Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

‘Football genius’ Duce Staley could’ve been the Eagles’ coach instead of ‘Flower Child’ Nick Sirianni | Marcus Hayes

The Birds would be accountable for mistakes, better disciplined, and they’d be running the ball.

Detroit Lions assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley on the sideline against the Baltimore Ravens in September.
Detroit Lions assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley on the sideline against the Baltimore Ravens in September.Read moreRick Osentoski / AP

One man’s a redwood. The other man’s a daffodil.

Guess which one Jeffrey Lurie hired.

I’ll admit, I’ve saved this column for the day when Lurie’s decision to not hire Eagles legend Duce Staley, in favor of unknown offensive theorist Nick Sirianni, turned out to be so foolhardy that any argument to the contrary would fall flat.

I’ve been saving it. I just didn’t think I’d have to use it so soon.

It’s incredible to consider, really. The Eagles could have hired Duce Staley, the perfect Philly fit: no slogans, no T-shirts; all substance, no fertilizer. Instead, they have Nick “Flower Child” Sirianni.

Sirianni said that at Wednesday’s team meeting, he’d shown his 2-5 team a picture of a flower. Yes, a flower.

He did so to illustrate the patience needed for something beautiful to take root: “The results aren’t there right now, but ... there’s growth under the soil.”

“The only way the roots ... grow stronger ... is that we all water, we all fertilize.”

Sirianni’s been spreading fertilizer for months.

And ... a flower? It’s football. Flowers are anti-football. You know what else has roots? Oaks. Ironwood. Giant freakin’ sequoias.

You know, trees that remind you of football, and strength, and 5-foot-11, 240-pound running backs like Duce Staley.

False candidacy

You knew Duce never had a chance here, even after 10 years on the staffs of three Eagles head coaches. Lurie staged token interviews with Staley, who is Black, during the Eagles’ head coach searches in 2013 and 2016. Lurie interviewed Staley last winter, too, after he fired Doug Pederson. Eagles players past and present rallied around Staley’s candidacy; one told me he considered Staley a “football genius” with a pigskin IQ that was “off the charts.”

It turned out that, as in 2013 and 2016, Staley’s candidacy wasn’t much of a candidacy at all.

» READ MORE: How serious a candidate is Duce Staley to replace Doug Pederson as head coach of the Eagles? (from January 2021)

Staley could have stayed on as an assistant, but, like almost all of Pederson’s staff, he was happy to land elsewhere. Staley is the running backs coach and assistant head coach at Detroit, where Lurie and the Eagles travel for Sunday’s game.

Expect cordiality. Maybe even a hug. After all, Lurie said Staley was “like a son” to him — but not familial enough to entrust Staley with the job Staley coveted for a decade. Duce knew. When Lurie introduced Sirianni as head coach, Lurie admitted that he believed Duce left his home here for a better chance to become a head coach.

Thanks, Dad.

Duce might even hug Howie Roseman, too — you know, the embattled general manager Lurie really considers to be his son — but don’t be fooled. It won’t be a warm reunion. Neither ever valued Staley.

They should regret that, now.

Largely due to Sirianni, 39, and his even younger, less-experienced staff, the Eagles are 2-5. In fact, they’re a blocked Panthers punt from being 1-6 and a five-game losing streak. The personnel isn’t perfect, but the coaching has been horrendous. A man of questionable style but bottomless substance could be running the Birds ... emphasis on running. Running’s in Duce’s blood.

When he packed his bags in January, Staley had been an Eagles running back, then coached Eagles running backs, for 15 of the previous 24 years. He played running back for the Steelers for three years in between. You think the Birds’ running backs would have gotten just three carries against the Cowboys if Staley had been calling plays?

Sure, there’s a chance that Staley would have failed ... but probably not. For one thing, the players respected him; that’s untrue of Sirianni & His Broad Street Boys.

It’s fair to assume that — given the young talent at receiver, running back, and tight end, the outstanding offensive line play, and the potential of the defensive line and secondary — Staley would at least be making games respectable. It’s likely that the Eagles would not have been humiliated by the Cowboys, the Buccaneers, and a Raiders team that didn’t even have a real coach. They might have lost, but they’d have been able to look themselves in the mirror the next morning.

In Staley, the Eagles would have a coach who would run the ball at the 1-yard line; who would decline penalties and accept punts; and who would never attempt an onside kick, trailing by 10, to open a second half.

» READ MORE: Nick Sirianni’s clumsy coaching is dooming the Eagles | Marcus Hayes

Staley’s team might have a “Dawg Mentality,” but Staley’s team would spell it correctly. Staley might wear a “Beat Dallas” T-shirt, but he’d wear it underneath his Eagles sweatshirt; you know, like an adult.

If Staley demeaned himself enough to play rock-paper-scissors with a prospective draft pick, he’d win every time, even if he had to break the kid’s fingers. And if Staley’s defensive coordinator wouldn’t mix up coverages and blitz every once in a while, he’d take away the damned headset and call the defense himself.

Sirianni’s struggles should come as no surprise.

Bona fides

Sirianni emerged as a candidate late in the Eagles’ hiring process mainly due to a recommendation from Colts coach Frank Reich, for whom he’d worked six of the previous eight seasons. A Division III wideout, Sirianni has coached mainly wide receivers. He had never called plays, and he’d won nothing.

Staley, meanwhile, gained more than 1,000 rushing yards three times in the NFL and came within 3 yards of gaining 1,500 combined yards three times. He’d never called plays, true, but Staley had won two Super Bowls: first, as a player, after the 2005 season with the Steelers, then, as a coach, after the 2017 season with the Eagles. And he’d been around the best.

He learned the position from Pro Bowl runner Ricky Watters, mentored his own replacement, Brian Westbrook, played alongside Steelers legend Jerome Bettis, then developed Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy and current Eagles starter Miles Sanders. Former teammates called Staley a “football genius.”

Nobody’s calling Nick the Quick a genius.


Sirianni has yet to show more than window-dressing backbone. Duce? He’s a ramrod.

As a position coach, Staley would explode at running backs who received handoffs wrong or who didn’t properly show their hands as they received passes. His pet peeve: Lazy blocking in pass protection. Staley mastered all of these disciplines as a player. Detail matters.

Think about that the next time Jason Kelce snaps the ball off Jack Driscoll’s arm, or the next time Jalen Hurts takes his eyes off the ball as an imperfect snap flies toward him.

Staley is maniacal about selflessness and self-control. Do you think his Eagles would lead the NFL with 58 penalties? What’s more, he’d have benched rogue defensive end Derek Barnett, if not after the first extracurricular penalty, then certainly after the second.

» READ MORE: Derek Barnett’s cheap shot and K’Von Wallace’s head shot sped the Eagles’ loss, then Wallace whined on Insta. Bench them. | Marcus Hayes

The Eagles would’ve had a defense that isn’t afraid to fail. Duce played for teams with lionhearted coaches like Ray Rhodes, Emmitt Thomas, Jim Johnson, and Bill Cowher. You think Duce’s team — even if Jonathan Gannon was coordinator — wouldn’t blitz?

The Eagles would’ve had a coach who would have insisted on having at least one viable linebacker. Staley played with Jeremiah Trotter, Levon Kirkland, James Farrior, and Joey Porter. He knows the value of a crushing hit, a lightning blitz, and a guy who can cover backs and tight ends.

The Eagles would’ve had a coach who would play the best quarterback available, not the overmatched quarterback Roseman used a second-round pick to snag last year. ESPN’s quarterback rating metric ranks Hurts 23rd out of 24 passers with at least 140 attempts. His current 38.8 rating would have ranked last among regular starters each of the past two seasons.

» READ MORE: Eagles should bench Jalen Hurts | Marcus Hayes

And, of course, the Eagles would have had a coach who would run the damn ball.

Pound the rock

The Eagles rank 14th in passing play percentage, at about 61%, according to Those rankings are deceptive. They don’t allow for Hurts’ run-pass options or his busted dropbacks that turn into runs. He has run the ball 66 times, seldom by design. If you make the generous assumption that even half of those attempts were, in fact, scripted runs, the pass-play percentage balloons to almost 69%, and that would lead the NFL. Admittedly, some of the teams ranked ahead of the Eagles have spontaneous QB rushes, but none with the frequency of Hurts.

Duce’s Eagles wouldn’t be a 50-50 club — he was an elite pass-catcher in a West Coast scheme, remember — but there would be better balance.

Then again, Lurie, who berated pass-happy Pederson for running too much, wouldn’t have preferred Duce’s Eagles to run as much as they clearly need to.

Because, apparently, Lurie prefers daffodils to redwoods.