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Jeffrey Lurie has an excellent track record hiring ‘unknown’ head coaches

He wasn’t on any head coaching shortlists this year, which is how Jeffrey Lurie likes it.

NFL: OCT 18 Bengals at Colts Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Monday, January 11, the day head coach Doug Pederson was fired by owner Jeffrey Lurie, oddsmakers went to work laying down lines on who would succeed him. A number of big names were among those listed, with some other possibilities sprinkled in, from most likely to least likely.

Here were’s odds that day.

  • Eric Bieniemy 4/1
  • Mike Kafka 4/1
  • Brian Daboll 9/2
  • Arthur Smith 5/1
  • Lincoln Riley 11/2
  • Joe Brady 6/1
  • Brandon Staley 15/2
  • Duce Staley 15/2
  • Greg Roman 8/1
  • Nathaniel Hackett 9/1
  • Dave Toub 10/1
  • Josh McDaniels 12/1
  • Byron Leftwich 16/1
  • Matt Campbell 20/1
  • Ryan Day 20/1
  • Jim Caldwell 25/1
  • Robert Saleh 25/1
  • James Urban 28/1
  • Jason Garrett 28/1
  • Rex Ryan 33/1

Aside from the names near the bottom of this list, the names at the top are all the ones with whom you are most familiar. The name you don’t see on that list is the guy who ended up getting the gig.

Almost no one in the NFL community predicted Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni would be named the Eagles’ next head coach, but get the gig he did. And while there are plenty of reasons why the Birds decided to give someone with no head coaching experience the job (offensively-minded coach, young, won’t push Howie Roseman for control), it’s fair to note that this is not only the first time owner Jeffrey Lurie has gone in this direction, but that he’s had a lot of success hiring head coaches that were somewhat off the radar.

Ray Rhodes

Lurie’s first season as owner was in 1994, the final year of Rich Kotite’s ill-fated voyage with the Eagles. After a 4th place, 7-9 finish, Lurie fired Kotite and began his first head coaching search. He spent six weeks looking for Kotite’s replacement with at least five candidates involved, including former Eagles legend Dick Vermeil, who would later return to coach the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title.

Eventually, Lurie settled on the unheralded Rhodes, who was the defensive coordinator for the defending world champion San Francisco 49ers, a team known more for their offensive prowess than their defense. Lurie wanted to bring the west coast offense to Philadelphia and Rhodes, although he was a defensive-minded coach, hired offensive coordinators and other personnel who brought that style of offense to the organization.

Few Eagles coaches had more success than Rhodes did in his first two seasons. In 1995, he led an overachieving group to an 10-6 record (which included the legendary 4th and 1 game against Dallas) and a wild card spot and then, as home underdogs in the opening round of the playoffs, destroyed the favored Detroit Lions 58-37 in one of the greatest games in team history. A loss to the Cowboys in Dallas in the divisional round ended that extremely fun season.

The team got off to a hot start in ‘96 and went 10-6 again, although the lack of a true quarterback (Ty Detmer) took its toll on the offense and the team wilted in a dreadful wild card loss to Rhodes’ old team, the 49ers, at Candlestick Park. A steep decline followed as the team went 6-9-1 in ‘97 and bottomed out at 3-13 in 1998. Rhodes’ tenure ended with a 29-34-1 record but some great memories in those first two seasons. Not a bad hire out of the box.

Andy Reid

Lurie’s second head coaching search began right away. The hot names rumored at the time were the also just-fired Panthers head coach Dom Capers, Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, Minnesota offensive coordinator Brian Billick, and Wisconsin Badgers coach Barry Alvarez.

To say the fanbase was shocked and skeptical when Lurie hired the Green Bay Packers QB coach to replace Rhodes would be an understatement. No one had ever hired a QB coach as their head coach before. Those jobs always went to coordinators or people with previous head coaching experience in college or the pros.

Instead, Lurie went with a total unknown in Andy Reid, who went on to become the best and longest-tenured head coach in Eagles history, 14 seasons, and a sure-fire Hall of Famer who will lead the Kansas City Chiefs to their second straight Super Bowl appearance in two weeks. There’s no question Lurie got that one right as well.

Of course, all good things come to an end and, after Reid’s final 4-12 disaster of a season in 2012, it was clear a separation was best for all concerned.

Chip Kelly

Upon Reid’s dismissal, Lurie this time changed direction and sought one of the hottest names on the market, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, but it wasn’t clear they would be able to nab him. He reportedly turned down an offer to coach the Eagles 10 days before he eventually said yes, and after interviewing 11 candidates, it looked as if Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was going to get the gig.

Instead, Lurie got his high-profile head coach and, at first, it appeared the move would work out brilliantly. Kelly’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense overwhelmed the league early and led to an NFC East title and a 10-6 record, an unbelievably fast turnaround from the previous season, with a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the New Orleans Saints in the wild card round at home in 2013.

The wheels quickly fell off, of course. In ‘14, the team started 9-3 following an emphatic Thanksgiving Day victory over the Cowboys in Dallas, but a three-game December losing streak dropped them to 9-6 and a meaningless final week win over the Giants brought their record to 10-6 once again with no postseason berth.

Kelly was given full control of the team at the expense of Howie Roseman and, after multiple failed drafts, the shocking release of DeSean Jackson and trade of LeSean McCoy, and a generally unpleasant demeanor that alienated players and the front office, Kelly was fired with one week left in the 2015 season.

Doug Pederson

Another massive coaching search began. This time, Lurie wanted someone with “emotional intelligence,” and appeared to focus his energy on two New York Giants coaches, Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo.

Following the ‘16 season, the two-time Super Bowl champion Coughlin stepped down as Giants coach, and the Birds were more focused on his offensive coordinator, McAdoo. However, the Giants went and hired McAdoo out from under the Eagles after they lost out on Hue Jackson to the Cleveland Browns. In response, the Eagles made a stronger push for Coughlin, but Coughlin decided not to pursue another coaching job because McAdoo kept most of the assistants Coughlin would want to take with him.

As a last resort, the Eagles went to the Andy Reid coaching tree and brought aboard his offensive coordinator, Pederson, ahead of the 2016 season. It was clear Doug was not their first choice but, at the end of the day, they lucked out. Pederson led the team to their first Super Bowl title, took a banged-up Birds squad to the playoffs and the divisional round in ‘18 and another injury-riddled team to the postseason once again in 2019.

And then, it all fell apart. After a disastrous 2020, Pederson was fired (which I still believe to be a big mistake) and replaced by another unheralded choice in Nick Sirianni.

At the end of the day, the three unheralded head coaches all won playoff games for Jeffrey Lurie. The guy everyone heard of didn’t win one and had the shortest coaching tenure of any of them. Sirianni may have been hired because he is a coach the front office will be able to control, and yes, maybe he’s a coach that Carson Wentz will be able to have his way with, too. But he also might be the best coach to come out of this year’s round of hiring, something that has been the case just about every time Lurie has sought a new head coach.

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