A source close to Duce Staley confirmed an NBC Sports report that the Eagles’ running backs coach and assistant head coach will ask out of his contract to explore other coaching opportunities. The request almost certainly will be granted.
Staley wants to meet with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie over the next few days, the source said, to thank Lurie for Staley’s 17 years with the organization — seven years as a running back and then 10 years as an assistant coach, interrupted by the final three seasons of his playing career, which were spent in Pittsburgh. Staley, the Eagles’ longest-tenured assistant, is one of the few remaining links to the Andy Reid era, having played under Reid from 1999-2003 and having begun his coaching career under Reid in 2011.
Staley interviewed for the Eagles’ head coaching position on Jan. 15 but was passed over in favor of Indianapolis offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, whose hiring the Eagles made official on Sunday. Staley also interviewed for the top job in 2016, before Doug Pederson was hired, and interviewed to become offensive coordinator in 2018. When Staley turned down the job because he wouldn’t be calling plays, the team gave him the title of assistant head coach.
Attempts to reach Staley over the past several days have been unsuccessful. He turns 46 next month and is in danger of being labeled a career position coach if he can’t advance soon.
“Not having him there [in the running backs room] is huge,” said Eagles running back Boston Scott, who said Staley was “not just a coach, but a friend, mentor, and teacher. I’m sure Miles [Sanders] feels the same way.”
Just before the season ended, Sanders said that Staley “loves teaching it and he loves playing it, and he plays it through us, and he tells us that all the time. Just that simple fact right there, that caring — I’m not saying that no [other] coaches care, but the way he coaches, and the passion he puts into it, makes it more and more stronger, and gives him that bigger leadership role that everybody would want in a coach.”
Several Eagles and a few former Eagles campaigned for Staley to get the head coaching job, after Pederson was fired on Jan. 11. That day, Lurie said he expected Staley to be a candidate, adding that Staley was “a great representative of the Eagles, and knows our values.”
When the Detroit Lions hired Dan Campbell, the Saints’ assistant head coach and tight ends coach, to fill their head coaching vacancy, and the Eagles were reported to have agreed to terms with Sirianni, the seven NFL head coaching vacancies were down to one, the Houston Texans job. A lot of people inside the NFL and out are not happy that no Black coaches have been hired during this cycle. Sirianni has never called plays, a void that has been listed as a reason why Staley and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy haven’t gotten head-coaching opportunities.
Lurie interviewed Staley, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, but the Eagles haven’t had a Black head coach since Ray Rhodes was fired in 1998.
“[Staley] was the guy I leaned on to talk to and relate to the Black athlete,” Pederson told The Athletic a few months back, referencing the NFL’s turbulent offseason, and the Black Lives Matter protests. “It was a great way for me to understand what was going on with some of our leaders on the football team. Obviously, I’m a white male that doesn’t necessarily understand their situation. But Duce was the guy who could relate.”
“It’s top of mind to make sure we have some of the best minority candidates in on the search,” Lurie said on Jan. 11. “It’s very important, I think, for us, for the league, and it’s top of mind. … I’ve never hesitated in this area. … There’s plenty of possible candidates in this area.”
“It [stinks],” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said Sunday, when asked about Staley’s impending departure. “But I understand it. New coach, new people. Duce will be a good asset to a staff, wherever he goes.”
Graham, who has been through many coaching staff moves since arriving here as a first-round draft pick in 2010, added that he is excited to meet the new defensive coaches, including incoming defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who was defensive backs coach for the Colts the past three seasons.
Scott spoke Sunday of how “very detail-oriented” Staley was in preparing his backs. “Selfishly, I would love for him to stay here and be with us, but I would hope he does get an opportunity to have an increased role in a coaching staff, and stuff like that, because I really think his work is there. I just really hope he gets that shot.”
In August, Staley briefly led Eagles practices while Pederson was quarantined with the coronavirus. Asked then about his coaching aspirations, he was diplomatic.
“We all want to advance,’' Staley said. “You [media] guys want to advance. That’s life. But right now, I’m super happy in my role. Proud of my role. Being assistant head coach, running backs coach. I’m proud of that.”
Staley was a third-round Eagles draft pick in 1997 and is the franchise’s fifth-leading rusher, with 1,200 carries for 4,807 yards in 98 Eagles games. He also caught 275 passes as an Eagle, for 2,498 yards.