New Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson could excel in Philadelphia, but the process that brought him to town may have been anything but well considered.
By Mike Diviney
As an encore after abruptly dismissing Chip Kelly as head coach, the Philadelphia Eagles have conducted what seems to be a rather disjointed search for his replacement.
Aside from cursory chats with incumbent staffers Duce Staley and Pat Shurmur, the Eagles interviewed only three outside candidates: 69-year-old Tom Coughlin, fresh off his resignation from the New York Giants; his offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo; and former Eagles quarterback Doug Pederson, most recently Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs.
There were reports that the Eagles made it clear to McAdoo the job was his if he wanted it, at which point, the Giants moved quickly to hire him as Coughlin’s replacement. Understandably, Mcadoo naturally preferred a promotion from his current employer.
Reports then surfaced that the Eagles had told Coughlin they were interested in hiring him, at which point he withdrew his name from consideration, as his assistants were all still under contract with the Giants and would remain in New York along with McAdoo. At almost 70, Coughlin did not want to take on the monumental task of assembling an entirely new coaching staff.
Whether that truly was the reason or whether the Eagles’ cloudy front office structure scared him off, no one from Coughlin’s camp is saying. If McAdoo was indeed the Eagles’ first choice, the Giants managed to not only hire him, but in doing so, made it impossible for the Eagles to hire Coughlin because McAdoo retained his former boss’ staff in New York. The Eagles then abruptly announced that their search was over, and shortly thereafter, the hiring of Doug Pederson.
After the fact, it was reported that the Eagles had tried, too late, to schedule an interview with Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was snapped up by the Cleveland Browns. If Pederson was indeed the Eagles’ first choice, as owner Jeffrey Lurie stated at the January 19 press conference announcing his hiring, it is curious that they were still trying to interview Jackson at such a late stage.
Furthermore, given Pederson’s thin resume—he was not mentioned as a potential interviewee for any other head coaching position—it seems likely he would still have been available had the Eagles chosen to wait a little longer and interview other candidates. Coordinators like Paul Guenther and Sean McDermott were still available when Pederson’s hiring was announced. But in a town that loves defense, and with a team in need of defensive improvement, the Eagles interviewed only offensive coaches to replace Kelly.
At Pederson’s introductory news conference, Lurie referred to an exhaustive search that he said began in-house even before Kelly was fired. He said the team in charge of the search—himself, Howie Roseman, and Don Smolenski—whittled down a list of 25 names before inviting candidates to interviews. The unusually small number of candidates interviewed was curious enough; the way it played out, with McAdoo possibly having been offered the job, Coughlin withdrawing his name, the late call to Jackson, and the abrupt end of the search all made it seem that the Eagles mishandled the process and settled on their fallback candidate to avoid the perception they were lost.
Pederson is of course familiar to Eagles executives and fans alike, having played for the franchies in 1999 and having coached here in 2009 and 2012 under Reid. He then joined Reid in Kansas City as his offensive coordinator in name only, since Reid called most of the plays. In 2015, Pederson was given situational (Red Zone and two-minute-warning) play-calling responsibilities. Prior to joining Reid’s staff in Philadelphia, Pederson had been the head coach at Calvary Baptist Academy, a high school in Shreveport, Louisiana.
With such a limited resume, it might Pederson might not have even landed an interview for an offensive coordinator on any NFL team not coached by Reid. However, Lurie was so turned off by Kelly’s style that he seemed to long nostalgically for the relative success and stability of the Reid era.
Reid was a very good coach for the Eagles for a long time, coming to the cusp of a Lombardi Trophy but never winning one. To now try to recreate that era without the main guy responsible for it seems foolish. Reid’s tree has yielded some very good NFL head coaches. John Harbaugh won a Lombardi Trophy in 2012 as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Ron Rivera is stilly vying for one this year with the Carolina Panthers. The fact that Pederson never coached in the NFL under anyone other than Reid is concerning, as are the facts that he did not even call the plays in Kansas City and was coaching at a tiny high school just seven years ago.
However the fans feel about it, Pederson is now the 23rd head coach in Eagles history. Certainly, the Eagles front office knows Pederson more than the fans do, and it is certainly possible that there is more to the man than his resume, but that remains to be seen. Pederson’s introductory press conference was largely uneventful, but definitely lacked the sizzle and excitement that would have accompanied a big-name hire like Jon Gruden or even Coughlin. Pederson was revealed as a nice guy who is grateful for the opportunity. Whether he is ready to be run an NFL team or handle the tough Philadelphia press and fans is anyone’s guess.
Fortunately, he brought in Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz, a couple of experienced coordinators on each side of the ball who have had NFL success. Reich has been an offensive assistant and coordinator in the NFL since 2008, most recently, as the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. Despite the Chargers offense having been productive this past season, Reich was scapegoated, and unjustly fired.
Eagles fans were most interested in who would be hired to coordinate the defense. The team spent more money on defense each year, adding talent and somehow getting worse under coordinator Billy Davis. Jim Schwartz, the former head coach of the Detroit Lions through 2013 and 2014 Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, was a tremendous hire. But when the hiring of a coordinator calls for more excitement than the hiring of a head coach, it is not a great sign.
That does not mean it won’t work out, but the story of Pederson’s hiring, like the team he now coaches, will have to play itself out on the field.