Eagles fans will no longer be able to take Jim Schwartz’s name in vain when the team’s defense springs a leak.
Sunday night’s game against Washington will end the five-year Schwartz era in charge of the Eagles’ defense, a league source said Saturday, confirming an NFL Network report. A team source said Schwartz’s players were given no advance notice, that they learned of the coordinator’s pending departure via social media.
The report said Schwartz, 54, has decided to take a year off from coaching and might retire, in the wake of hip and eye surgeries. The Eagles’ defense, which came into the season lacking proven talent at linebacker, safety, and at cornerback outside of free-agent signee Darius Slay, currently is tied for 20th in the NFL, giving up an average of 26.5 points per game. Third-round rookie linebacker Davion Taylor is the only defensive player the Eagles have taken in the first three rounds in the 2018, ‘19 or ‘20 drafts. Taylor played 32 defensive snaps this season before going on injured reserve.
In the immediate wake of the news, it’s hard to assess whether health really is a big reason, or whether Schwartz, whose contract is expiring, was told that he would not return and chose to go out on his own terms.
It seems likely Schwartz will be the biggest change on the Eagles’ coaching staff. A source confirmed that the return of head coach Doug Pederson is likely, following reports Saturday by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen that said Pederson is expected to return for a sixth season. If Pederson returns after the Eagles’ worst season since 2012, it would seem to follow that general manager Howie Roseman also will be back, since general managers generally like to pick their own head coaches.
Schwartz came in with Pederson, though they had no coaching history together. At the time, Schwartz’s hiring was seen as a fallback plan if Pederson, who had never been a head coach, wasn’t up to the job.
After the loss in Dallas, defensive end Brandon Graham said that Schwartz hadn’t changed his manner, hadn’t panicked, as the season crumbled.
“That’s what I would do if I’m about to be done, or go out. I’m going to go out being me. I’m going to go out coaching my players ... and making sure I put my players in a great position to win.
“I think he does that. I think it means a lot to him. It [stinks] that we didn’t get it done for him this year.”
Schwartz didn’t really talk about the personnel problems Tuesday, but he was critical of himself in what probably will stand as his final public remarks in the role. His teams ranked ninth overall in scoring defense over his five seasons, but the last few seasons saw decline, as important parts of the 2017 Super Bowl unit (Malcolm Jenkins, Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Chris Long, Patrick Robinson) were not adequately replaced.
“It’s part of the challenge of this job ... trying to figure out a way to solve those problems, trying to figure out a way to minimize matchups or maximize matchups, go with your strengths, try to minimize your weaknesses. At times this year, we haven’t done a good enough job with that. I haven’t done a good enough job with that,” he said. “That’s just part of the NFL, and there’s no excuses in this league.”
Schwartz gained fame as a defensive mastermind with the Tennessee Titans, and was head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2009-13, taking the team to the playoffs in 2011. He won that Super Bowl ring with the Eagles, his defense smothering Atlanta and Minnesota in the playoffs, though it allowed a Super Bowl-record 505 passing yards to Tom Brady in the 41-33 Eagles victory that ended the franchise’s long championship drought.
The pivotal play of that game was Graham’s strip-sack of Brady, Derek Barnett recovering with a little more than two minutes remaining. The Eagles ranked fourth in the NFL with 31 takeaways in 2017, but this season the Eagles rank 24th, with 17 takeaways. Their minus-nine takeaway ratio ranks 29th.
“I love that we got a ring and are connected for life,” Graham said Saturday, via text, when asked about Schwartz’s departure.
Schwartz has not been a fan favorite. He has a cocky demeanor, doesn’t like to blitz, and doesn’t care how many yards his defense allows, as long as it doesn’t give up a lot of points, and his team wins. Fans blame Schwartz for the organization’s antipathy toward paying a lot of money to linebackers, or drafting them in the first round, even though that orientation extends back at least as far as Jeremiah Trotter’s initial departure in 2002. The last Eagles linebacker drafted in the first round was Jerry Robinson in 1979.