walch be back though?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yes, both those guys will be back.
No ambiguity there.
But, by contrast, there was some level of ambiguity when he was asked about defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Q. Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz is interviewing in Cleveland today for their head coaching vacancy. He has a year left on his deal here. What’s your attitude toward that, and if he were to get an offer to go there in a non-head coaching capacity, how would you treat that?
DOUG PEDERSON: Obviously, I love the fact that guys around the league and teams around the league are looking to my staff for possible head coaching candidates. First, Frank Reich [current Indianapolis Colts Head Coach and former Eagles Offensive Coordinator] a couple years ago and now Jim, [who is] a former head coach. I think he would make a tremendous head coach again, and his leadership and obviously what he has brought to me and how I have been able to lean on him through his experiences as a former head coach. Jim has done an outstanding job with our defense, obviously, and the improvement that we saw throughout the course of this season. I’m excited for him and his opportunity and wish him the best.
Q. Is Schwartz coming back?
DOUG PEDERSON: He’ll be on a plane back here [to Philadelphia] at some point after the interview.
Q. But what if he doesn’t get the Cleveland job? Will he be back in Philadelphia?
DOUG PEDERSON: Oh. As part of the evaluation and process and all that? I would assume, yes. He’s currently my DC, yeah.
Pederson was later asked to further clarify his comments on his assistants.
Q. Just to clarify on Mike Groh, you said he would be back. Jim Schwartz, you were a little more vague. If he doesn’t get the Browns job, do you want Jim back as your defensive coordinator?
DOUG PEDERSON: With all my staff guys, I’m in that process of evaluating and would love to have them all back, obviously. We know what this league is about, and any time an assistant coach can get a promotion, whether it’s here or somewhere else, I encourage that. But as I evaluate, and look we’re only three days removed from the season so everything is still fresh on my mind, too, so we are still evaluating. All my coaches are in that evaluation process, as well.
Q. So, when you say Mike Groh and Carson Walch are coming back –
DOUG PEDERSON: I know what I said, but at the same time, I’m still evaluating the whole process. They are still currently here and I’m going to continue to evaluate and assemble the best staff moving forward. But currently, yes, they are still here.
Still vague on Schwartz, but less definitive on Groh and Walch this time around.
Okay, so that was Wednesday. Then the Eagles officially fired Groh and Walch on Thursday. The Eagles released a statement from Pederson in attempt to clear up some confusion:
This clearly wasn’t handled smoothly. Pederson isn’t a stranger to having some awkward moments in his press conferences but all he had to say was that he was still evaluating Groh and Walch. He didn’t need to definitively say if they were going to be back one or not.
That Pederson DID say Groh and Walch were going to return creates the perception that he genuinely wanted them back in 2020. The two assistants getting fired one day later makes it look like Pederson’s call was overruled by a greater authority. And it sounds like that’s exactly what happened:
As I noted yesterday, Doug Pederson had yet to meet with owner Jeffery Lurie when he gave Groh and Walch a vote of confidence. He did today. Lurie had pretty much decided by December that he didn’t want either back, an NFL source said. https://t.co/yldY0riZwW— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) January 9, 2020
This McLane report lines up with the sentiment that NFL insider Chris Mortensen shared in early December that significant changes were likely to be made to the coaching staff, baring a deep playoff run.
Generally speaking, it’s not a great thing when ownership interferes with smaller picture matters. Jeffrey Lurie potentially overruling Pederson’s decision to keep both Groh and Walch isn’t a great look. Ideally Lurie should be able to trust and empower his Super Bowl winning head coach to make the right decisions.
With that said, I think there is a time and place for an owner to meddle. In this instance, there was no realistic argument for Walch to be back in 2020. How is Lurie supposed to see Pederson and Groh having to get more involved coaching the team’s wide receivers during the season and then honor Pederson’s decision to bring Walch back? Not to mention the total failure to develop JJ Arcega-Whiteside at all ... or Walch’s out of touch comments about Mack Hollins.
As for Groh, well, he really should’ve been gone last year. What strong case was there to be made that he was really part of the solution?
Lurie originally allowed Pederson to promote from within — as opposed to hiring external candidates — after originally losing Frank Reich and John DeFilippo. So it’s not like the owner has meddled at every turn.
For what it’s worth, Pederson denies Lurie meddled at all. The Eagles head coach had the following to say in a Friday morning interview with Angelo Cataldi on SportsRadio 94WIP’s Morning Show:
CATALDI: Mike Groh and Carson Walch are no longer with the organization. Can you take us through the process of how that happened?
PEDERSON: Yeah, so, first of all, listen. I appreciate both of those guys, everything they did for me. Obviously, Mike was on staff when we won a championship. And ultimately I have to make the decisions that I feel are in best interest of the football team and moving forward. And that’s what I did. I also want to make sure that my comments the other day, um, might’ve been a little bit misleading. And I did a poor job there of communicating in the press conference. And just basically what I intended to say about my coaching staff was that I was still in the process of evaluating and evaluating everything. And that’s really what the week after the season is about. We take a look at everything. From the roster, to personnel, and I did a poor job of communicating that and for that I apologize for misleading anybody there, especially … I think I did put Jim [Schwartz] in a tough situation. But I just want to let everybody know that these are ultimately my decisions and I do what’s best for the football team.
CATALDI: That is one of the things I think we’re dealing with this morning, Doug. We’re wondering if your power was preempted by either the owner or the general manager? Did they have input into the decision to get rid of these two guys?
PEDERSON: No sir. And at the time of the press conference, I was still in the evaluation process. And I do have a lot of communications, a lot of conversations in the building. And part of my evaluation — me, personally — is with our owner Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie. And I think it’s important that he and I continue to stay on the same page, along with Howie [Roseman]. And we do have some tough conversations and I think in my standpoint, it’s very beneficial to me, personally. And it helps me lead the football team. But by no means was there any influence there. Ultimately, it’s my decision through the whole evaluation process. And, again, I have a bunch of conversations but ultimately it’s my decision.
CATALDI: Doug, what are you looking for in a new offensive coordinator?
PEDERSON: I think someone who obviously can come in and understand what we do. I think it’s important that this person is a person who, obviously, I have to feel comfortable with. And I had Frank [Reich], I had Mike, and someone that I’m going to be working closely with. But someone that can help us win football games. Someone that has a sharp, sharp football mind. Someone that can lead a room, lead a room of men, and he and I can be on the same page that way. And I’ll look at that. I’ll take some time here and look at that as I continue to evaluate.
CATALDI: Doug, is Duce Staley a candidate?
PEDERSON: Duce is an important part of my staff. And Duce has done an excellent job for me. Everything is on the table, everything is open, for me. And he could be part of that conversation.
CATALDI: The news conference raised some questions about Jim Schwartz. Can you clarify in our mind your working relationship with Jim?
PEDERSON: Jim and I have a great working relationship and I was excited to see that he had an opportunity to become, or at least interview for, a head coaching position [with the Cleveland Browns]. I think what he’s done with our defense and, really, the job he’s done for the four years, has been tremendous. So, he and I have a great relationship, and the other thing is, if he doesn’t get that job, he’s definitely my defensive coordinator moving forward.
CATALDI: Alright, Doug, I think there’s one thing that would really be clearer to all the fans based on what happened over the past two days. When you decide who you want to be your offensive coordinator and your wide receivers coach, ultimately that will be your decision, is that correct?
PEDERSON: That is correct. That is correct.
CATALDI: And you have that power and if you didn’t have that power I’m guessing you wouldn’t be too happy about that?
PEDERSON: Well, and that’s the thing, this is what I appreciate from Mr. Lurie and Howie, is that they’ve given me the opportunity to control my staff. And do they want to be a part of the process? They do. They want to meet these people, they want to have input and conversations. But ultimately I have to feel comfortable with these gentlemen on my staff. And because we’re the ones that work together. We’re with each the most. So, ultimately it will be my decision.
Again, the optics of how the Eagles handled these coaching staff changes weren’t great. The Eagles should’ve looked much more united than they appeared to be. And that they weren’t so synchronized creates a precedent and raises some level of concern about future decisions.
Regardless, the bottom line hasn’t changed. Groh and Walch are rightfully gone. It’s now up to Pederson to hire strong replacements.
... assuming it’s truly his call, that is.