Jim Schwartz doesn’t talk with reporters after Eagles games. He isn’t obligated to, but the defensive coordinator also doesn’t want his answers to potentially conflict with head coach Doug Pederson’s postgame message.
Since he was hired, abnormally not by the head coach, Schwartz has done his best not to publicly overshadow Pederson. He’s also managed to downplay his desire to become a head coach again, even though his interest is well known around the NFL.
But Schwartz was back in the spotlight the past several days as his name was linked to several head-coaching vacancies, most prominently the New York Giants’. According to multiple reports, he will interview with the Giants sometime this week.
Schwartz’s anti-postgame interview policy, of course, meant that he didn’t have to comment Sunday about his pending meeting or his candidacy for other jobs. He also isn’t required to talk this week, with the Eagles on hiatus until the divisional round of the playoffs.
But the prospect that he might leave this offseason will hang over the Eagles’ proceedings the next few weeks or so. It’s a cost of winning. And one that Pederson, who went through the same process two years ago with the Kansas City Chiefs, knows well.
“Any time you have success as a team, I think your assistant coaches are going to be looked at for potential jobs,” Pederson said following the 13-3 Eagles’ season-ending, 6-0 loss to the Cowboys. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
The window for interviewing assistants on playoff teams with first-round byes is this week. And the Eagles could have as many as three up for eight or nine vacancies. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a candidate, possibly for openings in Arizona, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. And while offensive coordinator Frank Reich isn’t considered as highly sought, he could be on some radars.
“Everybody gets paid when you’re winning,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
The Eagles won’t likely win in two weeks if Schwartz’s defense doesn’t play its best. The offense has lost its mojo since Carson Wentz’s season-ending knee injury and Nick Foles hasn’t inspired much confidence over the last two games – despite his insistence otherwise. (The quarterback used the words “confident” or “confidence” 11 times during his postgame news conference.)
Schwartz’s unit had a three-game lull in early December, but it has seemingly rebounded. Five defensive starters were given Sunday off, but the ones who did play pitched a first-half shutout and the second unit held its own against the Cowboys’ first-team offense in the second half.
Whether he’s fixated on head-coaching possibilities or not, Schwartz has had his defense prepared the last two weeks. A five-turnover second half was the difference in the Christmas-night win over the Raiders. But some of his attention will be focused on prepping for the Giants, etc.
“Having gone through that as an assistant coach, the biggest thing is you don’t let it become a distraction to you as a coach,” Pederson said before the Oakland game. “We still have a lot of football ahead of us going forward.”
According to an ESPN report, the 51-year-old Schwartz was a favorite – if not the favorite – to get the Giants job. An NFL source close to the coaching searches around the NFL confirmed the legitimacy of Schwartz’s candidacy, but the process is still in its infancy.
After the Giants fired Ben McAdoo last month, owner John Mara said the team wanted to hire a replacement with head-coaching experience. Schwartz would qualify. But in his five seasons as head coach, the Lions went 29-51. Schwartz did inherit a 0-16 team, but Detroit had only one winning season during his tenure.
“He wants it and he’s proved that he can do it,” Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “Does he deserve that? For sure. No doubt. Hands down.”
Schwartz’s acumen has never been in question. His defenses with the Titans were perennially in the top 10 and the Eagles will finish this season in the top five in fewest yards and points allowed. The Giants have also run a similar 4-3 defense for years.
“Obviously, they’re interviewing him for a reason,” Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said. “He’s done a tremendous job here. He’s a heck of a coach.”
But could he be a heck of a head coach? Schwartz’s prickly personality, in some ways, didn’t help him in Detroit. He is far from the most popular person at the NovaCare Complex. But the Eagles gave him autonomy over the defense and his dynamic with Pederson, at least this season, worked.
There were players and other staff members who believed that Schwartz was undermining Pederson before the season, perhaps with the objective of replacing him, but winning tempered any further disruptions, per team sources.
But a Pederson-Schwartz marriage wasn’t expected to last long. Steve Spagnuolo, who was the Giants’ interim coach, would be a defensive coordinator more compatible with Pederson and a possible successor should Schwartz walk. The Bengals’ Paul Guenther, who has experience with the 4-3, would also make sense.
But the Eagles, at least, aren’t looking that far ahead.
“None of that is my concern,” Jenkins said of Schwartz’s head-coaching candidacy. “We’re just trying to get to the next week. I’m not thinking about it unless he’s going to be somebody else’s coach next week. … Everybody in this building is worried about winning a Super Bowl.”
A Super Bowl run, depending on the Giants’ patience, could be the one scenario that keeps Schwartz in Philly. Those chances might rest with the defense.