You guys have lots of good questions on the coaching situation. I wish I had lots of good answers. This is a strange time for all of us. All the knowledge I’ve built up since 1999 becomes less relevant due to the coming changes. I will offer some educated guesses.
Timing. I think Reid will be let go the day after the season ends. The Eagles will want to handle this is in a classy way. That said, if the Eagles have an awful performance on Monday night…you wonder if that would change things. The team has lost 6 games in a row, the last 4 by 13 or more points. If the Eagles lose by 20 or more points to the struggling Panthers…that could force Lurie to change his mind and make an in-season change. Lurie can deal with angry fans. Apathy is the thing he fears. I’m throwing the 20-point amount out there randomly. To me, that is a blowout. Less of a differential can still be a blowout, but 20 points is a nice round number I think most people can agree on.
As for hiring a new coach…this is a hugely important decision. Lurie will not rush this. The flip side is that if he sees a candidate that he truly covets, Lurie will act quickly to snatch him up. I’m sure Lurie would rather not wait for the Super Bowl to be over to go for a candidate. It can be dangerous to set your sights on one guy like that. I would expect the hire to be done in early to mid-January.
More on the 3-4. A few people have asked if I think moving to the 3-4 is likely. It all depends on who gets hired. I tend to think that because the team is built for the 4-3 the new coach will stick with that. I could be completely wrong, though.
Jimmy Bama and I mentioned DeMeco Ryans as an ILB if the shift happens. A few wondered about that since Houston traded him this past offseason. Ryans is best as a MLB. He can play ILB. The Texans saw his age, price, and the position switch as reasons to deal him. It also happened because they had Brian Cushing as their star ILB. He was the 3-down guy. Ryans was a base defense player. Should the Eagles make the switch, Ryans could absolutely play well in the 3-4.
I think some of you see the 3-4 as some way to solve problems. That can be fool’s gold. The Skins run the 3-4 and their defense has been a mess for 3 years. The Ravens run the 3-4 and their defense is 25th in the league right now. Too many fans got caught up in the notion that the Wide-9 is a major part of the Eagles struggles. It really isn’t. Execution is the biggest problem on defense, not scheme.
The top 2 teams in the league run the 3-4 (Pitt, SF). The next 3 teams run the 4-3 (SEA, CHI, DEN). You can have a great defense in a variety of ways. The key is to find the right players and to execute correctly.
Chip Kelly. Someone wondered if the Eagles could convince him to come here to just run the offense. NO. Chip is a tremendously successful coach at a Top 5 program. Those guys only take other HC jobs. You could get the HC at a mid-level program to take an OC job in the NFL. That’s been done a few times over the years.
Some of you want nothing to do with Kelly and his “gimmick offense”. Read this. Bill Belichick has had Kelly come to the Pats building 3 times to talk about football. If Bill thinks he has something to learn from the guy, that should tell you this isn’t a gimmick. I’m not trying to sell you on Kelly. I’ve got my doubts as well. I just think dismissing him is short-sighted. Jimmy Johnson was considered a gimmicky college guy when he came to the NFL. The NFL ended up adapting to him more than the other way around.
Ray Horton. More than a few Eagles fans like Horton and have interest in him as the next HC. I’ll pass. Ray was a DB coach from 1995-2010. He has been the Cardinals DC the last 2 years. That is a good, but not great resume. I think people are buying into false hype. Arizona’s defense put up worse numbers than the Eagles in 2011. The Cards do have a Top 10 defense this year, but not Top 5. Not special in any way. They don’t lead the league in any major categories. I’ll do a lengthy write-up of Horton once the season is over and we have definitive numbers, but for now I don’t see him as a HC target for us.
Rex Ryan. A few people have asked about Rex. I have major concerns about Rex as a HC. I think he’s in a bad situation with the Jets. The owner says and does some dumb things. Ditto that for the GM. Rex joins right in. Is he the leader of the circus or just responding to the environment?
I would absolutely have interest in Rex as a DC. His defense is struggling this year, but part of that is due to not having its best player – Darelle Revis. Ryan built his scheme around Revis. Rex is great with X’s and O’s. He is the one coach who has given Tom Brady fits, both with the Ravens and Jets. He is better at designing overload blitzes than anyone else in football. He also understands how to design complex coverages. Part of his brilliance is jumping between complex and simple schemes. Rex can motivate and lead. His players love him.
Jim Johnson. A couple of people thought I was being simplistic in saying the Eagles should find the next JJ. Where do you go for great DCs? I made sure to focus in the column on the phrase “veteran coach” and not great coach. I hoped people would pick up on that, but maybe I should have been more clear.
Who was Jim Johnson when we hired him? How many fans had heard of JJ? He wasn’t a coaching legend at all. He was a veteran coach who turned out to be perfect for our personnel. Trot gave him the sledgehammer MLB he wanted. Dawk gave him the defensive weapon to make his schemes really come to life.
Look at JJ’s resume:
1998 – Seattle – LBs coach
1996-1997 – Indy – DC
1994-95 – Indy – LBs coach
1986-93 – Cardinals – DBs/DL coach
1984-85 – USFL DC
1977-83 – Notre Dame – DC
Jim only had 2 years of DC experience at the NFL level when we hired him. Amazing. He was a smart, innovative, veteran coach, but didn’t have Super Bowls and elite rankings all over his resume.
There are plenty of guys with resumes similar to Johnson that will be available. The key is to find the right one. That is much easier said than done. It isn’t fair to hold the Eagles to the standard of finding a defensive guru or else, but I stick by my contention that the team needs to add a veteran defensive coach. I’ll start talking about specific names in the coming weeks.