ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jim Schwartz wants to be the top dog again, make no mistake about that.
The Eagles defensive coordinator, understandably, dodged the notion when asked on Tuesday if he still aspired to be an NFL head coach.
“I’ll pass on that question,” Schwartz said at the Westin South Coast Plaza. “We have enough to get ready for the Rams, and I think it does nobody any good to mention that. There is really no right way to answer that. If you answer it and say, ‘Yes,’ then your eyes are on the wrong thing. You answer it and say, ‘No,’ then people …”
Schwartz didn’t finish his thought, but if he had, he would have likely said that a denial of any interest would signal to “people” [read: executives] around the league that he wasn’t serious enough about the possibility and he would thus be taken off their prospective lists.
Of course, he couldn’t have said that because it would be almost the same as answering yes. Schwartz accurately stated that there isn’t a correct way to field that question. But he did much better a year ago when the same subject was broached.
“I’m just trying to keep my ass off the hot seat,” Schwartz said last October. “I think in anything, if you do a good job, if you’re a quality control coach, you do a good job with that, maybe you get a chance to be a position coach, maybe you get a chance to be a coordinator if you do a good job with that.”
Schwartz did a fine job last year, but his fortunes declined along with the Eagles as they lost 9 of 11 after a 3-0 start. His unit excelled in the two victories during that span, but there were as many defensive disappointments as there were with coach Doug Pederson’s offense.
When the season was over, six teams had head coaching vacancies, but Schwartz wasn’t among the candidates interviewed.
A year later, he could draw more interest. The 10-2 Eagles, despite Sunday’s setback in Seattle, are flying high in large part because of Schwartz’s defense. His unit ranks third in the NFL in total defense, fifth in rushing yards allowed, second in passing yards per play, third in red zone percentage and sixth in points allowed.
Until the Seahawks, though, the Eagles hadn’t faced a top-ten offense in both yards and scoring since they lost at the Chiefs in Week 2. And Russell Wilson was clearly the best quarterback the defense had seen all season, and they couldn’t contain him.
“We all recognize we played a poor game, and I’ll include myself in that, too,” Schwartz said. “And we gave up 24 points. Again, please don’t misconstrue that, because we don’t take any pride in that. But it shows you a little bit about where our guys are, that that’s considered a bad performance.”
Schwartz is a good defensive coach, that has hardly ever been in dispute. He had his successes as a head coach, taking a winless Lions team to the playoffs in just three seasons. But he couldn’t sustain the winning and his “brash” and “in your face” style, as he described how he coached defense in September, didn’t translate as well to the top spot.
He’s four years removed from his last season in Detroit, though. And some Eagles defensive players like linebacker Nigel Bradham, who also spent a year with Schwartz with the Bills, say that he’s once again ready to lead an entire team.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he has everything that you want in a head coach,” Bradham said Wednesday. “He runs everything on our side. Doug lets him do whatever he needs to do. To us, he’s the head coach to us, defensively.
“But it’s just crazy because you hate to think about it – losing him.”
Schwartz has his detractors, as well. In September, three players and one Eagles staff member told The Inquirer that many within the organization believed that the defensive coordinator, based partially upon his actions and manner, was waiting to undercut Pederson and usurp power.
“He walks around the building like he thinks he’s the head coach,” one player said.
Schwartz denied the characterization. He said that he was comfortable with his relationship with Pederson, and that if anyone “misunderstands or misinterprets any actions, just know this: Coach Pederson is aware of everything that I do in this building, outside of the building.”
Pederson said that he had a “great relationship” with his assistant and that he loved his “swagger.”
But neither directly addressed the report that Schwartz had designs on his boss’s job. And it wasn’t just the defensive coordinator’s attitude that had some players and coaches considering the possibility of a coaching switch.
Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie’s fondness for Schwartz had become known around the NovaCare Complex and when they had a five-hour meeting early in the offseason, according to multiple team and league sources, many speculated on the purpose.
The concept of a coaching change has essentially become moot, though. Even if the Eagles were to drop their final five games, Pederson would have won three more games than he did his rookie season. Quarterback Carson Wentz has blossomed under the first-time coach.
Since the September report, Schwartz has toned down his demeanor, several organizational sources said.
Last week, he was asked if he had changed as a coach over his career.
“I think everybody changes from year to year,” Schwartz said. “It’s a different set of circumstances. I mean, that’s one of the reasons that you do this business is that every day is not the same. If you were just reliving the same experiences over and over, it would get really boring.
“Every year is a new set of challenges. Every year is a new set of players. Every year is a different set of circumstances, different opponents, everything else. And I think with coaches, you’re an aggregate of your past experiences.”
But alpha dogs hardly ever change their spots. Do NFL owners still want them as their top dog?