As Eagles' coaching search goes on, it's too early to panic
The two Eagles coaching candidates fans were most familiar with, Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Oregon's Chip Kelly, are off the board. O'Brien announced Thursday he was staying in State College, Kelly Friday night was said to be close to an agreement to coach the Cleveland Browns.
The Birds' process continues this weekend with a Sunday interview in Denver with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, and interviews with Colts interim coach Bruce Arians and Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley after their weekend playoff games. Of that trio, McCoy, 40, would seem to most closely fit the criteria Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie outlined when he spoke of what he had in mind in a coach on Monday.
The Eagles made interviewing O'Brien a priority, traveling to Massachusetts to talk to him Thursday, hours before he decided he wasn't going to the NFL, but they never confirmed reports they had even set up an interview with Kelly. Certainly, Eagles brass didn't spend the week in Arizona waiting for Kelly's Ducks to complete the Fiesta Bowl, the way Cleveland CEO Joe Banner did. (Was he hashing out the deal with agent David Dunn during that time? Who knows?) In fact, the Eagles' search committee was still in Philadelphia Friday evening when NFL.com's Ian Rappaport first reported the Browns and Kelly were close to agreement.
A perception grew in the NFL over the past few months that Kelly, 49, was the Eagles' main focus, as they prepared to move on from Andy Reid. It could be that was the case, and the Browns outmaneuvered them. But I never heard anyone from the Eagles say they coveted Kelly - it was always something agents and other teams "knew" somehow, which I puzzled over. The Eagles told people this? Why?
Frankly, in the past week, the Birds never acted as if Kelly was at the top of their list. When I spoke to a team official about this early in the week, the sense I got was that they wanted to talk to Kelly, along with a bunch of other people. I figured, since there were all these reports out there about their intense interest, this could be a smokescreen. I think now it probably was not.
Here is the key part of what Lurie said Monday. It could be read as applying to Kelly, but along with other indications Lurie gave, it would seem just as likely to apply to a youngish, innovative coordinator who knows the league and available assistant coaching personnel very well, something that would not have been true of Kelly, who wears his lack of an NFL pedigree like a badge of honor.
"I think the most important thing is to find the right leader. I'm not one who wants to buy schemes, wants to buy approaches that are necessarily finite. What you've got to find is somebody who is strategic. Somebody who is a strong leader. Somebody who is very comfortable in his own skin," Lurie said.
"That, to me, is probably one of the one or two top traits, because players today see right through if you're not. If you're a salesman coach, that's not going to work. Somebody who is completely comfortable in his role and in who they are as a person, that's the most important thing. But there's a lot of other characteristics that go into it. How well does the person hire? Is he going to surround himself with strong coordinators and good assistant coaches? In this league, that's one of the most underrated aspects . . . you've got to hire great teachers and strong coordinators.
"I'm looking for someone that's innovative. Somebody that is not afraid to take risks. Somebody that looks [at] and studies the league and studies the college world and decides what the best efficiencies are on offense and defense and special teams and can execute it with their coaches . . . a student of the game who is obsessed and who absolutely and, on his own, is completely driven to be the best."
Who would want to help create a perception that the Eagles were high on Kelly, and that they had been beaten to the punch by the Browns? Gosh, I'm really drawing a blank.
Panicky fans should take comfort in the fact that only two teams hired coaches by Friday, and one of them hired Andy Reid. The job fair isn't closing. In fact, it will continue through the Super Bowl, though if the Eagles haven't hired a coach by then, those of us covering the search might have to do something desperate to try to force a decision. ("If you ever want to see 'Swoop' alive again, have a coach ready to stick in front of the microphones by 9 a.m. tomorrow. Do not contact the police, or decide you'd better wait around for just one more interview . . . ")
On the one hand, Lurie did speak of having a "very, very defined list of candidates," which would not seem to signal an endless process. On the other hand, Jeff can be a ditherer, as we saw in the 2-year Reid denouement. If we get to the point at which four or five jobs are filled and the Eagles are still coachless, it might actually be time to panic.
McCoy might lack the buzz factor of an O'Brien or a Kelly, but he is very well regarded after designing successful attacks around Jake Delhomme, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning.
Arians, the former Temple coach, was 9-3 as interim head coach in Indianapolis this year when Chuck Pagano stepped aside for cancer treatments. He also has the attractive Steelers pedigree (2004-2011), never a bad thing. But Arians is 60. Lurie wants to not have to do this again for quite a while; I'll be surprised if he doesn't go for a "young gun" with upside.
Bradley, 46, presided over the defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season, and the fourth-fewest yards. Certainly, many fans wouldn't mind a guy like that coaching their team, though from what Lurie has said about this being an offensive league, I'll be surprised if he ultimately opts for a defensive coach.
The Eagles signed cornerback Chris Hawkins, who played for the Titans in 2011 but did not play in the NFL in 2012 . . . As the Daily News reported Friday, Marty Mornhinweg will not accompany Andy Reid to Kansas City, but several of Reid's former Eagles assistants are expected to join his staff.