Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer pro football writer Paul Domowitch. This week, the two discuss the attractiveness – or lack of it -- of the Eagles’ head-coaching job, whether owner Jeffrey Lurie has become too hands-on, does he really not care whether he hires an offensive or defensive coach and why does he seem to be in no hurry to hire Doug Pederson’s replacement:
Domo: Some have wondered whether the Eagles’ head-coaching job is as attractive to the top candidates as some of the other openings. What do you think?
JB: If you put yourself in the mindset of the applicant and look at the situations out there that they’d be comparing them to right now, they’re not going to be considered one of the top jobs at this point.
The quality of your roster, the status of your cap situation and your situation at quarterback all are huge drivers for a candidate. For some, they’re the defining drivers.
Whether you’re looking at teams like Jacksonville and the Jets that have the first and second picks in the draft, or a team like Houston that already has an outstanding young quarterback in place, I think we’d all have to agree that the Eagles have a question mark (at quarterback). You can be hopeful or pessimistic, but at best, they have a question mark there right now. They’ve acknowledged as much.
They’ve been aggressive the last few years to see if they could win another Super Bowl, which has created the cap challenges they have. And they have an older roster with some uncertainty as to where it stands in terms of quality at the moment because many of their better players are in the latter stages of their careers.
So I just think they’re challenged compared to some of the other openings right now with respect to some of the issues that are important to prospective coaches.
Domo: And let’s not forget that the last coach didn’t have control over the hiring and firing of his staff.
JB: I can’t imagine any coach who has read the stories, including the ones about front-office influence on the coaches Doug could or couldn’t fire or keep, wouldn’t have concerns. It certainly will be a topic of conversation from the agent who initially will get the call to the actual applicant. He’ll certainly pursue that and make sure that he feels he has the control and authority to be successful.
They’ll have to answer that question to the satisfaction of these candidates. A coach will not look kindly on management feeling they know better who the coaches should be than the coach himself. That’s a concern the Eagles will have to speak to and make the coach comfortable. Or it could be what makes him choose someplace else other than Philadelphia if he has options.
Domo: Jeffrey Lurie was asked the other day whether he’s gotten too involved in football decisions. He said his involvement has been the same for the last 25 years. You were with him for 18 years. What do you think? Is he more involved now in football decisions than he was when you were here?
JB: I’ve described him in our past conversations with respect to his role when I was there exactly as he described it. He was very intimately involved. Knew everything that was going on. Asked a lot of questions, which I always viewed as a positive.
Obviously I’m not there now. I do talk to people who work there, though. And my sense is his involvement has increased some. But it’s very hard to compare what I know first-hand when I was there to what I hear from others. But from what I hear, he’s underplaying his role a bit.
I’m not suggesting he’s one of these extremely overly-engaged owners. He wasn’t when I was there and I don’t believe he is now. But I hear that he is more engaged in the decision-making process than he was.
Domo: Jeff says it doesn’t make any difference whether his next coach has an offensive or defensive background. He says his top priority is hiring a capable leader. Do you believe that? His last three head coaches have been offensive coaches. Hasn’t hired a defensive coach since you guys hired Ray Rhodes back in ‘95.
JB: I don’t think he’s shut the door to the possibility of hiring a defensive coach. But I do think he has an extremely strong bias [toward an offensive coach]. If you asked him what would he prefer to find and will bend over backwards to try to find, it will be a guy with an offensive background.
He’s been very public about believing that you can’t win in this era without a great offense. He’s observed the fact that if you hire a defensive guy and he hires a good offensive coordinator, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose the offensive coordinator very quickly and now you’re in a search for the next guy.
So I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t hire an offensive coach. But I don’t think that’s a 100 percent statement.
Domo: Do you think the Eagles have contacted and/or will interview any college coaches?
JB: I have no doubt that they’re open to hiring a college coach. And I think there are some out there that are at least worth considering. But that’s got to be a two-way street. A college coach leaving is a big step. It’s an extremely expensive route to go as you saw with what Carolina gave Matt Rhule ($60 million over 7 years). And it’s high, high risk for a college coach to take an interview unless he’s absolutely prepared to leave. Because if it gets out, it creates a massive recruiting problem. Every team they’re recruiting against will use it against them. So it’s easier to want a college head coach than to guarantee you’re going to get one or get interviews with them.
Domo: Jeff said he’s in no hurry to make a hire. He said if they hire one soon or in early February, “it’s totally great.” Said if they’re the last team to hire a coach, “that’s great too because then you have all the opportunity in the world.” I’ve been doing this a long time, and I gotta say, Jeff is the first owner I’ve ever heard suggest that it’s a positive to be the last team hiring a coach. Your thoughts?
JB: You go into these searches with some expectations. I won’t give the name, but I remember one year we went into a coaching search. We only had to do two in the 18 years I was there, which was great, because they’re very tough and stressful. But we went in with a really clear expectation of who was going to be the guy we wanted. We weren’t even 15 minutes into our interview with him when both of us, without actually even being able to talk to each other, knew this wasn’t the guy. So a lot can change when you get in front of a guy.
But I think what he’s telling you is there are coaches that are still in the playoffs, and maybe even one who could be in it for a while, that they’re very interested in. Because otherwise it doesn’t make a lot of sense to say we don’t mind being last or we have plenty of time. To me, that indicates that the most likely candidate is somebody in the playoffs and possibly there for a while.
Domo: How does the Eagles’ unsettled quarterback situation figure in to the coaching search?
JB: It’s certainly going to be perceived by the next coach as a huge challenge. If the preference of Howie and Jeff is to try and fix Carson and get him back to where he was, which seems to be the case, you still have (Jalen) Hurts there. You’re still going to have to manage that relationship and how the team feels about that. You’re still going to have to go into training camp and give both guys some reps.
Whenever you have these situations, there’s always a risk of division in the locker room where different players favor a different guy to start. So that can be a challenge. It’s a legitimate obstacle in being able to recruit whomever is your preference as coach. It’s an unsettled situation at best with some real complications, from Carson’s contract to the element of having two potentially qualified starting NFL quarterbacks in the same locker room.
Domo: Has Doug Pederson’s firing improved Carson’s chances of staying in Philadelphia?
JB: Yes. I think the stories that the relationship between them wasn’t great are true. I’m not saying he’s staying for sure or he’s gone for sure. We’ll see. But I do think it increases the chances of him staying. That they want to give him a fresh start with a different staff.
Domo: Jeff never used the word rebuild in his news conference this week. Talked about them being in a “transition period” similar to 2016, the year before they won the Super Bowl. Said they’re thinking “mid-term and long term” and that Doug was more concerned with 2021. Where do you think Jeff thinks this team is right now?
JB: I took his comments to reflect the cap challenges they have in 2021 versus the cap space they’ll have in 2022, which provides a reasonably quick opportunity for improvement of the team. But they are going to have to deal with the fact that some of their key players are getting older, and the fact that they absolutely have to have a better hit rate on their draft picks going forward if they’re going to do that. That’s a projection that he seems to have confidence in. But Howie and his staff need to back it up.
Domo: After hearing what he said, do you think it increases the chances at all of them getting rid of a few more of their older players than previously thought?
JB: I think if you listen to his words the answer to that would be yes. But I’m not convinced that that’s actually what they’re going to do. We’ve talked about this before. They’ll obviously be getting rid of people like DeSean (Jackson) and Alshon (Jeffery). And they’re going to have to make a few tough decisions on people like (soon-to-be 33-year-old Brandon) Graham.
I haven’t changed my mind on that. I think that’s what they’ll do. No matter what they say, I don’t think they believe their four wins this season is even remotely reflective of the team right now. So I don’t think they feel, OK, we have to really tear this thing down and build it back up. I think they feel they may need to take a small step backwards or be flat for a year, but then be in a position to accelerate their improvement the year after that.
I took it as a reflection that, our hands are going to be tied a little bit in the short term. But as we look out 2-3 years, we’re going to be in a position to do all of the things we had hoped to do to get back to the top tier of teams in the league.
Domo: I reported several weeks ago that a part of Doug didn’t care if he got fired. Do you think he was actually happy when Jeff gave him his walking papers?
JB: I had been hearing for a while that Doug was very frustrated and if things didn’t work out, he could live with it. To be honest, I dismissed it. I didn’t believe it. He’s a very competitive guy, and knowing how hard it is to get one of these jobs, I didn’t believe that.
But if you watched the way it played out, where it appears he had a choice to make some changes and keep his job, or kind of do it his way and lose his job, it certainly looks like he stood up for what he believed and wanted and lost his job.
I think he would’ve rather that they gave him the authority to at least hire and fire his own coaches for one more year and see what happened. But I do think his actions also indicate that his attitude was, listen, if this doesn’t work out, and the reason is because I can’t even pick my own coaches, I can live with that. And that’s what happened.
Domo: Jeff was asked a number of times the other day about Howie’s performance and why he continues to have so much faith in him. He pointed to all of the experienced people they’ve hired in personnel over the last few years, including two – Joe Douglas and Andrew Berry -- who have gone on to be GMs with other teams. He also said there are about five people currently in the scouting department that he could project as GMs. But that doesn’t really explain why they’ve drafted so poorly lately. In fact, it makes it even more egregious, doesn’t it?
JB: That should’ve been the follow-up question. It’s hard to reconcile the two. Howie and his staff have to prove themselves. They have to go out and knock the ball out of the part in the next couple of drafts.
It’s a hard thing to give somebody credit for at this point. Jeff’s in the building and he’s listening to the conversations and he obviously feels like he has more insight. But at the end of the day, you’re judged by whether you won or lost. You’re not sitting there fearing the subjectivity of the boss. So, if we use that same criteria and you look at the last few years, Howie himself has acknowledged that they’ve made some mistakes, and in hindsight, would’ve done some things differently. Now he has the opportunity to prove that the last couple of years were an aberration.
Domo: Jeff mentioned that all of the other final four teams from the 2017 season – the Patriots, Vikings and Jaguars -- as well as the Falcons, who made it to the Super Bowl in 2016, are going through the same thing the Eagles are right now. He said that, unless you have a Hall of Fame quarterback, your tendency after winning or coming close is to patch up any roster problems and try to win again. But he said that changes your balance and isn’t what made you successful. What do you make of that logic?
JB: I agree with the analysis that teams can make that mistake. And I agree that the Eagles made that mistake. But if he had that knowledge and insight, they should’ve been able to avoid that mistake.
The other thing, and I think if he could listen to the tape, he’d probably say this a little differently, if you take the Falcons and Jaguars, they both fired their head coach and general manger because of it. So, to make that as an argument as to why he’s comfortable with how things happened and staying the course seems a little bit odd.
If you take the Patriots out of the equation because obviously Belichick is a unique situation, you have Minnesota, which has fallen, but not as far. And you have Atlanta and Jacksonville who have fired both the coach and general manager and are starting from scratch. It wasn’t a persuasive analogy in my mind.