Dave Fipp channeled his inner Sam Hinkie on Tuesday.
In what will likely be the Eagles special teams coordinator’s final public comments recapping a season underscored by missed field goals, botched returns, and mental errors from the group, Fipp borrowed a sentiment often associated with the former Sixers general manager: process over results.
“At the end of the day, as coaches, we focus really a lot on the process,” Fipp said. “I know the outside world focuses a lot on the outcome. There’s a lot of things in the outcome that I think any individual coach can’t necessarily control. Again, I’m not going to go into all that stuff, but I think for coaches, we focus on the process: ‘Did your players know what to do? Did they know how to do it? Did you put them in this situation in practice. Did you drill it? Did you go over all the things possible to have them prepared the best you could have them prepared?’”
Translation: Fipp can get players ready to play, but how they play is ultimately up to them.
The Eagles’ special teams regressed in almost every category this season, and it’s fair to wonder if Fipp will return for a ninth year leading the group, which is ranked 25th in the league in overall efficiency by Football Outsiders. If that ranking holds after this Sunday’s home game against the Washington Football Team, it would be Fipp’s lowest-ranked group since his first season with the Eagles in 2013.
Almost every key specialist for the team has regressed this season, with kicker Jake Elliott struggling with chip shots, punter Cameron Johnston turning in a handful of dubious kicks, and long snapper Rick Lovato costing the team a pivotal extra point against the Cardinals with an errant snap two weekends ago.
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The Eagles have also gotten shaky results from both their kick- and punt-return units for the second year in a row, ranking 27th in average starting field position. The team has primarily used Greg Ward on punt returns this season, with Jalen Reagor being used when there’s a high likelihood for an actual return, even though Reagor has been far more explosive as the team’s returner. Boston Scott has handled kickoff returns and is averaging just 21.1 yards per return.
“Is this the most challenging year? I don’t know; every year is challenging in its own ways, obviously,” Fipp said. “Like I’ve said before, we have a high standard; I have a high standard for myself and for the things that we get done on special teams, obviously. I think I’ve said last week, at the end of the day, we’ve won four games. ... Going into Game 16, it’s definitely not been good enough, I think, in any area, certainly not mine, that’s for sure. The outcome hasn’t always been what we’ve wanted to be. I tend to put more of my focus on the process.”
Fipp has had success in the past, coaching several seasons in which the Eagles could make a serious case for having the best special teams unit in the NFL. They’ve been ranked in the top 10 of Football Outsiders’ efficiency rankings three times in eight years and were ranked No. 1 in 2016 and third in 2017.
Injuries and the lack of a preseason because of the coronavirus created new obstacles this year, especially with the lack of continuity for Fipp’s group, but he wouldn’t use the circumstances as an excuse.
“This year is certainly different than all those other years, but everybody’s got the same challenge,” Fipp said. “That’s one thing that’s great about this league: Everything’s regulated, so really every team is under the same conditions and have the same opportunities to prepare players.”