INDIANAPOLIS — Josh McDaniels’ last-second reversal with the Colts accelerated the Eagles’ timeline for offensive-staff promotions, with Mike Groh and Press Taylor ascending into roles they would have been a step from taking had Frank Reich not taken the head coaching job in Indy.
Doug Pederson had been prepared to lose Reich or John DeFilippo for some time. The Eagles coach had even considered the possibility of having both his top offensive assistants leave this off-season, but when every head-coach vacancy was seemingly filled following the Super Bowl, Reich, it was expected, would at least return as offensive coordinator.
DeFilippo’s contract was up, however, and the quarterbacks coach would likely depart if given the opportunity to become a coordinator, and specifically, one who calls plays. The Vikings offered such a chance, interviewed DeFilippo hours before the Super Bowl parade, and officially announced his hiring a day later.
The Eagles would have preferred to keep him, but they had a line of succession set in place. Groh would move from coaching wide receivers to quarterbacks, and Taylor would be promoted from offensive quality control/assistant quarterbacks coach and take Groh’s former post.
But McDaniels left Indianapolis at the altar three days after his Patriots lost to the Eagles, and Reich filled the void four days later, two days after DeFilippo departed.
Reich, unlike DeFilippo, hadn’t even interviewed for one of the seven head coach openings during the Eagles’ postseason run. Considering the team’s success and his role, it came as a bit of a surprise. While the timing of Reich’s departure forced Pederson into filling two vacancies, he said it comes with the territory of winning.
“Teams are going to cherry pick my coaching staff. That’s just the way it works,” Pederson said Wednesday during a break from the NFL scouting combine. “I have to do my due diligence and have a pipeline of coaches that I’m comfortable with to make these decisions and promote guys.
“You’re not constantly bringing in one-year coaches, two-year coaches. You’re bringing in guys that have been around your system.”
Pederson, like his mentor, Andy Reid, clearly favors promoting from within. He interviewed only two candidates for offensive coordinator – Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley was the other contender – and didn’t even look outside the building for either job, even though neither Groh nor Taylor had NFL experience in their new positions.
Reich had been an offensive coordinator with the Chargers for two years before coming to Philadelphia, and DeFilippo had been a quarterbacks coach and a coordinator.
Pederson, of course, had never been a head coach, and all he did was win a title in two years.
But one of the subplots of the Eagles’ off-season, their first as reigning Super Bowls champs, will be how they adapt to coaching and player turnover while trying to maintain the highest level of success.
Pederson’s dynamic with his staff, particularly on offense, was clearly instrumental in the Eagles’ triumphs. Reich was his consigliere. He was Pederson’s sounding board throughout the week; on the night before games, when final touches were applied; and during the game, as the coach called plays.
“The relationship that he and I had just really connected both personally and professionally,” Reich said Wednesday.
But Groh, who was hired just last year, had increasingly entered that circle. His mastery of teaching receiving fundamentals was clear from the start. As the season progressed, though, Reich said he found himself walking into Groh’s office next to his more often and “bouncing ideas off him.”
“And the more ideas I bounced off him, the more feedback I got from him, the more I could say, ‘Yeah, this is a good thing,’ ” Reich said.
Pederson said he couldn’t have gone wrong with either Groh or Staley. But it was clear that the former’s experience in the passing game – he was a college quarterback and a coordinator at Virginia under his father, Al Groh – appealed to the head coach.
“He was involved in our passing game quite a bit, and he’s a former quarterback, things of that nature,” Pederson said. “Made a nice fit for me.”
Staley, who’s the longest-tenured Eagles coach, was given the title of assistant head coach to go along with his responsibilities overseeing the running backs. Pederson said that he plans to increase Staley’s input in game planning and, if necessary, his influence with the players.
“If there’s a time he needs to speak to the team, obviously, in that position, he can do that for me,” Pederson said. “Not a lot’s going to change, but we’ll try to increase his role some.”
Staley has helped offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland with the run offense, but he had little involvement in passing concepts. When it comes to grooming coordinators, Pederson appears to place great emphasis on having played quarterback.
Taylor, who played the position in college at Marshall, spent his first season under Pederson primarily in the quarterbacks room. Last season, he spent the bulk of his time with the receivers and Groh. Taylor wore many hats, and as the compiler of trick plays, he first brought “Philly Special” to Pederson and Reich.
“Press is a stud. Press is a rising star,” Reich said. “He’s got a really brilliant mind for the game. And he’s a great worker. Press would always be welcome on my staff anytime.”
Pederson will need to go outside the NovaCare Complex to find a new receivers coach. He said he has interviewed a few candidates. Groh is assisting in the search, which Pederson said could net him either someone with NFL experience or from the college ranks.
“I want teachers first,” Pederson said.
Reid sustained many losses from the formidable staff he first formed with the Eagles. But, as other teams kept feeding from that trough, it became more difficult to maintain continuity and a familiarity with the brightest young minds.
Pederson isn’t quite there yet, but he knows it is one of the customary perils of winning.
“It’s hard to replace good coaches, but I feel like I got really good young coaches that have bright futures, and I know one day I’m probably going to lose those [Groh and Taylor] at some point,” Pederson said. “But I can’t worry about that right now.”
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