Good morning, everyone. Well, the search for Doug Pederson’s replacement has begun in earnest. The Eagles on Tuesday requested interviews with three people on their candidates list: Tampa Bay Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, and Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. There’s more on Bowles and Saleh and the possibility of the Eagles’ hiring a coach with a defensive background below.

There was also a report that the Eagles had reached out to University of Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley about the opening. But sources in Norman told The Inquirer that Riley seems content to stay where he’s at for now.

This is just the fifth time in Jeffrey Lurie’s 27 years as Eagles owner that he’s looking for a new head coach. Of course, one of those previous four hires — Andy Reid — spent 14 years at the post. None of the other three guys — Ray Rhodes (1995-98), Chip Kelly (2013-15) or Pederson (2016-20) — lasted more than five years.

This is probably a good time to let you know that, starting today, the Early Birds newsletter will be showing up in your inbox only on Wednesdays during the offseason. But stop those tears. You still can email or tweet us if you have any questions. And Les Bowen will even drive to your house and talk Eagles with you on a moment’s notice. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here​. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @pdomo.

Paul Domowitch (earlybirds@inquirer.com)

Searching for Mr. Goodcoach

Lurie is in the process of hiring just his fifth head coach since purchasing the Eagles from Norman Braman back in 1994.

Three of the previous four hires — Pederson in 2016, Kelly in 2013 and Reid in 1999 — have been coaches with offensive backgrounds.

He hasn’t hired a defensive coach since 1995, when he replaced Braman holdover Rich Kotite with Ray Rhodes, who had been the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl-champion San Francisco 49ers in 1994.

But don’t be shocked if, when the smoke from this latest search clears, the new head coach of the Eagles is a defensive guy.

Two of the first three coaches the Eagles requested interviews with after firing Pederson on Monday were defensive coaches: Saleh and Todd Bowles. They also have asked to interview Smith.

Lurie, who will be joined in the search process by general manager Howie Roseman, team president Don Smolenski, and some other members of the organization, always has believed that the key to winning in the NFL is having an elite offense.

But Lurie’s top priority right now is bringing in the best football CEO he can find, regardless of what side of the ball he calls home. If it’s a defensive coach, so be it. It will be up to him to hire top offensive coaches who can turn around a unit that finished 26th in scoring (20.9), 30th in giveaways (29), and 28th in third-down efficiency (37.3%).

“There are a couple of ways to skin that cat,” said Lurie, who probably didn’t win any friends at the SPCA with that comment. “You can hire somebody really steeped in offense. But you’ve also seen great offenses on teams coached by head coaches coming from the defensive side.

“I don’t think there’s any predilection for one over the other. But I do think [it needs to be] somebody that is constantly curious of where the league is headed and what you need to do to have really good units.

“I tend to [favor] that side [offense] overall. But not that side of the ball for head coach. It doesn’t matter.”

Lurie said the most important thing he’s looking for is leadership.

“No matter who we [hire], it needs to be a leader of coaches, a leader of players,” he said. “Leadership is an important characteristic.”

Bowles and Saleh both are interesting candidates. Bowles, 57, has head-coaching experience. He was the Jets’ head coach for four years from 2015-18.

Both Lurie and Roseman know Bowles well. The former Temple star was on Reid’s final Eagles staff in 2012, initially coaching the team’s defensive backs, then becoming the interim defensive coordinator six games into that mess of a 4-12 season when Reid fired Juan Castillo.

Bowles’ Buccaneers defense was ranked sixth in yards allowed (314.4) and eighth in points allowed (22.2) this season. The Bucs were also fifth in sacks (48) and sixth in takeaways (25).

Saleh, 41, is one of the league’s top young assistants. It remains to be seen whether the Eagles will even get an opportunity to talk to him. He was supposed to have a second interview with the Jets on Tuesday, and reports indicated that the team was ready to offer him its head-coaching job.

The Niners defense was absolutely devastated by injuries this season, yet it still finished fifth in total defense (314.4) and 17th in points allowed (24.4).

His much-healthier 2019 defense finished second in total defense (281.8), eighth in points allowed (19.4), sixth in takeaways (27), and sixth in sacks (48).

Lachlan Cunningham / MCT
The Eagles want to talk to San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh about their head-coach opening, but the New York Jets are reportedly close to offering him their job as head coach.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

I have a question, not about the head coaching spot or quarterback. I would like to know your thoughts on the left tackle spot. We have a former first-round pick and [Jordan Mailata] for that spot. Who starts? Are they both here next year or is one of them a possible trade piece? — Mark Capozio (@batreast) on Twitter

Mark: Neither Mailata nor 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard is going anywhere. This past season, when injuries forced the Eagles to use an NFL-record 14 different offensive-line combinations, pounded home the fact that you can never, ever have enough offensive-line depth.

Mailata got his first real opportunity to play this season, and while there were some hiccups, the 6-foot-8, 345-pound Aussie is the real deal and is going to be a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle. Since we don’t know who the head coach or offensive-line coach is going to be yet, anything could happen. But I expect Mailata to be the season-opening starting left tackle in 2021.

As for Dillard, who missed the entire 2020 season with a biceps injury, he could end up being the backup swing tackle behind Mailata and Lane Johnson, or, if Jason Kelce decides to retire and Isaac Seumalo slides over from left guard, the Eagles could move Dillard inside.

But trading one of them? Not gonna happen.

___

Will the Eagles’ current structure, where ownership and the GM make all personnel decisions and have final say on the [coaching] staff, make prospective coaches hesitant to come here? — Kevin Brogan (@k_bro25) on Twitter

Kevin: The short answer is no. There are just 32 head-coaching jobs in the NFL. It would take an awful lot to make a coach decline to take one of them if offered, unless he has multiple job offers. Besides money, the top priority for a coach is going to a place where he has a chance to win. We can question Roseman’s ability as a talent evaluator all we want. The bottom line is this is a franchise that won a Super Bowl three years ago and has made the playoffs 13 of the last 21 years. So, no. No one is going to be leery of taking the job.

There are a lot of really bad owners in the league. Lurie isn’t perfect, and his unwillingness to see Roseman’s shortcomings as a GM is mind-boggling. But for the most part, he lets the people he hires do their jobs, including his head coaches. While he takes an interest in personnel decisions and certainly asks questions, he doesn’t interfere. He or Roseman might make a recommendation or two or three to the next coach about retaining some members of Pederson’s staff, such as offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and running backs coach Staley, assuming they don’t go with Pederson somewhere else. But the new coach will have the final yay or nay vote on his staff.