A team source said the decision to fire defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was made Wednesday, but the team decided to keep it quiet as McDermott began searching for other positions.
The source added there was no confrontation or angry meeting between coach Andy Reid and McDermott. It was simply Reid making a decision based on an evaluation of the season.
The source said Reid felt that having to succeed Jim Johnson had become too much of a weight on McDermott, 36. McDermott was promoted in July 2009 before the start of training camp. Johnson died days later.
Things were just not working and the Eagles needed a better fit who had more experience, the source said. Had Johnson stepped down a few years earlier, he might have been succeeded by Steve Spagnuolo, now head coach in St. Louis, or by John Harbaugh, now head coach in Baltimore, but by 2009, McDermott was the obvious in-house choice for a team that needed continuity, with training camp pending.
Attempts to contact several prominent defensive players were unsuccessful Saturday. Defensive end Trent Cole said "I'm not allowed to say nothing."
This is the first time that Reid has fired an offensive or defensive coordinator in his 12 years with the Eagles. Johnson passed away. Previous offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower retired, and his successor, Brad Childress, left to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
The Eagles gave up a team-record 31 touchdown passes this season and were ranked last in the league in red-zone defense. They also were hit with major injuries and were forced to play young players. Three seventh-round picks started in the playoff loss against Green Bay.
The obvious replacement is Eagles defensive backs coach Dick Jauron, 60, a two-time NFL head coach and experienced coordinator, although an Eagles executive told the Daily News that no decision has been made.
"There is no leader," another team source said. "He will be considered, but there is a list. There is no front-runner."
Reid is on vacation this coming week, a team source said, so a quick decision is not expected.
You could make the case that McDermott, a former LaSalle High star, whose brother Tim directs the team's marketing efforts, didn't get a fair chance. His first year he had no chance to affect personnel or make any more than cosmetic changes. His second year, the defense was very young.
But it isn't unfair to say that some things happened in the past two seasons that brought into question McDermott's personnel savvy. Before the 2009 season, he was extremely taken with fifth-round rookie safety Macho Harris, who began the year as the starting free safety. Harris failed to make the team in 2010. It was McDermott who called 2010 free-agent signee Ernie Sims "a shark in the water." Sims, the starting weakside linebacker, actually was pretty much what he had been in making himself expendable in Detroit -- a small linebacker with poor instincts who overran plays or was run over trying to stop them.
McDermott demoted starting strongside linebacker Moise Fokou one day into training camp this past season, then reinstated him midway through the season. Critics of Johnson sometimes complained that he was loyal to his starters to a fault, but McDermott seemed to veer wildly from being very high on a player to not wanting to use him at all.
A complicating factor with an outside hire is the potential lockout. Bringing in a new defensive coordinator, especially one from another system, in an offseason when there could be no minicamps would be difficult. However, Reid was clear in his Monday news conference that he was operating as if this was a regular offseason until something happened to change that.
Reid also for the first time mentioned schemes when he met with reporters, so it is not completely out of the question that the Eagles are looking for a different approach than the Johnson-McDermott model.
The Eagles granted permission for Jauron to talk to the Browns about their opening for a defensive coordinator under new coach Pat Shurmur, another former Eagles assistant who spent the last two years as the Rams' offensive coordinator.
Jauron is scheduled to meet with the Browns next week, although indications are that Jauron could be coveted by other teams as well. A league source said that interview is expected to happen, as scheduled.
The Browns are searching for a replacement for Rob Ryan, who could end up in Dallas. The Cowboys Web site reported Friday that Ryan has been offered the job after an extended visit at the team's Valley Ranch headquarters.
Donovan McNabb was going to be the starting quarterback in 2010; Andy Reid said so at the end of the 2009 season. And then he was gone to Redskins on Easter Sunday.
Kevin Kolb was going to be the starting quarterback in 2010; Reid said so throughout the offseason and even after Kolb was concussed in the season opener against Green Bay. And then he was the backup to Michael Vick.
Sean McDermott was going to remain the defensive coordinator next season; Reid said so Monday in his day-after news conference after the playoff loss to the Packers. And tonight, McDermott is out after two years as coordinator.
Here was Reid on Monday, from the transcripts released by the team:
On his evaluation of defensive coordinator Sean McDermott:
"Well I would tell you you're dealing with a guy that's a tremendous worker and is a very smart individual. And so I look at it a little bit different than what you do in that I've seen him work with young guys, I've seen him work through injuries, I've seen him stay positive through those situations and still put us in a position to win football games and knowing that he's going to do nothing but improve as a coach, just like all of us, with experience. And so, I have a lot of respect for him and the way that he does business."
On whether McDermott will be back next year:
Clearly, Reid again changed his mind. He had said everyone would be evaluated, and clearly his evaluation of McDermott changed.