Andy Reid, in one of his early chores as a rookie head coach in 1999, announced his defensive staff on January 22 of that year to a big, wide yawn by the Philadelphia media.
"Patterns have emerged as Reid has built his staff over the last two weeks. First, it is clear that Philadelphia is not the NFL's No. 1 hot spot these days. ... While the exact order of Reid's wish list for various positions isn't known, there are signs he has had to settle for second and third choices," wrote The Philadelphia Inquirer and we all know how that turned out.
Reid's defensive staff included linebackers coach Ron Rivera, secondary coach Leslie Frazier and quality control coach Steve Spagnuolo, all of whom became NFL head coaches. Also on Reid's initial Eagles staff: tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, quarterbacks coach Brad Childress and special teams coach John Harbaugh, who was retained from the staff of Ray Rhodes, the previous head coach. All three of those coaches eventually became head coaches. Harbaugh has won a Super Bowl. Rivera takes his Carolina Panthers to Arizona this weekend for the NFC Championship Game.
The one coach who never went anywhere after Reid hired him in 1999 was defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. His presence allowed Reid to focus on the offense and give Johnson total control of the defensive side of the football.
It worked wonderfully. By Reid's second season as head coach the Eagles were in the playoffs, on their way to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance. A step or two short, yes, but the Eagles still won a lot of games due in part to the team's ability to surround Reid, the rookie head coach, with veteran assistant coaches, Johnson at age 57, primary among them.
On Tuesday, January 19, Head Coach Doug Pederson announced in his introductory press conference that Jim Schwartz would be the Eagles' new defensive coordinator...
Maybe, then, the Eagles are onto something similar now. Jim Schwartz has been in the NFL since 1993 when he joined Cleveland as a personnel scout before stepping into the coaching arena in 1996 as an outside linebackers coach with Baltimore. Schwartz has been a position coach, a defensive coordinator, a head coach and then a defensive coordinator again. He knows the game. He's had a lot of success.
He has the defense all to his own.
And Schwartz is excited to get to work in Philadelphia.
"Our job is to find a way to put the players in the best position so that they can do their jobs. That's going to change a little bit. What we did in Buffalo was a little bit different from what we did in Detroit and what was different than I did in Tennessee or the Baltimore Ravens or the Cleveland Browns," Schwartz said. "That's the one thing you learn."
Schwartz's defense is all about creating pressure without blitzing. It was the key to Johnson's masterful defense: Get pressure, or create the illusion of pressure, without sacrificing coverage on the back end. Be aggressive. Take the football away. Play stout defense in the red zone and get off the field on third downs.
Schwartz spent 2015 out of the coaching box, instead working for a few days a week in the NFL offices working with the officials, providing a coach's perspective. He stayed in touch with the game and he's got a good understanding of the Eagles' personnel. The Eagles will play their defensive ends on a tilt at times, many times perhaps, lined up a yard or two outside the shoulder of the offensive tackle or tight end. Schwartz wants to play to the strength of his personnel. He wants to get to the quarterback and he wants to funnel the football to the strength of the defense.
It would appear that the strength of this defense is the interior with Fletcher Cox along the defensive line and, potentially, Jordan Hicks at middle linebacker. It would make sense, maybe, to try to push the football to the middle of the Eagles' defense.
"There are lot of players here that I know very well, that I think are very talented players," Schwartz said. "We'll go through all of that and find out what our strengths are and play to them."
One of the players potentially impacted by the addition of Schwartz is linebacker Connor Barwin, who came off the edge mostly as a pass rusher in the team's 3-4 front. Should the Eagles use more of a four-man front with three linebackers, where would Barwin fit in? Would he put his hand in the dirt and come hard off the edge? Would he use his long arms and frame as a strongside linebacker and cover tight ends at times? Johnson enjoyed some of his greatest success with Carlos Emmons at the SAM position from 2000-03.
"I'm very excited about Jim Schwartz. I remember meeting with him coming out of the (NFL Scouting) Combine. I've had plenty of friends who have played for him and obviously I've seen the success he's had in this league, especially the success he's had as a coordinator," Barwin said. "I don't think it will be as different as people think. We ran a 3-4 with (Bill Davis as defensive coordinator) but we were in a 4-3 over 40 percent of the snaps, if not more. I'll probably be playing defensive end and if I do play linebacker it will probably be up on the line, like I was on first down here."
We'll see how Schwartz designs things. It's his baby. Pederson has the benefit of an experienced hand with Schwartz, a former head coach in Detroit, on board. It harkens back to the start of the Andy Reid Era, a period of football during which the Eagles were on the doorstep of the Super Bowl for so many seasons.