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Eagles' coach search playing it safe

PAT SHURMUR. Doug Pederson. Tom Coughlin. The Eagles' coach-hiring brain trust seems to have a new motto: Search party like it's 1999.

Howie Roseman (left) talks with owner Jeffrey Lurie.
Howie Roseman (left) talks with owner Jeffrey Lurie.Read moreDavid Maialetti / Staff Photographer

PAT SHURMUR. Doug Pederson. Tom Coughlin.

The Eagles' coach-hiring brain trust seems to have a new motto: Search party like it's 1999.

We're in the land of conjecture, of course, because none of the people involved in interviewing has said a word about anything since Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie spoke Dec. 30 on his decision to fire Chip Kelly. But this search looks and feels very different from what we experienced three years ago.

Back then, everyone knew the prime target was Kelly. When he said he was staying at Oregon, the focus shifted, but not dramatically. The Eagles tried to get Bill O'Brien to leave Penn State after one year; he demurred. They talked to Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. At the end, they apparently came very close to giving the job to then-cutting-edge Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley before Kelly reconsidered. When they had Bradley and Kelly on the line, they canceled an interview with then-60-year-old Bruce Arians, who would end up in Arizona, having elicited tepid interest, at best, from the Eagles.

The emphasis, after 14 years of Andy Reid, clearly was on new thinking, on innovation, on somebody younger and fresher than Big Red, probably someone a little outside the traditional NFL mold.

Three years and no playoff victories later, that is most definitely not the thrust in 2016. Yes, the Eagles talked last week to Adam Gase, the hotshot Chicago offensive coordinator who ended up becoming the Dolphins' coach over the weekend. They were his first interview, but they did not make Gase an offer, despite knowing he was the most highly regarded commodity on the market and that he had three more interviews lined up by the end of the week. Clearly, hiring Gase was not a priority.

What we heard after Gase left town was that in the wake of the Kelly experience, the Eagles were leery of jumping on the hot candidate. They wanted to talk to more people, and if that didn't fit Gase's timetable, too bad.

What kinds of people are they talking to? Well, aside from running-backs coach Duce Staley, who certainly seemed to be a Rooney Rule compliance interview, there's Shurmur, the current offensive coordinator; Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo; Pederson, the Chiefs' offensive coordinator; and Coughlin, the 69-year-old Giants icon who apparently is not ready to shuffle off quietly into the sunset after stepping down last week.

Unlike last time, all these candidates are steeped in traditional NFL culture. They understand chain of command and do not have a history of straining against it, the way Kelly did - even Coughlin, with two Super Bowl rings as a head coach, did not have general-manager authority in New York and generally has been absolved of responsibility as the Giants' talent level has dipped over the past several years.

After trying "outside the box" thinking last time, the Eagles seem pretty determined to stay inside the box this time. These are comfort-food candidates, well-known quantities, with the possible exception of McAdoo.

It's hard to know what to make of the Eagles' interview Monday with Coughlin; they might be trying to get a better sense of what McAdoo might bring them. Or they might have accomplished their mission already, with that Sunday New York Daily News back page, Coughlin's face photoshopped into an image of a coach wearing Eagles gear.

The Daily News' Paul Domowitch has reported that Pederson, who turns 48 on Jan. 31, went into the process as Lurie's favorite among the guys who weren't head coaches already, such as former Eagles assistant John Harbaugh, who has since let it be known he won't be leaving the Ravens.

It's hard to imagine a candidate with Pederson's personality and resume getting the Eagles' attention three years ago. He forged a 12-year career as an NFL backup quarterback, coached at a religious high school in Louisiana, then in 2009 was brought in at the lowest rung of NFL coaching by Reid, who had coached Pederson in Green Bay and with the Eagles. Pederson's entire NFL coaching career has come under Reid, the man who formulated the Chiefs' offense and who calls most of the plays.

This season, perhaps hoping to boost the profile of his loyal solider, Reid let it be known that he was giving Pederson some of the play-calls here and there, to switch things up, the sort of thing Reid once did here with Brad Childress and Marty Mornhinweg. Pederson also took over the two-minute drill, probably a wise decision, given Reid's longstanding problems with time management.

"Doug, unfortunately, gets pushed under the bus a little bit because I'm an offensive guy," Reid said last month. "I don't want to slight him at all, we've got great communication there. I have full confidence in Doug calling plays. If I get into a slump, he jumps in."

Sunday, asked about Pederson's Eagles interview, which apparently lasted about 4 1/2 hours, in Kansas City, Reid was his familiar colorful, evocative self.

Reid called the Eagles' interest in Pederson, who quarterbacked the Birds in 1999 and coached QBs here in 2011 and '12, a "compliment to the hard work he's put in," and added, "he's done a nice job. He's ready to do that, and I think if he has that opportunity, more power to him."

Asked about getting more play-calling responsibility for the Chiefs, who cruised to a 30-0 wild-card round victory over host Houston Saturday, Pederson has said: "I mean, it makes you feel good, but you're not out there looking for validation. Your validation is, did that play work? And if you're in the red zone, did it score? That's your validation. And there's a lot of feedback, a lot of talk, a lot of dialogue, and it's very constructive, you know, and you just learn from all of it."

Would hiring Pederson help the Eagles reassure quarterback Sam Bradford that this is where he wants to be, instead of on the free-agent market? Actually, the Chiefs' one-sided thumping of the Texans, while good for Pederson's profile, might have been a powerful inducement for O'Brien and the Texans to pursue Bradford. Honestly, if you're Bradford, which organization looks better right now?

The Eagles can always franchise Bradford, but to get him excited about staying here, they might need to hire Shurmur, his former rookie-season coordinator in St. Louis, who pushed to bring Bradford here last spring. Shurmur, with two years as the Browns' head coach behind him, probably is the most thoroughly known of all these quantities, and might offer a degree of offensive continuity to everyone, which probably would be good.

McAdoo's work with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and with Eli Manning in New York also might be attractive to Bradford and, of course, to the Eagles.

Coughlin might enhance the NFL credibility of an organization that hasn't looked real stable, during Howie Roseman's exile and return to football decision-making power.

But Lurie is going to have a real selling job ahead of him with the fan base, which hasn't gotten itself too invested in any of these guys, except maybe Gase. It sure looks like an owner that you know, deep down, prefers fois gras, is going to have to try to sell you on the taste of meatloaf.

We'll see how that goes.

bowenl@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog 

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