INDIANAPOLIS — For all the public blame he faced, for becoming in essence the scapegoat for the Eagles’ offensive regression, Mike Groh must have done something right during his two years as offensive coordinator.
Otherwise why would the Eagles have needed three coaches to seemingly replace him?
The decisions to fire Groh, add Rich Scangarello as senior offensive assistant, Andrew Breiner as pass-game analyst, and promote Press Taylor to pass-game coordinator, of course, weren’t that linear. In fact, the Eagles’ new construct on offense will be anything but.
The Eagles aren’t the first team to forgo having a conventional coordinator. And they aren’t the first to split those duties between run and pass game coordinators under a play-calling head coach. But they are among the very few in the NFL to ever have that dynamic and assistants with informal titles who will also have significant sway.
How it will all work out is up for debate. But one thing is certain: Eagles coach Doug Pederson will be responsible for trying to piece the puzzle together.
“I thought long and hard about this,” Pederson said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine. “That’s why I took my time this offseason with these decisions and with Rich, putting him in a senior offensive position, and promoting Press to pass-game coordinator.
“I really felt that in order for Press to grow I’ve got to give him more as a coach. I’ve got to put more on his plate. I still want him in the quarterbacks room. I still want him to be around Carson [Wentz] and the guys. He’s done an outstanding job there. But at the same time, I want him to have more of his fingerprints on game plans.
“And Rich comes in and he helps bridge the gap with coach [Jeff] Stoutland as the run-game coordinator and now Press. Bringing all of those pieces together, along with myself, and having such a collaborative game plan approach allows us to have a better sense of the game plan we go into each game with.
“But ultimately it comes down to me on game day with calling the plays.”
Even if Pederson’s explanation was equivocal, his approach to crafting and implementing an offense has always been collaborative. And he had previously done so with assistants who didn’t necessarily come from a similar background in terms of scheme.
But the hierarchy will be different and there will be more prominent voices in the room. Pederson later said that he believed Taylor “has a bright future as a coordinator” and that he will “groom him” for that possibility.
The 32-year-old Taylor will have more say in game planning — he previously oversaw the red zone specifically — and will run the offensive meetings, according to Pederson.
But Scangarello will have his fingerprints on all facets of the offense. He could have easily been hired as the coordinator, but he didn’t want that title, an NFL source said, because he wouldn’t call plays. It could have been viewed as a step back after his one season as a play-calling coordinator with the Broncos.
Pederson, who said he never considered relinquishing play-calling responsibilities, admitted that not having that as an option limited the pool of candidates for the coordinator opening.
“Yeah, that’s difficult,” Pederson said. “And [with] some of the candidates I spoke with and even brought into the building, that was brought up. I told them up front this is a position where I’m still going to call plays … and they have to be comfortable with that.”
Scangarello, 47, has some experience in the West Coast offense. But the system he ran in Denver is the one he learned while first working under now-49ers coach Kyle Shanahan while they were together with the Falcons and then in San Francisco.
Pederson spoke about Scangarello “bridging the gap” between the run and pass game, and while he didn’t offer more detail, the expectation is that he will bring Shanahan’s nuanced play-action options to Wentz and the Eagles.
“It’s very intriguing to be able to bring in a guy that is going to help Carson, No. 1, help our offense,” Pederson said. “He’s going to be a guy, not solely his responsibility, but allowing us to take our offense maybe to a different level. That’s something we weren’t as good at last year, and the last couple of seasons.”
The Eagles offense went from eighth in Football Outsiders defense-adjusted value over average, seventh in yards, and tied for second in points in 2017, to 15th, 14th and 18th in 2018, to 14th, 14th and 12th in 2019.
Groh was promoted from receivers coach when Frank Reich left for the Colts following the Super Bowl, but there were many other factors for the offensive regression. Wentz, for one, was coming off injuries in both years, and the Eagles were among the most injured teams in the NFL. There were also errors made in personnel evaluation.
When Pederson met with reporters three days after the season ended last month, he initially said that Groh would return. He would later walk back that sentiment and release a statement through the team saying that he had misspoken and had yet to finalize the evaluation of his coaches.
But Groh was told by Pederson after the season that he would be back, a source close to the situation said. Owner Jeffrey Lurie, meanwhile, had decided that he wanted Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch to leave, sources familiar with his thinking told The Inquirer.
It’s unclear if Lurie gave a mandate, but Groh and Walch were fired a day after Pederson publicly said they would return. Pederson said that the owner had no involvement in his coaching decisions.
“There was none,” Pederson said. “This is one of the things that I appreciate about Jeffrey, [general manager] Howie [Roseman] is they give me total control over the staff. Are they interested? Do they talk to me about certain guys and want to talk to candidates? Sure. They do. It just behooves them to have all the information with guys that I bring into the building.”
But Roseman had previously been responsible for the hiring of coaches like defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Pederson may have been asked to sign off, but in several cases, particularly with his first staff, the team endorsed specific assistants.
Duce Staley was one, although Pederson had worked with the running backs coach before. Staley was interviewed for the head coaching job before Pederson, but aside from having assistant head coach added to his title two offseasons ago, he has been stuck in neutral in Philly.
There was a report that Staley had reached out to South Carolina, his alma mater, about a possible job, but Pederson said that his assistant was happy with his station.
“Duce and I have a great relationship,” Pederson said. “One of the things that him being the assistant head coach and running backs coach, it means a lot to me.”
Staley was passed over for Groh two years ago and wasn’t interviewed for the coordinator vacancy this offseason. Pederson said that he already has enough on his plate with coaching running backs, overseeing the Eagles’ developmental program, and assisting him.
“The more I thought about what he does for me and his level of comfort with all he’s dealing with,” Pederson said, “I just felt best to keep him doing what he was doing.”