MIAMI – The Eagles have yet to hire an offensive coordinator, which suggests they could be waiting until after Sunday’s Super Bowl to hire one of the assistants on either the Chiefs or 49ers.
They had interest in Kansas City’s Mike Kafka but didn’t request an interview because they had learned that coach Andy Reid would block his quarterbacks coach, NFL sources said.
“I’m not sure of all the logistical things,” Kafka said Monday when asked about the Eagles’ reported interest. “I’ve been so tied into this thing, making sure we got the game plan right. … I know Coach Reid. I trust Coach Reid to do what’s best for the team.”
It’s easy to understand why Kafka would place his trust in his coach. Reid’s coaching tree is vast, as many of his assistants have gone on to not only become coordinators or head coaches, but successful ones. Eagles coach Doug Pederson, of course, is one of the more notable acolytes. He understands Reid’s motivations as well as anyone.
“You know me, I don’t get into all that,” Reid said when asked if he was prepared to block Kafka. “I don’t talk about that stuff either way. I never have.”
Even if Reid was to allow Kafka to meet with Pederson, it’s unlikely an offer would have lured the former Eagles quarterback away from Kansas City. The position won’t include play-calling – Pederson is expected to retain those responsibilities – and Kafka is already on one of the NFL’s fastest career paths.
He’s one step from replacing Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is likely to follow his predecessors Pederson and Matt Nagy as a head coach in the near future. Reid maintains play-calling, but he has handed those duties over to his coordinators in spots.
Kafka, who was hired by the Chiefs as a quality control coach only three years ago, has high aspirations.
“I aspire to be an offensive coordinator. I aspire to be a head coach one day,” Kafka said during Super Bowl Opening Night. “Those are great things and those things will take care of themselves in the offseason. Right now, I’m just focused on the task at hand and getting my guy ready for this game Sunday.”
Kafka’s guy is Pat Mahomes. While it is difficult to say how much coaching has factored into the Chiefs quarterback’s unparalleled early greatness, the 32-year-old assistant, who has overseen the position the last two seasons, deserves obvious credit.
But Kafka, who spent two seasons in Philadelphia after the Eagles selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, understands he’s driving a Ferrari.
“Pat is the one out there with the football,” Kafka said. “Pat’s the one out there putting in the work in-season, in the offseason. I’m just trying to facilitate putting him in the right direction.”
Kafka bumped around the NFL until 2015, but the 16 passes he threw as a late-game replacement in losses to the Falcons and Giants in 2011 would be his only ones as a professional. He returned to his alma mater Northwestern as a graduate assistant in 2016, and a year later, Reid hired his former player.
“Mike’s done a nice job,” Reid said Tuesday. “Patrick’s been fortunate to be in a good room with good veteran players [backups Chad Henne and Matt Moore], and then have the opportunity to have Mike in there, who played in the offense.”
Reid’s West Coast offense has evolved over the last two decades. His system with the Chiefs is very much different than the one he ran in Philadelphia. But even the Chiefs offense has changed in the four years since Pederson left.
The Eagles seem intent on bringing in a coordinator with new ideas. They have interviewed Southern Cal offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who comes from the “Air Raid” school of offense, for instance.
The 49ers offense, on paper, might not seem like one the Eagles would be interested in borrowing from. Only the Ravens ran the ball more this season, and Pederson isn’t exactly a proponent of run-heavy schemes.
But the 49ers only favor staying on the ground, as coach Kyle Shanahan has said many times, because it works. His scheme, like any great one, is designed to be versatile. San Francisco has won games by throwing the ball, when necessary, and with aggression down the field.
Shanahan’s offense is a second-generation version of his father’s. Many wrongly assume that Mike Shanahan is of the West Coast school because he worked for the 49ers in the early 1990s. But West Coast creator Bill Walsh was gone by the time he arrived. Shanahan had his own system and he was, in his own right, an innovator.
His son has the same reputation despite nepotism claims that had followed him early in his career. The Eagles likely have at least explored the idea of hiring someone who has worked under Shanahan.
The 49ers don’t have an offensive coordinator, per se – Shanahan calls the plays – but they do have a pass game coordinator (Mike LaFleur) and a run game coordinator (Mike McDaniel). Both coaches offered up non-denial denials when asked if the Eagles either requested interviews or expressed interest.
“Kansas City defense – that’s really all I know,” McDaniel said.
“I wouldn’t know,” LaFleur said. “I’m under contract here.”
LaFleur would, in theory, make more sense than McDaniel. The Eagles have an existing run game coordinator in offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. But 49ers coordinator roles aren’t clearly defined, and both assistants worked in various posts are they climbed the coaching ladder. Like Reid with the Chiefs, Shanahan would also be likely to block McDaniel and LaFleur.
“Mike started in Cleveland in the offensive line room. We all cross-trained everywhere, so it’s not as rigid as the titles define them,” McDaniel said. “We are constantly helping each other and working with each other. … Sometimes Mike LaFleur’s the No. 1 guy pounding the table to run the ball because he can feel and knows when a defense is on its heels.”
LaFleur is the younger brother of Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who also got his NFL coaching start working under Shanahan. McDaniel has worked with Shanahan longer, however, and is thus viewed as closer to becoming a play-caller.
The Yale-educated 36-year-old has been widely credited for taking the Shanahans’ renowned gap-blocking schemes to the next level with a diversity of runs that have caught defenses flat-footed nearly all season. But McDaniel said he’s kept career ambitions out of his gaze – for now.
“I’ve been trained by the most OCD, extreme guy of all time,” McDaniel said of Kyle Shanahan, “so I feel Jedi in terms of I haven’t thought about it for a second till you get questions from people.
“I know that being a head coach, being an offensive play-caller is a dream of mine. But to be honest, I haven’t even thought about it for a second.”