As the champagne bottles popped, and the hip-hop music blared, Jim Schwartz stood off to the side in the locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium. The defensive coordinator wasn’t avoiding the Eagles’ revelry immediately following Super Bowl LII, but he wasn’t exactly an active participant, either.
Schwartz had already managed to dodge the podium for interviews, but when reporters approached him, he said, cigar in hand, “I haven’t talked all year [after games]. I’m not going to start now.”
He was, of course, required to be available by the NFL, but expecting Schwartz to break his post-game silence and reflect on the crowning moment of his career didn’t seem an odd request. His defense had just allowed the Patriots more than 600 yards, though, and maybe he wasn’t willing to bask in the glow of victory.
Schwartz, if anything, has consistently shunned the spotlight during his four years in Philadelphia. He is acutely aware of any attention he might draw. Local photographers marvel at his ability to shirk attempts to capture him with their cameras, even from long distance.
But Schwartz’s public modesty aside, there might not be a coordinator in the NFL with as much autonomy over his unit and sway in personnel decisions involving his side of the ball.
Coach Doug Pederson has often cited Schwartz’s successes as a coordinator and experience as a head coach as reasons for granting him independence. But the weight he carries in personnel is a front office construct, with general manager Howie Roseman often centering his choices on Schwartz’s evaluations, according to league and team sources familiar with the Eagles’ thinking.
Most GMs will take into account coaching evaluations, certainly as they relate to scheme fit or temperament. But Schwartz can be dogmatic about the players he wants for his system, according to two personnel executives who have worked with him, sometimes to the point where Roseman offers little resistance.
While the 53-year-old Schwartz may be held in dubious regard by a segment of local fans and media, his reputation around the league, in most circles, is that of a keen defensive mind. Eagles brass knows as much. They also know that Schwartz hasn’t really sniffed another opportunity to become a head coach.
Defensive-minded coaches aren’t exactly in high demand. Only 12 out of the current 32 head coaches come from a defensive background. But Schwartz’s old-school tactics and the perception that he may lack the new-school emotional intelligence many owners require could be another reason he’s had so few interviews since being fired by the Lions nearly seven years ago.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, for one, believes that Schwartz “absolutely” deserves another shot.
“I don’t know what more he would need to do,” Belichick said Tuesday, on the eve Sunday’s rematch with the Eagles, during a conference call. “He’s very good at personnel. He’s a good motivator. He’s great with players. Very good with his assistant coaches. He has a ton of experience in all areas of the game.
“I think he’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around and one of the smartest people I’ve been around.”
Belichick, who gave Schwartz his first NFL job in Cleveland over 25 years ago, may be biased. And he may see, in his protege, a kindred spirit. But Belichick doesn’t become arguably the greatest coach of all time unless New England owner Robert Kraft gives him a second chance five years after he was fired by the Browns.
Schwartz has mostly avoided the topic when it’s been broached by reporters. Most Super Bowl-winning coordinators are hot commodities. Frank Reich wasn’t considered top guy material by many, but when Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels bailed on the Colts post-Super Bowl, the former Eagles offensive coordinator was subbed in and the rest is history.
But Schwartz has been a harder sell. He was set to meet with the New York Giants two offseasons ago, but the interview was canceled because the Giants came to learn that he would want some personnel authority, two NFL sources said.
He wears a hard shell. He can be gruff with players and anti-social with colleagues. But few deny his acumen, football or otherwise. There’s also a thoughtful side, several Eagles players described, that suggests Schwartz has evolved since Detroit.
But he still carries himself around the NovaCare Complex as if he’s the head coach, enforcing Pederson’s rules in the cafeteria and meeting rooms, among other posturing.
“That’s just his swag,” said linebacker Nigel Bradham, one of Schwartz’s most loyal players. “That’s just how he is. That’s his persona.”
But he also knows how to wield his swag to get what he desires. There have been multiple occasions when the Eagles’ personnel department has given its recommendation for a specific position to fill only to have Roseman go with Schwartz in another direction.
In May, the Eagles had narrowed free-agent linebackers down to Jamie Collins and Zach Brown. The scouting recommendation was Collins, while Schwartz wanted Brown. Roseman went with the latter, sources said. Collins, meanwhile, is having an All-Pro-caliber season for the Patriots and Brown was released last month.
Chris Long’s exit from the Eagles during the offseason was widely considered by team sources to be hastened by Schwartz. Roseman, Pederson, and other decision-makers wanted the veteran defensive end to return in the final year of his contract, but Schwartz wouldn’t guarantee the 34-year-old a role similar to the one he had previously, and Long, who was coming off arguably his best season in five years, retired in May.
Roseman came calling in September, however, after defensive tackle Malik Jackson suffered a season-ending foot injury, sources said. Long’s return to the edge would allow defensive end Brandon Graham to move inside and give the Eagles the same third-down line -- with Fletcher Cox also inside and Derek Barnett on the opposite end -- as in the Super Bowl season.
Long spent two to three weeks working himself back into football shape. Roseman wanted him back, and a return appeared imminent. But after a conversation with Schwartz, in which Long was told to prepare for a lesser role, he relayed to the team that he would stay retired, sources said.
Schwartz and Roseman declined to comment for this story through a team spokesperson. Long, when reached by phone, also declined to comment.
Schwartz has brought in success stories, like Bradham, as well. But it’s not like he always gets his way. In fact, several moves this season have suggested otherwise, although the releases of Brown, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, and defensive tackle Akeem Spence could be attributed to poor play or players returning from injury.
But the releases of linebacker L.J. Fort in September and safety Andrew Sendejo last week were essentially done to recoup compensatory draft picks.
“I leave all comments on the roster makeup to Doug and Howie,” Schwartz said Monday. “It’s our job as coaches to take what we have and try to best figure out the way to be able to play that week. … It’s part of this business.”
Fort wound up with the Ravens and performed so well that he was given a two-year contract extension. Sendejo was claimed off waivers by his former team, the Vikings.
“I ain’t going to lie, I was kind of hurt by the Sendejo move,” Bradham said. “It isn’t guaranteed that you’re going to get a fourth-round pick as good as Dejo.”
Schwartz’s defense has settled down after a dreadful two-game stretch against the Vikings and Cowboys. Cox’s return to form and getting cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby back from injury have helped. But the Bills and Bears have statistically two of the lesser offenses in the NFL.
Tom Brady and the Patriots will offer a stiffer test. The Hall of Fame-bound quarterback threw for more than 500 yards against the Eagles in the Super Bowl. New England never had to punt. Although when Schwartz’s unit needed a big play, Graham strip-sacked Brady to essentially seal the game.
“If I wake up in a sweat at four in the morning,” Schwartz said, “a lot of the time it’s Brandon Graham missing him in the Super Bowl on the last play.”
The Eagles defense regressed last season. After finishing fourth in the NFL in yards and points allowed and fifth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric in 2017, they ranked 23rd in yards, tied for 11th in points and 15th in DVOA in 2018 .
This year, they’re eighth in yards, 18th in points, and ninth in DVOA. Last month, after the Eagles surrendered 38 points to Minnesota, Pederson was asked if he felt to need to step in on the defensive side.
“I have given Jim, because of his track record, being in my shoes, obviously been a defensive coordinator for many years in this league, the ability to make decisions over there,” Pederson said. “By no means do I feel the need right now to step in or do anything outside of that.”
Not everyone can play for Schwartz. He can be difficult. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of his red laser during film reviews. He’ll call, chew anyone out. But he has his guys, typically the tough, confident kind, and they’ve mostly stuck with him.
“He’s tough when he needs to be, but I’ve had worse,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “He’s not an abrasive guy. But if you need to be yelled at, he doesn’t mind yelling. I never felt like, ‘Oh, here he goes again.’ He does a good job of having a pulse of where we are, and if he feels like we don’t have energy and has to get after us, he’ll do it.
“Even if it’s calling somebody out on offense when he needs to.”
Pederson is comfortable enough to cede some authority to Schwartz. Team rules forbid players from wearing sleeveless shirts in the cafeteria, or leaving trash after meetings, but Schwartz takes particular relish in regulating both.
“He’s really big on having principles,” Bradham said. “He has this story about his mom being a janitor for a while, so leaving trash in the meeting rooms aggravates him. And we already have the rules in place, so it’s not like he’s making them up as we go along.
“And I think for the most part, I’ve never seen anyone disrespect him.”
There’s more to a head coach than just enforcing rules, though. Belichick knows as well as anyone. The ability to multitask may be paramount.
“Jim’s the type of guy that can, as I found out in Cleveland, have 20 things on his plate and then you ask him to do something else and he’s already thought of that ahead of time and has started on it, already has some thoughts on what you’re looking for before you even,” Belichick said. “He knows what you’re going to ask for before you even ask for it.”
But most NFL owners want offensive-minded head coaches. Only seven of the last 28 coaching hires have had predominantly defensive backgrounds. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has been at the forefront of hiring forward-thinking offensive coaches, and with Andy Reid and Pederson, emotionally intelligent ones.
Schwartz might not fit that description, but there is a side not often seen that is compassionate. Guard Brandon Brooks recalled that Schwartz was one of the first coaches, after he divulged his fight with anxiety three years ago, to show him support.
“It came out of the blue. I was just walking out to the field and he pulled me aside,” Brooks said. “He’s not my coach. He doesn’t work with the offense. But he was like, ‘Hey, man, this is just like pulling a hamstring. Once you figure out what it is, you’ll rehab, and you’ll be fine.’