Jeffrey Lurie has hired two head coaches in his time here, and both men would qualify as good decisions. Ray Rhodes brought his defensive-minded grit from San Francisco and immediately turned around a team that had lost seven consecutive games to end the 1994 season. The Eagles went 10-6 in 1995 and then beat Detroit in the Wild Card round of the playoffs before losing at Dallas.
The next season, the Eagles again won 10 games before losing to San Francisco in a rain-dampened playoff game at Candlestick Park. Rhodes’ magic wore off after that as the Eagles struggled in 1997 and then were an abysmal 3-13 in 1998, prompting Lurie to fire Rhodes and search for a new head coach.
He fell in love with Andy Reid, an experienced offensive assistant coach from the Green Bay Packers who had a reputation of molding quarterbacks, namely All-Pro Brett Favre. Reid was hired in 1999 and, naturally, you know the history from there.
“It doesn’t matter to me, because ultimately your coach is going to stand up in front of the room and you’re going to follow him, or you’re not. You’re going to make that decision as a football player,” said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger. “What’s important is the command the head coach has over the football team. I don’t think which side of the ball where the coach has his expertise makes any difference at all.
“Sometimes the head coach calls the plays on either side of the ball, and sometimes the coordinator does. To me, the coach has to have strong coordinators who are going to run sound schemes and implement good strategy.”
Said former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese, now a sport radio host for 94 WIP in Philadelphia: “I never cared as a player. I was with defensive coaches for the majority of my career except with Andy here. And Andy hired a great defensive coordinator in Jim Johnson, and Jim was the one who worked with us the most. Of course, we had all the respect in the world for Andy as the head coach and he had the ability to be neutral and allow his coaches to coach.”
There isn’t a particular trend to bank on around the league, either. Of the 27 head coaching jobs currently (five jobs remain open), 15 of the head coaches have defensive backgrounds (three, Atlanta’s Mike Smith, Baltimore’s John Harbaugh and New England’s Bill Belichick, have defensive/special teams backgrounds and have been placed in the defensive category here) and 12 have offensive backgrounds.
Of the eight teams remaining in the playoffs, five have defensive backgrounds (Smith, Belichick, Harbaugh, Denver’s John Fox and Seattle’s Pete Carroll) and three (Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, Houston’s Gary Kubiak and San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh) have offensive backgrounds.
Where do the Eagles stand on this? Of the candidates whom they’ve interviewed and are still candidates, Atlanta’s Mike Nolan is a defensive coordinator, Denver’s Mike McCoy is an offensive coordinator and Atlanta’s Keith Armstrong is a special teams coordinator. Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who was scheduled to sit down with the team on Thursday, has a defensive background. The Eagles are also scheduled to meet with Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. The team has received permission to interview Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, but there has been no announcement as to when those talks might take place.
So, bottom line: It’s divided right down the middle with the Eagles as they go through an extensive interview process to find the right man.
“Jeffrey has been very adament with us, the key is getting the right guy," said general manager Howie Roseman.
“They are leaving no stone unturned,” said Reese. “They’ve looked at college coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators and former NFL head coaches. I like that approach. I don’t mind that at all. They are gathering a lot of information along the way and truly looking for the best fit instead of falling in love early in the process.
“In my business, of course, we would rather have a head coach to talk about rather than speculate about who might be the next head coach, but I understand what they’re doing. Jeffrey has gone through this twice before and he has had success, first with Ray and then with Andy. He has his formula and it has worked for him. Offense, defense, special teams – they’ve hit it all and they are going to bring in the right coach for the job.”
To that end, the Eagles have been thorough in their research, in identifying their candidates and in making sure that they consider coaches from all football backgrounds. We know some of the names very well. Some of the candidates who have been interviewed are high-profile coaches who have been extremely successful. Some are assistant coaches who barely raise an eyebrow on the who-is-he? meter.
There could be other candidates out there that we don’t even know about.
“There are a lot of good coaching candidates out there,” said Baldinger. “The Eagles are doing a good job making sure they meet as many guys as possible to find the coach who meets their criteria. I have no problem with the way they are doing things. They’re doing it the right way. They’ll end up with a good coach. I have no doubt about that.”