Eagles will interview Lovie Smith on Thursday
Did the announcement that the Eagles were scheduled to interview Lovie Smith mark a sudden shift in the team's head coaching search, or has the former Bears coach always been part of their plans?
Although Smith isn't the first ex-NFL head coach the Eagles have expressed interest in - they interviewed former 49ers coach Mike Nolan last week - he is the first with a proven track record, albeit one without a Super Bowl title.
Smith, 54, compiled an 81-63 regular-season record and went 3-3 in the playoffs over nine seasons with the Bears. He reached the Super Bowl in his third season only to lose to the Colts, and advanced to the NFC championship game in the 2010 season before the Packers eliminated Chicago.
Smith has consistently put out one of the better defenses in the league. But his offenses have been comparatively anemic. He reached the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as his quarterback but couldn't get back with Jay Cutler, who was more skilled.
The Eagles have focused mostly on some of the younger bright offensive minds in football. They jumped on two innovative college coaches out of the chute - interviewing Chip Kelly of Oregon and Bill O'Brien of Penn State - but both elected to stay at school.
The Eagles then interviewed Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Sunday and have been granted permission to meet with Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. There was a report that the Eagles were slated to interview Gruden on Wednesday, but the team said that it was false.
The Colts' Bruce Arians is 60, but the offensive coordinator did a wonderful job nurturing quarterback Andrew Luck in his first season in Indianapolis.
There were also plans to interview Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Syracuse head Doug Morrone, once the offensive coordinator with the Saints. But Koetter signed a contract extension and stayed in Atlanta and Marrone agreed to become the Bills' head coach.
Smith is not the only defensive-minded coach the Eagles are considering. Aside from Nolan, the team plans to meet with Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, likely sometime before Seattle visits Atlanta in an NFC divisional game Sunday.
Kelly and O'Brien were clearly the Eagles' top two targets. Kelly had narrowed his choices to the Eagles or staying at Oregon and chose the latter on Sunday evening. The Eagles headed home that day after meeting with McCoy to reboot their plans.
Smith is the first new name added to the Eagles' interview list since they returned from their trip. He was fired one day after the Bears finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs for the second straight season. Like former Eagles coach Andy Reid, Smith falls in the close-but-no-cigar category of coaches who never got over the hump with one team.
Could he just need a change of scenery? The Bills have been the only team to interview Smith. He is certainly not being interviewed by the Eagles to satisfy the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate. The Eagles already met that requirement when they interviewed Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong last week.
So why Smith? It could be that the Eagles are now onto the second page of their wish list. It could be that they don't want to pass up the opportunity to interview a coach who has won consistently in the NFL. It could be that they want to see if Smith could eventually be the defensive coordinator here.
Or it might be that they want a defensive-minded head coach. The Eagles' defense hasn't been the same since coordinator Jim Johnson died in 2009. Even if the team hired an offensive-minded head coach, the hire at defensive coordinator was going to be only slightly less important.
Still, it seems unlikely that Smith would be owner Jeffrey Lurie's man. If Lurie were to go defensive, Bradley, 45, would seem to fit the parameters Lurie set when he spoke about looking for a youngish forward-thinker.
McCoy and Gruden would make more sense in light of the Eagles' likely plans to go with rookie Nick Foles at quarterback next season. Gruden, 45, had NFL interview offers last season but turned them down. He's taking them this year but still sounds determined to stay in Cincinnati.
"I figured I'd better say yes or they'll quit asking me," Gruden said, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I think it will be a great experience and it's exciting. But I have every intention of coming back here."
But Gruden wouldn't be the first coach to say one thing and do another.
Eagles sign two WRs
The Eagles signed wide receivers Nick Miller and DeMarco Simpson to two-year contracts.
Miller (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) played in 17 games with the Raiders and Rams from 2009 to 2011, when he was mostly used as a punt returner. Sampson (6-2, 204) was a seventh-round pick by the Cardinals in 2011 and had three catches for 36 yards in 12 games as a rookie.
About Mr. Smith
Here is a look at Lovie Smith, who will be interviewing for the Eagles coaching job Thursday:
Skinny: The Bears fired Smith on Dec. 31 after nine seasons. The former Tulsa linebacker and safety, specializes in defense. He went 81-63 (3-3 in the playoffs) and led the Bears to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season, when they lost to the Colts. Smith also went to the Super Bowl in 2001 as the defensive coordinator when the St. Louis Rams lost to the Patriots. He was the linebackers coach for the Bucs under Tony Dungy, 1996-2000.
Contact Jeff McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.