Will Eagles candidates McCoy, Bradley wilt under spotlight this weekend, or glow?
DENVER - Two of the Eagles' announced coaching candidates will be in the spotlight this weekend, as the NFL playoffs churn forward. Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, whom the Birds interviewed last week, will be tested by the visiting Ravens on Saturday. Then Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has a Sunday date against the Falcons in Atlanta, where the Eagles' brass is expected to travel to interview him.
Some people have inferred that, because the Eagles didn't meet very long with McCoy, as they did with Bill O'Brien and Chip Kelly, and they didn't let it be known there would be another meeting, as they did with Brian Kelly, McCoy definitely is off the list. That's hard to believe, given that of the remaining candidates, McCoy seems to personify most closely what many observers thought team chairman Jeffrey Lurie was looking for when he laid down his criteria for the next Eagles coach. McCoy, 40, is a young offensive innovator, a guy who has built successful attacks around Jake Delhomme, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning. Hard not to envision him doing good things with Nick Foles.
Bradley sometimes gets discounted because he's a defensive guy in a league that is forever bending its rules to favor offense, but he has an extraordinary record of success, and seems to really inspire his players, which just might be an important part of this here coaching business.
McCoy, who has been mentioned in connection with several vacancies, doesn't try to present himself as some sort of genius/guru.
"Football's always football," McCoy told NFL.com this season. "We laugh about that, because it's not that complicated. Every Monday, we call it 'Thievery Night,' you look at the touchdowns and explosive plays, see that stuff week-to-week, and see who's doing what, and take what you can . . . Everyone's running the same plays, and it's a matter of some running one concept more than another team is. It all boils down to the same thing."
Denver, off to a bad start in 2011, traded Orton in the middle of the season and told McCoy to design an offense for Tebow. No training camp, no minicamps, just write something down and let's go play. Denver ran a spread option and went 7-4 under Tebow, who completed only 46.5 percent of his passes. That win total doesn't include the playoff upset of Pittsburgh.
"Mike has been a great resource for me," Manning told NFL.com. "He's been incredibly supportive and patient with me in kind of putting together this hybrid offense. I tell you, he's a worker. We spend a lot of hours together - early mornings, late nights - trying to get kind of our plan in place for what kind of offense we were going to be. There's no substitute for a work ethic, and Mike certainly has that."
Bradley, 46, who interviewed with the Chargers earlier in the week, might suffer from the fact that he has risen really quickly through the NFL ranks after a late start, having coached at his alma mater, Noth Dakota State, in various roles from 1990 to 2005. Bradley got to the NFL as a lowly defensive quality control coach in Tampa in 2006, where he worked under Monte Kiffin. He was promoted to linebackers coach the next year, and in 2009, armed with a glowing recommendation from Kiffin, Bradley persuaded then-Seahawks coach Jim Mora to hire him as defensive coordinator, after a 15-hour interview.
"Monte says, 'J.L., listen to me. I have got a guy here in Tampa that is one of, if not, the finest football coaches I have ever worked with. He's an A-plus. He's a once-in-a-lifetime coach. You need to talk to him,' " Mora later told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Mora coached the Seahawks for only one disappointing season, which ended with four successive losses, including 34-7 at Houston and 48-10 at Green Bay. It wasn't a given that new coach Pete Carroll, a defensive guy himself, would keep on a coordinator who hadn't gotten great results right out of the gate.
Carroll talked to Bradley, and to players, and decided to give Bradley a try.
"He's the best teacher I've ever been around," Carroll said this season. "He's so thorough, so thoughtful, and he'll go to such lengths to find ways to make sense of the information, so the guys can understand it in practical ways.
"It doesn't matter how good we teach. It's how well they learn. I think that connection is really clear with Gus. He's great at it."
In 2010, the Seahawks were 27th in yards allowed, 25th in points. By 2012, they were fourth in yards, first in points.
Of course, just as you can say of McCoy that anybody could look like a good offensive coordinator with Peyton Manning running the show, it's hard to ignore that Seattle's rise has been mainly because of Carroll. The Seahawks utilize his defensive concepts, with players he helped bring in.
Bradley has said that Carroll "created the vision," a 4-3 with quirks, that sometimes looks like a 3-4. Unlike the undersized, speed-obsessed Eagles, the Seahawks have a huge, run-stuffing defensive end (Red Bryant) and two big cornerbacks (Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner) who play physical press coverage.
Bradley gives the impression that, while the Seahawks thoroughly scout the opponent, they worry more about imposing what they want to do on the other team than about how to handle some facet of an opposing attack.
"We've kind of built a personality, a philosophy," Bradley said the week of the New England game, which the Seahawks won, 24-23, forcing the rest of the league to take them seriously. "And I think it's important that each team we play, we really stay within that philosophy.
"Carolina [a 16-12 Seattle win] was a classic example. Here we're seeing speed option, and we still played our defense. We adjusted it somewhat, but we're very cautious not to get away from who we were. And we want to play fast and make sure everyone knows what we're doing and communicate. And that's really the same approach we're going with in this game."
Neither McCoy nor Bradley can be hired before his team is eliminated from the playoffs. But, of course, success in these playoffs is a big factor in making them attractive candidates, at least in fans' eyes. After Bradley's defense did a 180 following two early touchdowns last week at Washington, Eagles fans were ready to welcome him with a parade. It'll be interesting to see whether that enthusiasm wanes, should Atlanta's Matt Ryan have a big day Sunday. Or if the Broncos' showing against Ray Lewis and the Ravens affects McCoy's buzz factor.
The Eagles said they will interview Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on Monday. He is the brother of former head coach Jon Gruden, a former NFL head coach who is currently an ESPN analyst.