So now we begin the Doug Pederson era. The first order of business for a coach is to hire the right staff. Let's take a look at the assistant coaches who Pederson brought in to help him fix the Eagles.
Frank Reich will be the team's offensive coordinator. Pederson will call the plays, but Reich will still be very important to the offense. Pederson said in his press conference that a key part of the offense will be having the quarterback make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs’ offense had a lot of success in 2015 after the coaches gave quarterback Alex Smith more freedom to change plays, routes and/or protections while at the line. He was a veteran quarterback who knew the playbook well and could look at the defense and adjust to what they were showing.
The last starting quarterback who truly called his own plays was Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills. His backup was Frank Reich, who made 10 starts behind Kelly and got to call his own plays in the Bills’ K-Gun offense. Since getting into coaching, Reich has been around Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, two of the current quarterbacks who make the most adjustments at the line of scrimmage. If Pederson really wants that for the Eagles, Reich should prove to be an excellent hire. He understands pre-snap adjustments from the perspective of a player and coach.
Reich also has played or coached in some great offensive systems. Ted Marchibroda, who recently passed away, ran the Bills’ offense during his playing days. Reich worked under Tom Moore in Indianapolis. Marchibroda and Moore aren't household names to the average fan, but they are very highly thought of in the coaching community. Reich learned the West Coast offense while coaching with the Chargers. That is one heck of an offensive football education. Pederson wants to run an offense that is a mixture of things so having a coordinator with a varied background will be a big help.
John DeFilippo was brought in to be the quarterbacks coach. He ran the Cleveland offense in 2015. Prior to that he was a quarterbacks coach for a few teams. He has had success with rookie quarterbacks a couple of times,
I think Pederson was wise to keep assistants like running backs coach Duce Staley, tight ends coach Justin Peelle and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. I don't think you are going to find major upgrades on those coaches so why change just for the sake of change? There is value in continuity.
Pederson made an interesting choice by hiring Greg Lewis to be his receivers coach. They don't have much of a connection. Lewis had an internship with the Eagles for part of the 2012 offseason. Pederson was the quarterbacks coach at the time so that is their history together. Lewis did play for Reid from 2003-08. I'm sure Reid gave him a strong endorsement. Lewis has coached receivers in college for three seasons. He was an assistant with the Saints last year, finally getting a chance to coach in the NFL. Lewis was a backup receiver in college and the NFL. He knows how to maximize talent through hard work and dedication to the game. Lewis could prove to be a very good up and coming coach. He will have young talent to work with. The challenge is for him to get the most out of those players.
Schwartz ran outstanding defensive units in Tennessee and Buffalo. He took the Lions from being the worst defense in the league to being middle of the pack. This guy knows how to coach. Schwartz wouldn't commit to running the 4-3, but that is the only scheme he's run as a coordinator. Schwartz said that the key for him is having a defense that attacks. Whether the Eagles line up 4-3 or 3-4, they will be a one-gap defense that flies off the ball. Chip Kelly and Bill Davis had the defensive linemen engaging blockers and reading plays. Those days are over.
I think Schwartz can put together a strong defense with the pieces he's got to work with. He had stud defensive tackles like Albert Haynesworth, Ndamukong Suh and Marcell Dareus all thrive while playing for him.
Schwartz will have some good assistants working for him. Ken Flajole will be the linebackers coach. 2016 will be Flajole's 17th year in the NFL. He has coached defensive backs, linebackers and even been a defensive coordinator. He has seen it all and can offer both Schwartz and Pederson strong advice from a long, successful career. Flajole has learned from Fritz Shurmur, Steve Sidwell, John Fox and Steve Spagnuolo. That's a great set of defensive minds. Flajole helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl in 2003.
Pederson retained Cory Undlin to be the defensive backs coach. That was a smart move, based on the success that young guys like
The Eagles went back to the future with one defensive assistant. Pederson hired Tim Hauck to coach the safeties. Pederson and Hauck were both free agents signed by the Eagles in 1999 and now they are part of the same coaching staff. That's pretty cool. Hauck has coached in college and the NFL. He is an overachiever type and those guys tend to make the best coaches.
Pederson has yet to officially hire someone to coach the defensive line. That is likely to be finalized soon.
Dave Fipp will be staying on to coach the special teams. He has done a great job in the past two years. The Eagles had the best special teams in the NFL in 2014 in Rick Gosselin's rankings. Those aren't official, but most teams use them as a metric for judging their special teams. Fipp's group was fifth in 2015. Pederson was smart enough to see this was the strength of the Eagles and to keep Fipp around. Don't try to fix something that isn't broken. You'd be surprised how many young coaches don't get that principle.
The most interesting thing about Pederson's coaching staff is how many of them are former NFL players. Five coaches played in the league for a decade or more. Lewis played eight years. That's a ton of experience. Chip Kelly had a lot of college coaches who had to learn the NFL way of doing things. That delivered mixed results. It will be interesting to see how this staff does. On paper, it is an impressive group.
I think Pederson is off to a good start as head coach. He brought in an offensive coordinator whom he can work with. He brought in a defensive coordinator whom he can trust to run that side of the ball (as Reid did with Johnson). Pederson has one of the best special teams coaches in the league. Pederson didn't load up his staff with cronies and sycophants. He kept coaches from the previous staff and hired some guys he didn't know at all. This staff has a bit of everything. There is young and old. There are college and NFL guys. There are former players and career coaches. I'm looking forward to seeing what this group can do.