Reid’s Lieutenants

Posted: October 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 32 Comments »

Andy Reid’s greatest accomplishment could be leading the team to the Super Bowl in 2004.  Or his development of Donovan McNabb.  Or the job he did in turning Michael Vick’s life and career around.  Or just building the Eagles into consistent winners during his reign as coach.

Or it could be putting together his initial coaching staff.  Back in 1999 the Eagles assistants were:

Rod Dowhower – Offensive Coordinator
Brad Childress – QBs
Ted Williams – RBs
Pat Shurmur – TEs
David Culley – WRs
Juan Castillo – OL
Tom Melvin – Off. Quality Control

Jim Johnson – Defensive Coordinator
Tommy Brasher – DL
Ron Rivera – LBs
Leslie Frazier – DBs
Steve Spagnuolo – Def. Quality Control

John Harbaugh – Special Teams

Look at that.  Harbaugh, Spagnuolo, Frazier, Rivera, Shurmur, and Childress are/have been head coaches.  Simply amazing.

Those guys have big names now, but were hardly household names then.  Childress might have been the most accomplished guy, having run the Wisconsin offense for a few years when that school was building up into a football power.  The other coaches had odd backgrounds.

We might even take the hiring of Jim Johnson for granted.  Reid initially wanted Marvin Lewis, but he thought about the offer and declined it.  Reid then went after Johnson, who was the LBs coach for Seattle in 1998.  Johnson was known in coaching circles, but the average football fan had no idea who the guy was.

Johnson came to Philly and fit like a glove.  Reid wanted him because of his “fire zone package”, what the rest of the world calls zone blitzes.  Johnson had run the Colts defense when the Packers faced them a few years back and JJ gave the Packers fits in the game, as the Colts pulled off a stunning upset.

The Eagles had a somewhat passive defense under Ray Rhodes and Emmitt Thomas.  The 1998 team put up a respectable 42 sacks, but only had 9 INTs and 17 total takeaways.  Johnson stepped in with a very aggressive style of defense and changed that.

The 1999 Eagles only had 35 sacks, partially due to Hugh Douglas being hurt and missing most of the year.  The defense did attack constantly and that led to some big rewards.  The 1999 Eagles finished first in the NFL in takeaways with 46, including 28 INTs.  New scheme, major difference.

Johnson wasn’t just an X’s and O’s guy.  He looked at his personnel and figured out how to use them.  The two biggest impact players on the ’99 defense were FS Brian Dawkins and MLB Jeremiah Trotter.  Both had been on the team in 1998.  Trotter was a rookie that barely sniffed the field.  Dawk was used in a conventional FS role most of the time and then as a slot cover guy at other times.

JJ saw a pair of chess pieces that needed to be used creatively.  He unleashed Trotter as a blitzer.  Trot was about 260 pounds, huge for a MLB.  He would line up right over the C and attack him at the snap a lot of the time.  Trot had the lower body strength to drive back OL.  This was unique and disruptive.  Trot was the ultimate downhill LB.  He could blow up OL, RBs, or whatever was in his way.

JJ saw in Dawk a player that had rare ability.  In Dawk’s first 3 seasons combined, he had 2 sacks, 2 FFs, and 27 PDs.  In 1999 Dawk had 1.5 sacks, 6 FFs, and 24 PDs.  JJ let Dawk play centerfield sometimes, and then in the box at others.  He unleashed him as a blitzer.  Why let Dawk cover a guy and let the QB avoid him when you could blitz him and make the QB deal with him?  Dawk was a good player for 3 years, but became a special player when Jim Johnson turned him loose.

Having the two unique chess pieces led to some of JJ’s best defensive ideas.  Jim is credited with developing the double A-gap blitz.  This is when you have a pair of blitzers that line up on both sides of the C, right on top of him.  They try to shoot the A-gaps at the snap.  If one gets free, the QB is going down or running for his life.  If the blockers get them, it might free up an edge rusher.  We now see all kinds of teams using the double A-gap blitz.

With Dawk, the idea became not to limit what a player could do.  We watch Troy Polamalu line up all over the field and it’s no big deal.  I don’t think that happens if not for JJ/Dawk.  It takes a creative coach to acknowledge that he has to create a role for a player.  Dawk wasn’t a FS.  He was a one-man defense.  He played FS, SS, CB, and LB, depending on where he lined up and how he was used on a given play.  Charles Woodson does a similar thing now up in Green Bay.

Jim did some crazy things with his blitzes.  In the 2001 season opener the Eagles faced the Rams and their dynamic passing attack.  The Eagles had a great trio of CBs in Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, and Al Harris.  Those guys could cover the Rams great set of WRs.  But JJ came up with a great wrinkle.  The one thing the Rams wouldn’t expect is for us to blitz multiple CBs.  And that’s just what he did.  Vincent and Taylor blitzed on the same play at least a couple of time.  Kurt Warner was sacked 4 times and threw 2 INTs.  Taylor got one of the sacks.  One of the hits in that game hurt Warner’s thumb, which led to an injury that plagued him for the next 5 or 6 years.

Jim brought his Okie Package to Philly, where the MLB was called the Joker.  That role was handled by a few guys over the years.  The best game by a Joker was Jevon Kearse against the Vikings in Week 2 of the 2004 season.  Kearse drove Daunte Culpepper nuts because Daunte never knew where Kearse was blitzing from…or if he was covering.

Jim was creative with his personnel.  Bobby Taylor was a poor run defender.  When teams would go to a 1-WR set, JJ took Taylor off the field and put SS Rashard Cook in his place.  Cook was almost like a LB with his physical style of play and that made it tough to run with him in the game.  Jim adjusted that later in his career.  Sheldon Brown was such a good hitter and tackler that Jim didn’t want to take him off the field.  When teams went to a 1-WR look he would move a Safety down to Brown’s corner spot and then put Brown up at FS.

Brandon Whiting was a DT in college.  He was drafted as a DT and played there early in his career.  Jim moved him to LDE to get a bigger player at that spot.  Whiting was a good LDE for a couple of years, before shoulder injuries ruined his career.

Jim loved to tinker with the defense and the lineup.  Not all of his ideas worked, but he was willing to try things to see what did.  In 2006 he decided to move Dawk to LB in the Nickel defense.  The Safeties were then Michael Lewis and Sean Considine.  That didn’t work as expected.

In 2007 Jim threw us all a curveball and shifted from 1-gap DTs to 2-gappers in order to help the run defense, which had been atrocious in 2006.  That worked well.  The defense was Top 10 vs the run for 3 straight years.

In the early part of his time here JJ wanted a defense built on speed.  His great 2008 defense was built more on size.  The DTs were bigger.  DEs Trent Cole and Victor Abiamiri bulked up.  Cole was over 270 and Abiamiri over 280.  The LBs were Chris Gocong (255), Stewart Bradley (255), and Akeem Jordan (240).

Jim Johnson was a great coach and an innovator, but most of that happened after he got to Philly.  It wasn’t on his resume when Reid hired  him.

* * * * *

One of the problems with building a great coaching staff is that they get other jobs and leave.  That’s exactly what happened to Reid and the Eagles.

Andy then had the challenge of replacing the guys who left.  This was one of Reid’s bigger failures.

The coaches who came into Philly between 2005-2010 weren’t necessarily bad coaches.  The problem is that they weren’t as good as the people they replaced.  In some cases, they were bad coaches.  Rory Segrest wasn’t meant to be coaching in the NFL.  That’s no insult to him.  He was just in over his head.  Ted Daisher ran the STs for one year before being let go.  He was a smart coach, but not a people person.  He rubbed players the wrong way and you can’t do that on STs.

In the last couple of years I think Reid has realized that change was needed.  He hired some elite assistants in Bobby April, Jim Washburn, and Howard Mudd.

Just as important, he brought some new blood into the team.  He hired Doug Pederson to help on offense.  He’s now the QB coach.  Mike Caldwell was hired to coach the LBs this year.  Mike Zordich was hired to coach the Safeties.  Duce Staley is helping out with STs and anywhere else he can.  Barry Rubin was promoted to head strength coach.

We don’t know if these moves are going to work out, but I like Reid’s thinking.  Previously he had mixed in assistants to a solid, veteran staff.  Those guys joined the organization at a time when life was good.  They didn’t necessarily understand the building process.

Go back to the early days.  The Eagles won as much on coaching and character as they did talent.  Those teams weren’t always pretty, but they got the job done.  Staley was the RB on those teams.  Caldwell was a LB and STer on them. Pederson was Reid’s first starting QB in Philly (and somewhat of a sacrificial lamb).  These men know what the teams of 1999-2001 had.  They know what made them good (and bad).

If you study your football history you see that teams, college and pro, fall apart at a certain point. I think one of the problems is the legacy mentality.  Florida State wasn’t great in the late 80s and throughout the 90s because of anything other than a mixture of talent and hard work.  Those teams competed at a high level, every single day.  They practiced like other teams played.  They played like nobody else.  The FSU teams of the last decade lost the edge.  They expected to win because of the uniform.  Doesn’t work that way.

Just being an Eagle and playing for Andy Reid means nothing.  It is up to the players and coaches to make it mean something.  Reid, his great assistants, and his underdog players did that in the early days.

Now Reid is trying to re-create that.  The Eagles have added a lot of young guys in the past few drafts.  Reid has revamped the coaching staff.  This isn’t 1999 all over again, but there are some similarities.

You have new assistants, new schemes, and new players.  That means a lot of teaching and learning.  The 1999 team started out 0-4, before figuring some things out and finishing 5-7.  That team lacked talent in a big way.

The current Eagles team is in a hole at 2-4, but there is no lack of talent.  There are some Super Bowl pieces in place.  It is up to Reid and his new assistants to do a better job of solving problems and making adjustments.  Some of that started already with the Washington game.

The 2nd half of the 2011 season will give us some strong clues as to whether Reid hired the right guys.  Part of this is X’s and O’s, but I think part is intangibles.  Are the coaches keeping the players focused and working hard?  How is team morale?  Are there any locker room issues?  In order for the Eagles to turn the season around the players need to be a team.  You see things getting weird down in Miami.  Heck, things are weird with the Jets and they have a better record than us.

There hasn’t been any fighting amongst the players.  Guys are taking the blame upon themselves for the mistakes that have plagued the team.  The players have openly and privately defended Coach Reid.  I like the vibe this team is giving off in that regard.  It would mean a lot more if that vibe started to show up on gamedays and the guys played a more complete game.

Ted Williams, David Culley, and Juan Castillo were coaches on the early Reid teams and know what that time was like.  April, Mudd, and Wash have all been around the block and know how to handle just about anything.  The coaching resumes of the new guys aren’t so great, but that’s okay as long as they are hungry and they work well with the players.  That’s the formula that helped build this organization into what it is.

If the 2011 Eagles could find half of the grit and toughness the teams had in the early days of the Reid era, the rest of this season would turn out pretty well.

* * * * *

I didn’t want to turn this into a Castillo piece so I intentionally downplayed that angle.  I’ve got some thoughts I’ll be posting on him in the next few days.  

32 Comments on “Reid’s Lieutenants”

  1. 1 Anonymous said at 1:26 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Andy Reid’s greatest accomplishment could be negotiating for a very rare in season trade that resulted in a physical that hopefully will save someone’s life. Good prognosis at this point I just heard.

  2. 2 Anonymous said at 1:59 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Well played, sir.

  3. 3 Eric Weaver said at 1:28 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    I don’t know if I commented this here or over on BGN a few months ago, but I basically said what you’re saying in the second part.

    I said maybe this season, which at that time was a very bad 1-3 team, was a result of Andy’s greatness. That he molded such great coaching talent that they ended up leaving, essentially depleting his staff too fast for him to replenish.

    The fact that he’s trying to rebuild this coaching staff again after all these guys left for HCing jobs just shows how good Andy really is.

  4. 4 Anonymous said at 2:01 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Part of judging how good Andy really is will be on the success of the moves.

    Good intentions don’t always lead to good results. I do like the hires and I’m obviously hoping they pan out as expected.

  5. 5 Sam Lynch said at 2:34 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Look at the coaches on that first staff. The two QC coaches had tremendous credentials. Spags had been a coach for 15 years, including spending time as a DC at both the college and NFL Europe levels. Tom Melvin had 13 years of coaching experience, including being offensive coordinator at the college level. Among younger position coaches, Pat Shurmur had 9 years of Big 10 / Pac 10 coaching experience. Leslie Frazier played 5 years in the NFL and had coached in college for 11 years, including 9 as a head coach at the D3 level.

    Only Ron Rivera resembled the coaches they added subsequently. He played 9 years in the NFL and then had 2 years as QC coach on the Bears before joining the Eagles as LB coach.

    However, for a long time, Reid’s additions to the coaching staff didn’t look like that nearly often enough. He added guys who went straight from college to being his personal assistant. That wasn’t a total failure, because Sean McDermott was a fine positional assistant and may yet become a fine coordinator. But Reid hasn’t really be able to keep the flow of highly experience, high quality coaching talent from the collegiate ranks going.

    In part, it’s because he is so far from those days himself and doesn’t know the coaches as well as he used to. But in part it is also his fault for not making a good enough effort to keep the talent coming in.

  6. 6 Anonymous said at 3:08 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Reid is out of the loop, as all NFL HCs are. The way you get in the loop is to be an up and coming coach with lots of young friends that are also on the rise. Networking, basically. Once you’re a HC…that’s a whole other world.

    At that point you have to rely on others to help you find coaches. I think maybe Pete Jenkins is the guy who suggested Rory Segrest. Obviously whoever Reid was listening to wasn’t giving him great advice.

    I think that is part of the reason he hired guys he knew. It wasn’t to surround himself with sycophants, but rather guys he could trust and who knew how he wanted things done.

  7. 7 Sam Lynch said at 3:20 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Sure. It is hard, without a doubt. But he had worked hard to get referrals for quality people he’d never worked with before, like Frazier and Spags. I understand why it would be hard to him to keep getting referrals like that, but I’m not sure that “it’s hard” is a good enough reason not to do it … especially considering how the easier alternative turned out.

    It is easy to blame Jenkins for bringing Segrest in as STs QC coach. However, there is no one but Reid to blame for Segrest’s two years coordinating special teams and two years coaching the defensive line. Segrest’s ability should have been clear after his first year as STs QC coach.

  8. 8 Anonymous said at 3:49 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Reid is at fault for keeping Segrest around. No dispute there.

    Getting good referrals isn’t a question of effort. Coaches have a fraternity. When you’re young you build a wish list of coaches you would like to hire or maybe just guys you admire. You then seek out names from your friends in the coaching community.

    When you’re an established head coach, everyone is selling you, either themselves or a friend. Reid obviously had a good BS meter when he was part of the up and comers.

    He’s been out of that grind for a while and his BS meter obviously didn’t help him out when hiring the middle group of assistants. Those hires were made less on relationships and more on guys being pushed on him. Reid did a poor job with that and the results speak for themselves.

    Think about how many veteran coaches who change jobs hire the same guys over and over. They want people they’re comfortable with. Reid has tried to keep mixing in young guys over the years. The last batch didn’t work out.

    I give him credit for changing what he was doing. Now we have to see if the results are any better. If not, then maybe Reid himself is more of an issue than I think.

  9. 9 Sam Lynch said at 4:11 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    I understand. There was a great article about Bill Parcells that pointed out the challenges of rebuilding a staff once you are a HC a few years ago, and it really hit home as I understood Reid.


    That doesn’t mean that you don’t try. That is the perfect use of the QC job, isn’t it? Shouldn’t you hire the 15 year college coaching veteran, age 38 or so, who has a good rep from people you talk to and who just wants to transition, to the QC job? Isn’t that the perfect use of that role? I mean maybe the truth is that Spags was promised a quick promotion and maybe Melvin trusted Reid and so both are outliers, but the QC job isn’t so important that you can’t try a guy out without impacting the club much in either way. If he was a good referral, great, let the promotions begin. If not, cycle through to another guy. You can do it with players at the bottom of the roster, why not with coaches?

    And I don’t mean to say that Andy is any different than any other head coach in the league. I don’t know that anyone does this well.

    By the way, this discussion we are having is exactly the reason NOT to hire one of the big name ex-head coaches if we do make a change after the season. They won’t come in with the strength of staff that they did in their first stint, and that really has an impact. That guy should be in the Mike Holmgren/Bill Parcells role, not necessarily in the head coaching role any more.

  10. 10 Anonymous said at 4:25 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Very good point on not going for Gruden/Cowher/etc.

    To be fair, Reid did mix in some coaches who sorta fit that description in Brian Stewart and Mark Whipple. Stewart didn’t fit and Whipple went to Miami (U.) to run their offense.

    Again, bottom line is that the results weren’t good.

  11. 11 Anonymous said at 9:23 AM on October 22nd, 2011:

    Hey, as long as I don’t see Britt Reid as our offensive coordinator, I’m a happy guy.

  12. 12 RoughHouse Sports said at 2:37 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post…top-notch work

  13. 13 Morton said at 3:02 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    So why couldn’t Reid find the next Jim Johnson?

    Instead of looking for talented positional coaches on other teams, he decided to hire his own offensive line coach. Fail.

  14. 14 Anonymous said at 3:08 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Words of wisdom.

  15. 15 Anonymous said at 3:42 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    The most glaring fact, for me, is that Jim Johnson was a very, very experienced defensive coach w/ previous coordinator experience. Sounds like he took control of the Eagles personnel and — with the help of some well seasoned assistants, as commenter “Sam Lynch” vividly described — constructed a complex, evolving, and consistently effective defense.

    And JJ did that with defensive lineman who — with the exception of Hugh Douglas — were pretty mediocre.

    JJ was clearly in charge. The players knew he was in charge. And the players knew that JJ knew what he was doing. It was top down operation all the way that bread confidence in his players.

    I don’t get the sense right now that the Eagles have a “Top Down” defense on the coaching side. [Understatement, yes.]

    It would have been nice to see what JJ could have done with this group, though I expect we’d not have Babin or P-Hunt.

  16. 16 Anonymous said at 4:39 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    In 1999 Reid basically ran the offense and JJ the defense. He needed someone to totally trust with that job.

    2011 is far different. Marty, Culley, and Pederson run the offense (still with plenty of input from Reid). But Andy is more hands on all over the place. He could afford to take a chance on Juan at this point. He couldn’t have gambled like that back then.

  17. 17 Anonymous said at 4:43 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Is that good, Tommy?

    Is Reid’s involvement undermining Juan in any way — with the vets in particular (I don’t think B-Rolle or the other kids know any better)?

  18. 18 Anonymous said at 5:03 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    I don’t think so. Andy isn’r trying to run the D. He’s just more hands on than he was 10 years ago.

    Real good article from Jeremy Maclin touches on this:

  19. 19 Anonymous said at 7:54 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    The Maclin read is a good one. Fascinating that he brings up the 2004 season. Was he even in college at that time? I wonder to what extent the T.O. fiasco lives on in the Eagles locker room.

  20. 20 Anonymous said at 8:06 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    So, optimistically, perhaps we are past the lean years of assistants. Initially Reid knew all the young up and comers. Maybe we are now seeing more guys that he recognized as future coaches during their playing days. It is not the same networking that provided the first team of assistants, but maybe we will see that Reid has found a pool to tap where he has first hand knowledge of the candidates.

  21. 21 Anonymous said at 12:48 AM on October 22nd, 2011:

    Let’s hope we are past the lean years. Good assistant coaches are like Sgts in the army. Critical to success, but overlooked.

  22. 22 Christopher Miller said at 8:26 PM on October 21st, 2011:

    Sort of a tangent here, but after 6 games in, do you feel like hiring Washburn before a DC was a good move or a bad one? I loved the move initially, but I wonder if that move prevented us from a different DC, and I wonder if it was wise given our weakness at LB.

  23. 23 Anonymous said at 12:47 AM on October 22nd, 2011:

    It did affect who we could hire. Good / bad thing? Hard to say without knowing who it might have scared off, if anyone.

    I do like our DL this year and that is a critical element. I’d say I’m good with Wash and hiring him early.

  24. 24 Mac said at 11:37 PM on October 21st, 2011:


    When are you going to do a write up on “Andy’s Mints?”

  25. 25 Anonymous said at 4:24 AM on October 22nd, 2011:

    This is exactly the reason I read this blog. Such a great in depth post at a fascinating topic.

    I agree totally that this is part of the reason for some of the current weaknesses. It’s a big part of why dynasties are so rare. If you look at the Patriots, they used to have Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels and Rob Ryan. They’re still a top notch team, but not at the level of greatness they used to have. Losing coaches of that caliber don’t help. The only shame is that they were lucky enough to get the titles when they could, and we didn’t.

    Tommy, I’m wondering your thoughts on Sean McDermott. All three times he was a positional coach he replaced a future HC. He seemed to have so much potential. Do you think it was just a situation that was impossible to succeed in? Would it have been better to bring in an outsider, veteran DC for a season or two while McDermott matured into being ready for it? Or was it just a case of him not being cut out for that job on this team?

  26. 26 Anonymous said at 2:19 PM on October 22nd, 2011:

    Wow Tommy. Great read.

  27. 27 Furt said at 3:05 PM on October 22nd, 2011:

    Excellent topic and even better writing. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Looking foward to the Castillo piece.

  28. 28 Anonymous said at 4:07 PM on October 23rd, 2011:

    “Dawk wasn’t a FS. He was a one-man defense.”

    Perfectly put.

    Also, I remember that Kearse game against the Vikings and was just salivating at how great he was going to be for us. Unfortunately, that was the highlight.

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