With Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter (via NFL News) and PSU head coach Bill O’Brien off the table, it’s time for us to look at who will, realistically, be the top candidates to be the Philadelphia Eagles’ next head coach. Will it be a well-known veteran with a Super Bowl ring? Should it be someone with success in the college ranks? Or should it be a current NFL assistant coach who’s looking to make it big?
The Eagles are not the Buffalo Bills or Cleveland Browns; those two franchises have had little to no success over the past decade, and simply to revitalize their respective fan bases, they will need to bring in well-known names who may not be at the top of their games anymore. The Eagles need a shrewd tactician who may not be the most famous man in the NFL, whether offense or defense. If he’s an offensive guy, they can bring in a defensive coordinator—say, Mike Singletary. If he’s a defensive mind; well, there are a lot of qualified assistant coaches who’d be happy to step in and take over the Eagles’ offensive coordinator position.
That said, here are the five (and more) likeliest candidates to become the Eagles’ new head coach:
Honorable Mention: Ray Horton (ARI D-Coordinator), Mike Nolan (ATL D-Coordinator)
Ray Horton makes this list only on merit, not on rumor. He hasn’t interviewed (or at least an interview hasn’t leaked) with the Eagles, meanwhile he has met with his current team, the Arizona Cardinals, the Cleveland Browns, and others. Despite Arizona’s offensive struggles, Horton led one of the league’s top defenses; the Cardinals ranked sixth in Football Outsiders’ Defensive Efficiency rankings. Despite losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a season ago, they still managed to rank 2nd in pass defense this season. The Eagles need a guy who can fix the secondary, and if there’s anyone out there who can, it’s Horton.
One of three Atlanta coordinators the Eagles have been interested in (Dirk Koetter and Keith Armstrong being the others), Nolan is another defensive guy who is on the outside looking in. Despite the news that the Eagles will interview him, Nolan has two things working against him: his 18-37 head coaching record in San Francisco and the fact that the Eagles are more interested in an offensively-minded head coach. They’ll look to pair that HC with a solid defensive coordinator, and Nolan would rather stay in Atlanta (13-3) as the DC than switch to the Eagles (4-12). While Nolan has shown that he can also build a secondary, his Falcons were ranked 29th in sacks which doesn’t bode well for an Eagles team that relies on being able to sack the quarterback. Nolan is a name to follow, but don’t hold your breath.
5. Jon Gruden (ESPN NFL Analyst, Former Buccaneers HC)
Here’s where we get to the real meat of the list. Gruden has shown a keen interest in the Eagles. It all started when he came to Philadelphia for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, and despite the Eagles’ 30-22 loss at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, Gruden remarked that he was “impressed” by Nick Foles and some of the team’s young pieces. While he’d still have a decent amount of rebuilding to do, we saw what happened the last time he took over a struggling team; he won the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.
The only problem here is that the feeling might not be mutual. Gruden is qualified coach and an NFL expert, but the Eagles are looking for a fresher guy with tactician-like qualities, not a guru who’s spent the last four years in a commentator’s booth. Gruden won a Super Bowl, but he drove the Bucs straight into the ground over the next six seasons. If the Eagles don’t offer Gruden an interview soon, it’ll show their hesitation to move in that direction.
4. Bruce Arians (Indianapolis Colts Interim HC/Offensive Coordinator)
Arians’ work as the Colts offensive coordinator was admirable, as he led a rookie quarterback with a group of veteran, mediocre specialty players—besides Reggie Wayne—to be the 10th-best offense in the league. But what was even more impressive was his interim head coach resume; he took over a 1-2 team coming off of an embarrassing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a rebuilding team, and took them on a 9-3 run that catapulted them into the playoffs. This team had just been devastated by the diagnosis of cancer in their coach Chuck Pagano, yet Arians managed to, forgive me for the lack of a better phrase, rally the troops while keeping them focused. This type of leadership is what the Eagles need out of their head man.
Now, there haven’t been any rumors regarding an interview with Arians, but we know that the Eagles like to snatch a candidate from out of the blue and Arians has only been contacted by the Bears. Because his team is in the playoffs, he likely won’t be granted another interview until the Colts lose—or win, for that matter—so when that happens we will really see whether the Eagles are interested in the 60-year old.
3. Greg Roman (San Francisco 49ers Offensive Coordinator)
Greg Roman is another offensive coordinator that’s been mentioned in connection with the Eagles’ head coaching vacancy and could interview sometime next week. Don’t forget that he’s also a local native, having grown up in Ventnor, New Jersey.
Many criticize Roman’s ability to formulate a game plan, but let’s be honest here: the guy is one of the most creative offensive coaches we’ve seen in a while. Just look at this play, helpfully broken down by Matt Bowen of the National Football Post.
Roman’s creative Big Wing (2 RB – 2 TE – 1 WR) formation screams “run”, which is why the Patriots have continued to creep up. In reality, however, he’s using the RBs as a decoy to attack the Patriots’ Cover 3 formation. By using the “fear” factor of Randy Moss, he instructs Colin Kaepernick to look off of the two tight ends (in the yellow square), which then gets safety Devin McCourty (gold circle) to commit to the weak side. This leaves Delanie Walker (outside route) and Vernon Davis (inside route) 2-on-1 with the CB (red circle) which leads to an easy touchdown throw from Kaepernick to Walker.
That type of ingenuity is what Andy Reid did not show in the last two years in Philadelphia, and the type of play that the Eagles can run. They could Jackson/Maclin to get the safety to bite while sending Brent Celek and Evan Moore on the tight end routes. Not to mention that the front seven has to fear the big play ability of LeSean McCoy out of the backfield.
But don’t think Roman is a one-hit wonder; they guy has worked with tons of different formations, and his use of designed audibles (audibles that are part of the play) will leave opposing defenses confused and give Nick Foles the edge a second-year QB needs. He’s not the most likely candidate, but his ability to run a clever, balanced offense has made him one of the Eagles’ top choices thus far.
2. Chip Kelly (Oregon Ducks Head Coach)
The only college coach left on the Eagles’ radar, Kelly is certainly making waves around the NFL. And with his Oregon Ducks having smashed the Kansas State Wildcats on their way to another Fiesta Bowel title, the Eagles will soon get their chance to the interview him. In fact, per CSNPhilly, the Eagles have already planned to meet with him.
I don’t have to make a case for why Kelly is a good fit, because people have already done so, including the Eagles. He loves to run a spread out offense with a bunch of speed at the wide receiver and running back position, and that’s exactly the personnel the Eagles have. Like Roman, he’s a creative offensive game-planner who will get away from the mundane “15 scripted plays” and “80% passing” styles of the Reid regime.
The Eagles and Browns are set to fight over Kelly, and the fact that Lurie has already gone public with his interest over Kelly makes this a highly-likely hiring to say the least.
1. Mike McCoy (Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator)
All that said, Mike McCoy is still the likeliest man to become the Eagles’ 21st head coach. Not only is he extremely qualified with nearly a decade as an offensive coordinator, but he’s set to interview with the Eagles on Sunday (via NJ.com) and he shares an agent—Bob LaMonte—with Eagles’ GM Howie Roseman and former head coach Andy Reid.
Oh yeah, and he has the backing of Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who said recently, “I think he’s ready. I think he’s paid his dues. Mike is a good leader. He’s had some good coaches that have been mentors to him. … He’s a strong leader and in my opinion he deserves a shot at one of these head coaching jobs.” Manning didn’t even need to refer to McCoy’s ability to coach an offense; he referred to his ability to lead, which is the most important thing Jeffrey Lurie is looking for in a head coach.
If you thought Kelly and Roman were innovative, then you’ll love McCoy. Last year he planned his offense around Kyle Orton and the traditional offense, but with the insertion of Tim Tebow, he had to change things up. He didn’t just cope, he flourished. He changed the Broncos’ offense on the fly to a read-option that made Tim Tebow of all quarterbacks look good. He catered to the strengths—short crossing patterns and option run plays—of his offense and did the best he possibly could have given the circumstances.
Now, with Peyton Manning in the fold, he’s switched things up on the fly once again to a mainly 3-WR formation where most plays focus on the deep sideline patterns and use the running game as a way to get yards on first-down and convert key goal line and short-distance plays. He’s not prone to falling in love with the passing game but knows when to ride the hot hand, literally.