When Doug Pederson was hired as the Eagles' head coach prior to the 2016 season, he immediately set about hiring a staff. He wanted more than coaches – he wanted teachers who would always explain the 'why.' That way, Pederson knew from his experiences as a quarterback in the NFL for 12 seasons, the players would more quickly digest information and visualize what's being asked of them on the field.
The coaching staff has changed a bit over the years Pederson has been here, but the core values do not. And as Pederson witnessed on Thursday night in the preseason game against Baltimore, veteran quarterback Josh McCown lighting it up after only a few days of practice and tight end Alex Ellis contributing a touchdown catch and a good block on the next play after signing only three weeks earlier, it brought to light something Pederson already knew: The Eagles have a darn good coaching staff, and the results are there for everyone to see.
"Part of, for me as the head coach taking this job a few years ago and hiring assistant coaches, I wanted guys who could teach football and take the complex situations or concepts and make them easy to understand for players. That's what we have here," Pederson said. "You take a guy like Justin Peelle, who played the position (10 years in the NFL), Mike Bartrum, who played the position (13 years in the NFL), and they know how to teach these concepts. They know how to teach these routes. We're detailing these routes and we're teaching the players how to run them off of coverage and that's what you're seeing with some of these young players as they come in. They're growing every single week and you're single those types of improvements.
"It makes you feel good that you're doing the right things and they're picking up the information. And, too, the player himself is a motivated player who wants to learn. That also helps in the process.
"We teach the 'whys' of things and not just, 'Hey, go out and run this play.' We want to teach the, 'why are we doing this?' So, if the players understand the 'why,' they can come to the line of scrimmage and they can see it. They can conceptualize and understand what the play is designed to do."
In the case of Ellis, a native of Delmar, Delaware, playing at Lincoln Financial Field was a really big moment. He grew up nearby, he knows all about the Eagles, and he made Thursday night a family affair. So, catching a touchdown pass was something special, and Peelle embraced that moment rather than take any kind of credit for the accomplishment.
Coaches, at the end of the day, are relentlessly sharing credit with others.
"I'm just happy for him because he's put in so much hard work," Peelle said. "He's really worked at it and then for him to be able to do that in our stadium – he's from our area and I know his family was in the stands – so it was a really great moment for him and I'm excited for him.
"I'm always happy when the guys in our room have success."
McCown's situation was a little bit different, of course, but still worthy of praise for quarterbacks coach Press Taylor. In his 18th professional season, McCown has seen it all. But he had announced his retirement in the spring and then, all of a sudden, he signed with the Eagles on a Saturday and reported to his first practice on Sunday.
With a game four days later, there was very little reason to expect McCown to play much at all, much less complete 17 of 24 passes for 192 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
But … that's what he did. And Taylor was thrilled with the entire experience.
"I think a guy like Josh is different because he has 18 years of experience. Any play that we put in, he's run at some point in his past," Taylor said. "It's just a matter of him translating it to our language from whatever he knows. We sat together and spent a lot of time going over things. It was a weird week with the Ravens being here for the joint practices. We didn't just have our 'base install stuff,' we had some 'call it' periods in those practices where the quarterback really doesn't know what is going to be thrown at him. We had a crash course every night. We'd meet for about three hours and go through the practice script for the next day and it was all about teaching him what was going to be on the plan.
"The way he played, it's impressive to see a guy who can react that quickly with the mindset he had when he came in here. That's the joy you get as a coach, when your guys go out and execute the things you've talked about. With him, anything that I said he took as fact right then and there because he had nothing else to go off of. To see him go out and play well, it does make you feel proud as a coach that the conversations you had were carried over to the field and he had success. That was a very different circumstance with the limited time he had, and it was cool to see."
When offensive tackle Brett Toth was granted a military waiver to pursue his NFL career following his graduation from Army after a fine career there, he considered his options. He had been serving his required military detail and was out of the game for more than a year. Toth consulted his agent, Alan Herman, and the decision was made to find the right situation.
The right situation turned to be Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who Pederson calls "a big detail guy. He's a teacher first."
Toth signed with the Eagles because he believed that Stoutland could give him the coaching he needs to make it in the NFL.
"Coach Stoutland is one of those guys whose results speak for themselves and that's the word on him," Toth said. "You look at this roster and see how deep every position is along the offensive line. There are four Pro Bowl players here. Behind them you have players who meshed together and who have developed.
"I knew, in making my decision to sign here, that Coach Stoutland would get me to where I need to be to play in this league. In one week, I've noticed a tremendous difference. Everything I did in college was very unorthodox compared to an NFL scheme, so any success I have in the NFL can be credited to Coach Stout as well as the players who have reached out and helped me while I've been here."
It's not just a head coach who deserves all the credit for a team's success. Behind every great head coach is a staff of teachers, and how quickly and easily their messages and methods are absorbed often makes the difference in a player's success. For the Eagles, the results speak volumes.