Monday marked a week since Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie dismissed head coach Doug Pederson. Interviews with several potential successors have come and gone, but Sunday’s all-day session with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has generated a lot of buzz.
Of course, that doesn’t mean McDaniels is going to be hired. Eagles coaching interviews typically are several hours long. And Lurie and his front-office group spoke to Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles Monday via videoconference, an interview that went into Monday evening. The Eagles received permission from the Bucs to do so, as is required when a coach is still involved in the playoffs. Bowles is a former Temple star who was an Eagles assistant in 2012.
But five of the seven seats in this offseason’s game of NFL musical chairs have been pulled off the floor. Head coaching openings are down to the Eagles and the Houston Texans, who on Monday saw their stadium besieged by fans angry over the estrangement of quarterback Deshaun Watson. Discussions of how desirable/undesirable the Eagles’ opening might be are pretty much moot at this point. If you want to be an NFL head coach this year, these are your choices.
Though Patriots-hating Eagles fans might not want to hear it, McDaniels, 44, has a more extensive resume than any remaining known candidate. Six Super Bowl rings, 17 seasons altogether alongside Bill Belichick. Yes, a lot of former Belichick assistants have failed, but none of them has enjoyed as long and as close a relationship to the mentor as McDaniels. The Patriots’ push to get McDaniels to back out of his agreement to become head coach of the Colts three years ago went way beyond anything they’ve tried with other coaches who have gotten offers elsewhere. (This, of course, was how the Eagles lost Frank Reich to Indianapolis, in the wake of Super Bowl LII.)
Part of the Monday buzz was a tweet from the agent group that represents Eric Bieniemy, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, with whom the Eagles have requested an interview. (As of yet, none is scheduled, apparently.)
The tweet decried the fact that on the MLK holiday, five teams had filled their coaching vacancies without any Black candidates being hired. It mentioned that only two jobs remained and added in parentheses: “one after Eagles hire JM.” This would seem to be a reference to McDaniels.
The Indianapolis debacle is one of two significant red flags on that extensive McDaniels resume. McDaniels was three months shy of 34 in 2009 when he left New England to become the head coach in Denver. Like a lot of Belichickians, he brought with him a manner that alienated players, but his firing 12 games into his second season had more to do with a scandal over the videotaping of a 49ers walkthrough before a game in London than with his 11-17 record. Team and league investigations concluded that McDaniels didn’t watch the tape and didn’t ask video director Steve Scarnecchia to make it, but he also didn’t immediately report the incident to the league office, reminiscent of the Patriots’ Spygate scandal in which Scarnecchia also was involved.
McDaniels spent 2011 as the Rams’ offensive coordinator, then returned to New England in 2012. When he ducked out on the Colts, there was speculation that he had been promised he would succeed Belichick -- partly because observers felt McDaniels would have a hard time getting any other NFL team to trust him. He definitely got a big raise, reportedly into the lower range of head-coaching salaries. At 68, though, Belichick is undertaking a rebuilding project with the 7-9 Patriots and doesn’t seem inclined to retire.
From McDaniels’ point of view, even if teams become less leery of his character -- his embarrassment of the Colts was a very big deal around the league, with agent Bob LaMonte even dropping McDaniels as a client -- McDaniels is unlikely to be a sought-after candidate until the Patriots are good again. If the Eagles are interested, he probably can’t afford to worry about whether Lurie meddles too much, or Carson Wentz won’t listen to coaching, or Howie Roseman is difficult to work with.
“I definitely want to do that,” McDaniels said the week after the Patriots’ season ended, when asked if he still wanted another head-coaching shot. “I’d love to have that opportunity if it presents itself.”
Despite all of its success, New England has seen plenty of conflict and controversy. McDaniels has dealt with strong, often clashing personalities in Belichick and Tom Brady. There have been reported Robert Kraft-Belichick rifts; certainly, the Patriots owner is as involved in New England’s operations as Lurie is in Philadelphia’s.
The Eagles are pressing the coaches they interview on how they would fix Wentz, something McDaniels should have a better feel for than, say, Bowles, who would need to hire a quarterback whisperer. Observers in New England feel McDaniels ran a more productive offense than the talent on hand would dictate, the past few seasons before this one. Of course, he had Brady during that time.
In Lurie’s news conference last week, he said deft handling of the Eagles’ quarterback situation was important, but it wasn’t the most important thing he would be seeking. Lurie said his head coach “needs to be a leader of coaches, a leader of players, and someone who represents the organization in a great leadership way. We had a lot of that with Doug. Leadership is an important characteristic.”
Lurie also mentioned McDaniels in that news conference, when talking about the decline of the Eagles’ offense following Reich’s departure.
“We didn’t know we were going to lose Frank Reich, but suddenly it happened, when Josh turned that job down,” Lurie said, as if he and McDaniels were best buds.
The McDaniels who got fired in Denver a decade ago was pretty much the opposite of Pederson when it came to leading with the “emotional intelligence” Lurie stipulated when he fired Chip Kelly and hired Pederson five years back. Maybe McDaniels has changed, or maybe, if McDaniels is hired, it will mean Lurie is looking for a coach who will exert a stronger hand with Wentz and other Eagles.
Another potential conflict might be with Roseman. In Denver, McDaniels had control over personnel, and wielded it badly. (He drafted Tim Tebow 25th overall in 2010, though he did get Demaryius Thomas three picks earlier). Reading what was written about him after he was fired there is a lot like reading autopsies of the Kelly era with the Eagles. It’s hard to believe that Roseman, who brought Kelly to Philly only to see him demand that Roseman be moved out of football operations two years later, would want to risk dealing with that sort of ego again. Pederson’s pliability was part of his ability to coexist with Lurie and Roseman, until a few weeks ago, when Pederson decided he needed to control who was on his staff.
McDaniels isn’t in a position to demand much authority right away, but what if he has success? Roseman would have to be very confident that McDaniels has changed. He might have a good source there -- Roseman’s roommate at the University of Florida, Jedd Fisch, spent 2020 as New England’s quarterbacks coach before becoming the new head coach last month at the University of Arizona.