In a perfect world, the Eagles’ third head-coaching search in eight years would’ve taken about five minutes.
A phone call to Norman, Okla., to gauge Lincoln Riley’s interest in the job. A positive response by Riley, and just like that, the Eagles lock up the hottest young coach in college football.
Except this isn’t a perfect world and that’s not how it went. Riley told the Eagles he wasn’t interested in the Eagles job. And he hasn’t been the only one to tell them that.
They interviewed San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, but he opted to take the Jets’ head coaching job.
They interviewed Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, but he was hired by the Atlanta Falcons.
They requested an interview with Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, but he wasn’t even interested enough to fly across the country for an interview, accepting the LA Chargers’ job instead.
On Wednesday, the Eagles’ interviewed their 10th candidate in nine days – New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. The 48-year-old Allen, who was 8-28 during a two-years-and-change head-coaching stint with the Raiders in 2012-14, is one of the league’s more highly regarded defensive coaches.
But despite Lurie insisting last week that he doesn’t favor one side of the ball over the other, the fact of the matter is he’d rather have a head coach with an offensive background, who could have a hands-on role trying to fix the team’s broken quarterback, Carson Wentz.
Five of the league’s seven head-coaching openings already have been filled. The only two that still have a vacancy sign in the window are the Eagles and the Houston Texans.
Why has the head-coaching job for a team that won a Super Bowl three years ago and has made the playoffs 13 of the last 21 years become so unattractive to coaches with other options?
The power wielded by general manager Howie Roseman is one big reason. The unsettled quarterback situation is another. As the saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any.
Lastly, is the interference by Lurie and Roseman into the makeup of Pederson’s coaching staff.
“I can’t imagine any prospective coach who has read the stories, including the ones about front-office influence on who Doug could or couldn’t fire or keep, who wouldn’t be concerned,” former Eagles president Joe Banner said last week.
“They’ll have to answer that question to the satisfaction of these candidates. Sometimes perception is reality. So even if it’s an unfair accusation, it will definitely factor into how people view the situation.
“A coach will not look kindly on management feeling they know better who the coaches should be than the coach himself.”
If Lurie doesn’t budge from his preference for an offensive coach, it appears he’s down to two options: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, or Eagles assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley.
McDaniels is an excellent offensive coach. If anybody can fix Wentz, it might be him. His shortcomings have more to do with his personality than his coaching ability.
“He doesn’t have an ability to really connect with people on a human level,” said one NFL executive who has dealt with McDaniels. “He’s very arrogant.
“Great head coaches are extremely confident. But there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Josh crosses it.”
The Eagles’ willingness to consider McDaniels, who could turn into the second coming of Chip Kelly, tells you all you need to know about their level of desperation in this coaching search.
As for Staley, the Eagles curiously continue to regard him as little more than a last resort.
He is loved and respected by the players, and would bring some much needed tough love back to a locker room that had started to take advantage of Pederson, who let them get away with “too much stuff that the public never heard about,” according to one team source.
According to another team source, Staley didn’t much care for the way the organization babied Wentz. Lurie and Roseman both may be concerned that if Staley was the head coach, any chance of straightening out Wentz would go out the window.
“It works against him because he wouldn’t let Carson get away with the things he’s been able to get away with,” the source said. “And Carson knows that. So, if Carson is part of the conversation, then that may not work in Duce’s favor either.”
Staley, who played seven seasons for the Eagles from 1997 through 2003, has been an assistant coach with the team since 2011. He became the running backs coach in 2013 under Chip Kelly.
When Frank Reich left to take the Indianapolis Colts’ head-coaching job following the Eagles’ Super Bowl championship in 2017, Staley was offered the offensive coordinator’s job, but turned it down because it didn’t come with play-calling responsibilities.
Pederson promoted his wide receivers coach, Mike Groh, instead, and Staley was given the added title of assistant head coach to go with running backs coach, though that title was largely ceremonial.
The Eagles have reportedly expressed interest in Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. But he doesn’t really bring anything to the table that Staley doesn’t.
Staley already understands the locker room culture here. He understands where the team is and what it needs.
Bieniemy or McDaniels both would need time to learn the personnel, a process that could take longer if NFL teams again are required to work virtually during the offseason because of COVID. Staley also likely would be more receptive to keeping a few of the better assistants from Pederson’s staff, including offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
Stoutland had been rumored last week to be headed back to Alabama to be Nick Saban’s offensive line coach. Stoutland had been ‘Bama’s O-line coach in 2011-12 before Kelly hired him to his first staff. But it was announced Wednesday that former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone was taking that job.