Don’t expect Jeffrey Lurie to atone for the sins of all owners.
Duce Staley, who is Black, has asked to leave the Eagles after being passed over for the head coaching position twice in five years, and after being passed over for the offensive coordinator’s position for the fourth time in six years. The Eagles have had 10 offensive coordinators since Lurie bought the team in 1994. None was Black.
Godspeed, Duce Staley.
Lurie last week hired a white head coach, Nick Sirianni, to replace a white head coach, Doug Pederson, making that four white head coaches in a row and four of the five he’s hired. The newest head coach promptly hired a two white coordinators.
Nonetheless, Lurie remains as progressive an owner as there is in the NFL. Could he have hired a more qualified Black head coach to replace Doug Pederson instead of Sirianni? Probably. But Sirianni being hired over Staley has nothing to do with Staley not being white. It had everything to do with Lurie knowing everything about Staley, and saying, “No, thanks.”
Staley spent 17 of the last 23 years working for Lurie, who drafted him in 1997, then hired him as an assistant coach in 2011. If anyone is equipped to judge Staley’s abilities as a head coach or coordinator, it’s Jeffrey Lurie. In Lurie’s eyes, Staley was an inferior candidate to Pederson in 2016; to Sirianni in 2021; to offensive coordinators Pat Shurmur in 2013, Frank Reich in 2016, Mike Groh in 2018, psuedo-coordinator Rich Scangarello in 2020, and now, reportedly, Shane Steichen in 2021.
Maybe Staley is, at this point, a poorer candidate than we want to admit. You don’t know. Neither do I. We don’t watch Duce at practices. Lurie does. We don’t know how he acts in meetings. Lurie does. We don’t know his offensive philosophies; whether he believes “12″ personnel is more effective than “11.” Lurie does.
And while we might not agree with Lurie’s evaluation now, and while he might be proved wrong later, Lurie has earned the benefit of our doubt.
Granted, this benefit is hard to grant, considering the first six of this cycle’s seven head coaching jobs have been filled with non-Black candidates, despite consistent pressures and outcry from a country in which the topics of equality and social justice recently helped flip the White House and the U.S. Senate. Still, Lurie deserves to be taken at his word.
“I’ve never hesitated in this area,” Lurie said earlier this month when asked if he would solicit minority candidates. “It is top of mind.”
He mentioned Staley in his next breath, but Lurie knew then Staley wasn’t a serious candidate, here or anywhere else. Think about it. After 10 seasons as an Eagles coach, Staley has never interviewed for either head coach or coordinator outside of the Eagles organization. Dozens of Eagles coaches have moved on to other organizations, and into positions where they might recommend him. That’s not happening.
The Inquirer reported last week that Staley declined the Eagles’ OC job in 2017 when the title of assistant head coach was added to his duties as running backs coach. That job lacked any level of play-calling power, but it kept Staley in the building, where Lurie saw him every day.
Lurie also saw head athletic trainer, Jerome Reid, who is Black. He saw three female senior vice presidents: Catherine Carlson in revenue, Jen Kavanagh in media and marketing, and Aileen Dagrosa, the team’s general counsel.
And Lurie saw a Muslim female scout, Temple product Ameena Soliman, who wears a hijab. This is a workplace far evolved from the typical NFL office suite when Lurie entered the league in the 1990s. Who knows? Maybe Soliman’s presence at the NovaCare Complex made former player personnel chief Joe Douglas, now the New York Jets’ president, more comfortable hiring Robert Saleh, who is the first Muslim head coach in NFL history.
Duce didn’t get the Eagles job, but inferring that any sort of discrimination played a role in Lurie’s decision to not promote Duce Staley is worse than unfair.
In the spring of my second year in Philadelphia, I was wandering unsupervised through the dim, concrete bowels of Veterans Stadium, where stories often would present themselves to reporters with extra time and marginal scruples, when I rounded a corner and stopped short. Head coach Ray Rhodes and defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas were walking toward me, discussing the upcoming draft with player personnel executives John Wooten and Dick Daniels.
All were Black. It was 1996.
That same day, on the fourth floor of the Vet, Sarah Martinez-Helfman was working with vision-impaired tackle Jermane Mayberry to establish the Eagles’ EyeMobile. She directed the team’s charitable wing. She also was openly gay. Again: This was 1996. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized in Pennsylvania until 2014. (She immediately took advantage.)
At that point, no team in NFL history had as many people from marginalized groups in positions of such power. To this point, no team has done it since.
In a league filled with white owners who are indifferent, or even hostile, to the concept of minority mentorship -- they largely ignore the 18-year-old, newly incentivized Rooney Rule -- Lurie’s hiring practices have been consistent throughout his organization, from coach to equipment manager. He seeks the best candidates, demands to see women and minorities represented among them, then hires the most qualified. Almost always, all things being equal, he chooses the minority candidate, true to his belief that diversity fosters innovation and success.
In this moment, Lurie did not see Staley as Sirianni’s equal, despite similar resumes. More damningly, perhaps, it also means that Lurie did not see Eric Bieniemy, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier, Marvin Lewis, or Jim Caldwell as Sirianni’s equals.
He’s not perfect
To absolve Lurie, we have to believe that Sirianni’s offensive bona fides and his affable nature outweighed the weightier qualifications of other candidates of color.
Bieniemy, Andy Reid’s 51-year-old offensive coordinator in Kansas City, did not seem interested in following Pederson as the second Reid coordinator in five years tasked with righting Lurie’s ship, which again has been crippled by general manager Howie Roseman. Bieinemy might already have a deal in place to coach the Texans. He and Frazier reportedly have second interviews scheduled.
Frazier, 61, did the Super Bowl Shuffle with the Bears, but his career ended in that game, an injury that prematurely led to a coaching career. He spent his first four years as an NFL coach in charge of the Eagles’ defensive backs, eventually went 21-32-1 at the Vikings’ helm, and spent Sunday evening battling Bieneimy as the Bills’ defensive coordinator in the AFC championship game.
Bowles, a 57-year-old Temple grad and former Eagles assistant, ran the Buccaneers’ stifling defense earlier Sunday afternoon. He went 24-40 from 2015-18 with a chronically dysfunctional Jets organization.
Lewis, 62, grew up just south of Pittsburgh, was a Steelers, Baltimore, and Washington defensive assistant/coordinator, and went 131-122-3 with seven trips to the playoffs from 2003-18 with Cincinnati. Caldwell, 66, went 36-28 in his last stint, with the Lions.
Lurie interviewed only Bowles.
Still, it doesn’t make sense to contend that racism influences the decisions of an NFL owner who endorsed the controversial acquisition of three high-profile Black quarterbacks: Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and Jalen Hurts. Lurie would love for Staley to succeed, if only to bask in his own progressive glow. He’s as vainglorious as he is equitable.
It’s an unintended consequence, but, in his efforts to advertise Staley’s qualifications (and to cover his own butt), Lurie has actually sabotaged Staley’s chance to progress. Lurie gave Staley a sham interview for the head coaching spot in 2016; at that point, Staley had been a full-fledged position coach for only three years, and the gesture did nothing more than satisfy the Rooney Rule. Lurie patronized Staley with the title of “assistant head coach” instead of promoting him to coordinator and giving him at least some play-calling responsibilities. As a result, the rest of the league looked at Philadelphia and said:
If the most progressive owner in the NFL doesn’t think Duce can do it, then why should we?
On the other hand ...
Lurie created the NFL template for a culture of inclusion and equality that became a model for other teams, for whatever that has been worth.
They made Marc Ross, who is Black, the NFL’s youngest scouting director in 1997. Ross was 27. Louis Riddick, who is Black, ran their pro personnel department from 2010-13 (of course, that department oversaw the acquisition of Nnamdi Asomugha, so ... ). Andrew Berry, who is Black, was a Browns scout and analytics guru whom the Eagles hired in 2019 to be director of football operations. The Browns rehired him in 2020 as a 32-year-old general manager.
Qualified? Ross was a receiver at Princeton. Riddick, currently an ESPN analyst, was a safety at Pitt who spent six seasons in the NFL and, last month, became a hot interview commodity for a handful of GM posts. Berry has economics and computer science degrees from Harvard, where he played cornerback.
Staley might be just as qualified to be the Eagles’ head coach as those men were to be executives. However, if you remove sentiment, you quickly realize that Staley does not suit this job -- and that has little to do with Staley.
Staley alone served as the bad-cop coach on Pederson’s milquetoast staff, and while several players lobbied for Staley’s candidacy, milquetoast quarterback Carson Wentz would disintegrate if he ever played for a bad-cop coach.
Staley played for Rhodes, Reid, and Bill Cowher, and he is cut from their cloth: He’s his own man, he’s outspoken, honest, and he’s unable to act as any man’s puppet.
Lurie and Roseman want to pull their coaches’ strings.
They won’t be pulling Duce’s anymore.