Who will be Chip Kelly's defensive coordinator?
Chip Kelly was Jeffrey Lurie's most important hire in 14 years. Now Kelly will have to make the most important hire of his career.
The offensive-minded coach needs someone to run the Eagles defense, and after four seasons of subpar play the defensive coordinator hire may be every bit as pivotal as Lurie's choice of Kelly as his head coach this week.
"I got a list of guys I want to talk to," Kelly said Thursday.
Several names have already been mentioned. The Eagles have reportedly reached out to Georgia's Todd Grantham, Florida's Dan Quinn, and Alabama's Kirby Smart. There are plenty of available NFL coordinators whom Kelly could pursue: Ray Horton, the Cardinals' defensive coordinator last season; Rob Ryan (Cowboys); and former Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel.
Quinn signed with the Seahawks on Thursday to become their defensive coordinator, so Kelly has already crossed one name off his list. The 42-year-old Quinn worked previously in Seattle as a defensive line coach and returns to replace Gus Bradley, who took the Jaguars head coaching job after a runner-up finish to Kelly with the Eagles.
Grantham, like Quinn, has extensive NFL coaching experience, although he has spent the last three seasons at the collegiate level. He was the Browns defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2007, and worked as the defensive line coach in Indianapolis (1999-2001), Houston (2002-04), and Dallas (2008-09).
At Georgia, Grantham's defenses were among the best in the SEC. Four of his starters - linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, nose tackle John Jenkins, and safety Bacarri Rambo - are expected to be drafted in April. The 46-year-old coach may be looking to get back into the NFL.
The new defensive coordinator will dictate how much of the defense will look, but Kelly gave some generalities.
"We're going to be an attacking style defense," he said. "It's going to be a group of people who dictates the tempo of the game. What that spacing is in terms of is it a 4-3 spacing or 3-4 spacing, I think it's, again, looking at our roster and understanding who I have the opportunity to bring here."
Grantham has employed a 3-4 at Georgia. Smart's defense at Alabama is also a 3-4. The 37-year-old has only one year of experience in the NFL. He was Nick Saban's safeties coach in Miami in 2006. But the Crimson Tide defenses have been a major part of Alabama's winning three of the last four national titles.
Whoever becomes the next defensive coordinator will likely have the kind of autonomy Jim Johnson had under former coach Andy Reid. Kelly said that he will be involved in every aspect of managing the football team. But come game days, defense will be the defensive coordinator's show.
"I don't believe you can have someone micromanage it," Kelly said. "When I was an offensive coordinator, I was fortunate that the two head coaches that I coached for allowed me to work. We'll have discussions during the week about where we're going with things, but on game day those guys have to be able to not worry about who is second-guessing them and who is over their shoulder."
Kelly has already made one coaching move, according to reports out of Oregon. He's bringing Ducks assistant Jerry Azzinaro to Philly to be his defensive line coach. A few graduate assistants are also reportedly following Kelly to likely take some lesser coaching positions.
Kelly is expected to hire an offensive coordinator who will specialize in implementing the passing game. He said that he spoke with some of the Eagles assistants who were still under contract. Duce Staley, who was an assistant special-teams coach under Reid, will stay in some capacity.
The Eagles will want to get their coaching staff in place relatively soon with Senior Bowl practices starting Monday. Kelly said he wasn't going to rush the process.
"My big thing with my staff - it's the same approach I've taken with recruiting - it's not who we don't get, it's who we do get," Kelly said. "And I want to make sure that person is the right fit. This isn't a race."