There are several reasons why a top candidate might want the job as Eagles head coach. There are several others why a top candidate might not.
The resonant feeling around this position centers on its unattractiveness, but then, most NFL head coach vacancies are ugly opportunities; that’s why they’re opportunities to begin with. Still, doing Jeffrey Lurie’s bidding is not the least attractive job in the NFL. Those lay in Jacksonville and Detroit, now filled by former Ohio State czar Urban Meyer and, eventually, Dan Campbell, the Saints assistant. These rosters have less talent. These management structures are less stable. And, of course, they’re in Jacksonville. And Detroit.
What leads the “pro” column? Scarcity; there are but 32 such jobs. Timeless prestige, from A-to-Z -- from winless Fay Abbott to Jim Zorn, who went 12-20, there have been only 504 NFL head coaches, which makes the fraternity exclusive; at least, as exclusive as any fraternity that includes Marion Campbell and Jim Schwartz can be. Also, money; thanks to recent mega-deals for Jon Gruden, Matt Rhule, and Meyer, the average coach’s annual salary has ballooned to about $7 million, though the likelihood of any of the Eagles’ candidates breaking that barrier begins and ends with Josh McDaniels.
What facets of the Eagles job are attractive? For one, Philadelphia’s fan base and media are invested, if caustic. Lurie treats current and former coaches and players like princes. More than anything, though, a handful of excellent players remain on the roster: offensive linemen Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Jason Kelce; defenders Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Darius Slay; skilled weapons in Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders. And, for better or worse, the Birds have two talented quarterbacks under contract for at least the next three seasons.
How you view Carson Wentz’s regression and Jalen Hurts’ rawness frame whether having the two is for better or for worse. Cultivatable talent always is an asset; but, in regard to Wentz, no ground yields fruit that isn’t willing to accept the plow.
Wentz’s willingness is the thing that matters most.
For the third time in four seasons, the Eagles dealt with issues concerning Wentz’s character. This time, his intransigence fueled a 4-11-1 record and got Doug Pederson fired. Lurie, who is into Wentz for $128 million in the next four years, is pot-committed to returning the MVP favorite in 2017 to his form of three seasons ago. If that sounds impossible, consider Wentz’s passer rating actually improved in 2018, and his play carried the team to the 2019 playoffs. There’s no doubt that Wentz is fixable. The question candidates must ask: Does Wentz realize he needs to be fixed?
Most teams that draft poorly can quickly attain mediocrity by signing a key veteran or two. The Eagles cannot. The most optimistic projections place the Eagles more than $50 million over the 2021 salary cap, and while they can hack and slash their way to compliance, they probably won’t be able to benefit from the free-agency buyer’s market that begins in March. In his surreal press conference last week, Lurie said, “Cap room is a one-year phenomenon in this league,” and while that might be true, NFL sources say at least two of the coaching candidates the Eagles requested to speak with have worried that Lurie won’t grade their performance on the one-year cap-crippled curve. After all, Lurie fired Chip Kelly two years after making the playoffs and canned Pederson the first year he failed. The question candidates must ask: Will 2021 really matter to Lurie?
No coach worth his salt lets the owner and GM hire his assistant coaches; this was the most disappointing element of Pederson’s five-year tenure. At no point did Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman allow Pederson autonomy over his lieutenants. In 2016, Pederson hired offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who recommended quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, but they left for better jobs after the Super Bowl win. What remained Pederson either inherited -- special teams coach Dave Fipp, running backs coach Duce Staley, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, tight ends coach Justin Peele -- or was assigned: defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who hired whoever he wanted. Pederson was forced to fire offensive coordinator Mike Groh after 2019, and when his replacements flopped, Pederson finally insisted on full control over coaching personnel. Lurie balked -- a major reason why Pederson was fired. The question candidates must ask: Will I be allowed to hire and fire as I see fit?
The Eagles haven’t drafted particularly well in the last decade, but neither have they been as horrendous as the Howie haters would have you believe. It’s hard to forgive strikeouts like Danny Watkins and Marcus Smith, but it’s hard to overlook home runs like Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, and Johnson. Consider Goedert and Sanders second-round triples. Left tackle Andre Dillard, receiver Jalen Reagor, and Hurts are still in the batter’s box, Wentz is slumping. Know who else Roseman drafted? Nick Foles. The question candidates must ask: Will I have a loud voice in the draft room?
Lurie cultivates improper relationships with his favorite players, undercutting coaches’ authority. High-mileage tackle Jason Peters, the best lineman in Eagles history, had no business being on the team in 2019 or 2020. Running back DeMarco Murray complained to Lurie about his usage on a flight home from New England in 2015. Wentz reportedly complained to Lurie after Pederson benched him in Game 12 this season. Any coaching prospect will be wary of this routine break in the chain of command. The question candidates must ask Lurie: When Wentz or Cox or Johnson knocks on your door, will you send him to my office or let him in?
They celebrated Jason Kelce’s costumed, vulgar, and beer-soaked victory speech after Super Bowl LII -- an exhibition that embarrassed some fans, infuriated the NFL, and cast the team as a poor winner. No one likes us, we don’t care? If you really didn’t care, you wouldn’t sing about it.
After the franchise’s only Super Bowl win, they embraced Pederson’s incredible claim that contending for Super Bowls was the Eagles’ “new norm.” And now, they insist that they didn’t really tank the 2020 season finale, a game in which they overtly inserted inferior personnel with the game well within reach -- a move that outraged the rest of the league and some of their own players.
Why should the Eagles’ hubris matter to an incoming coach? Two reasons.
First: This untoward behavior is consistent with Lurie’s 26 years of ownership.
Second: When you join an organization that behaves this way, the hubris of their past paints you their color.
The question candidates must ask: Will you begin to act toward other franchises and toward the league office with respect and deference?