College or pro? Offense or defense? An up-and-coming assistant or a been-there-done-that guy with a Super Bowl ring?
Those are the questions facing Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman as they consider potential replacements for coach Andy Reid, who is expected to be dismissed later this month as soon as this season comes to a merciful end.
I spoke with two NFL front-office executives this week who have been involved with previous head-coaching searches, and asked them to put themselves in Lurie's and Roseman's shoes. I asked them who would be on their short list of candidates right now if they were running the Eagles.
Both picked pro over college. Both preferred an up-and-coming NFL assistant to a retread like Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher or Brian Billick. One was fairly adamant about taking an offensive-minded coach.
The other, while preferring a coach with an offensive background, was a little more willing to also consider some defensive candidates.
I asked each for a list of four candidates. Interestingly, both lists included two of the same names - Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, brother of Jon. One list also included Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements and 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. The other had Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Bengals defensive lieutenant Mike Zimmer.
"Fans always want the 'name,' " said one of the executives. "They want a guy like [Jon] Gruden or Cowher because they've got that [Super Bowl] ring, even if it was 10 years ago, even if they've been out of coaching for however long.
"The fact is, the track record of guys the second time around isn't all that good. If I'm the Eagles, I'd want a first-time guy. Look at the recent success of first-time guys. Both Harbaughs. Mike Smith. I want a guy who is new and fresh and on everybody's radar. The initial fan reaction might not be as favorable as if I took somebody like Gruden or Cowher, but that's OK.
"You've got to take the guy you think gives you the best chance of winning, not the guy who's going to get you the biggest approval rating."
Which brings us to Nick Foles. You can't win in the NFL without a good quarterback. Let's assume that Foles plays well enough in the remaining four games to give Lurie and Roseman hope that he can be the team's long-term starter.
The next step is to find somebody who can develop the kid. You can hire a defensive coach who then hires an offensive coordinator. Or you can hire a head coach with an offensive background who will be able to be more hands-on with Foles.
"Situations like the ones you have in Philadelphia and Carolina, where you've got young, developing quarterbacks, I think you need an offensive-minded head coach who knows the [quarterback] position," the executive said. "If I'm someplace else, like San Diego, I might be less inclined to go with an offensive-minded guy. I might hire a defensive guy there because you've got a veteran quarterback [Philip Rivers]."
McCoy, Gruden and Clements all are former quarterbacks. McCoy, 40, played at Utah and on the pro level in the CFL and NFL Europe. Gruden, 45, played at Louisville and in the Arena Football League. Clements, 59, played at Notre Dame and in both the CFL and NFL.
"I wasn't a big McCoy fan until last year when he figured out a way to make [Tim] Tebow successful," one executive said. "Anybody who can do that has some offensive creativity. Now's he's working with Peyton [Manning]. He's played the position. I think he would have a positive effect on Foles."
Said the other executive of McCoy: "Mike is the epitome of a guy who looks at his guys and says, 'OK, here's what I've got to work with. How can I maximize their talent and what we do?'
"Last year, when they switched to Tebow, he didn't make him try and play like Kyle Orton. He played to his quarterback's strengths and minimized his weaknesses. That showed me something."
Jay Gruden, who spent 10 years as a head coach in the Arena Football League and 7 as an offensive assistant for his brother Jon with the Bucs before taking the Bengals' job, has been credited with Andy Dalton's development. "Jay's a lot like McCoy," one executive said. "He's got a real creative mind."
The executive who put Roman on his list admitted that he's not sure the 40-year-old Atlantic City native is quite ready to be a head coach yet, but is intrigued enough to do more homework on him.
"He would be a guy I would want to interview," he said. "I don't think he's ready. But I'd want to talk to him and maybe he'd knock my socks off."
Hey, it worked for Andy Reid 14 years ago.
Brian Westbrook fumbled just 12 times his entire NFL career. Averaged a fumble every 157.4 touches.
What people might not remember is that five of those 12 fumbles came in his first two seasons, when Westbrook still was getting used to the difference between a hit from an NFL defensive end from the Giants and one from a guy from William & Mary.
Bryce Brown has rushed for 347 yards and four touchdowns the last two games. He also has lost three fumbles. Considering the fact that Brown had just 104 rushing attempts between the time he left Wichita East High School and the time he was drafted by the Eagles last April, his early fumbling problems shouldn't be all that surprising.
"You talk about protecting the ball, you talk about grip, you talk about holding the ball, but you're just talking," running backs coach Ted Williams said. "They have to learn what it feels like. Because it changes from what they're used to doing [in college] when they carried that ball loosely and away from their body.
"You're putting it in their head, but there's going to be some digestion time between information and accomplishment of what you're saying."
Williams is reasonably confident that Brown will eventually get over his fumbling problems.
"To grasp the totality of that takes time," he said. "Two starts obviously aren't enough. But
he'll make progress. I have no doubt he'll make progress.
"As they get older, they start to realize how important that ball is in traffic," he said. "That fumble he had against Dallas last week, that was a traffic fumble. He had the ball secured, he just didn't cover it.
"The ball wasn't loose. It was in front of him. But when you fall forward, the ball comes away from your body. Your hand comes away from your body. When you protect it by just putting your other hand over the top of the ball that doesn't happen.
"The things he does well, you can't teach. The other things, like protecting the ball, you can teach. You can emphasize ball security. You can emphasize how to carry the ball. But you can't teach guys to run as fast as he runs."
Figuring the Eagles
The Eagles ran a season-high 75.4 percent of their offensive plays against the Cowboys (46 of 61) out of a three-wide receiver, one-back formation. Running back Bryce Brown has rushed for 347 yards in the last two games; 323 of those 347 yards have come out of a three-wide, one-back set. One reason the Eagles like running Brown out of three-wide receiver sets is that it forces opposing defenses to go to their nickel package, which means replacing a linebacker with a smaller cornerback, who won't be so equipped to tackle the 6-0, 225-pound Brown.
LeSean McCoy has 20 runs of 10-plus yards, including five of 17 yards or more, on 177 carries this season. Bryce Brown has 16 runs of 10-plus yards, including 11 of 17 yards or more, on just 75 carries.
Eight of the 20 sacks by the Eagles' defense have come in the third quarter. Five have come in the second quarter, four in the fourth and three in the first. Ten of their 20 sacks have come on third down, six on second down and four on first down.
The Eagles are 27th in the league in red-zone offense, converting just 16 of 36 (44.4 percent) opportunities and turning the ball over six times inside the 20. Michael Vick was 19-for-42 for 146 yards with eight TDs, one INT, three lost fumbles and six sacks in the red zone. Nick Foles is 2-for-5 for 22 yards with one TD, no interceptions, no lost fumbles and one sack. Red-zone receiving: LeSean McCoy 5-23-3, Brent Celek 5-35-1, Jeremy Maclin 4-45-1, Clay Harbor 3-15-1, DeSean Jackson 2-33-1, and Riley Cooper 2-17-2.
To Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians, who has guided a team that won just two games last season to an 8-4 record. Arians, the team's offensive coordinator, has been filling in for first-year coach Chuck Pagano, who has spent the last three months getting chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. Arians is a legitimate coach of the year candidate right now. "I don't even think about it," he said. "I think about this team fighting to win a game and (Pagano) fighting to save his life. I'll leave that (coach of the year consideration) up to everyone that controls that because I don't control it. I only worry about things I can control. We're just trying to fight every day, both of us."