Super Bowl Coach Leads Top Candidates for Eagles Defensive Coordinator

Lovie Smith Texans

Getty Former Illini and Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith is heading to Houston.

Jonathan Gannon is officially out as Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator. The 40-year-old assistant informed the team he was leaving to take the head-coaching gig with the Arizona Cardinals. Gannon agreed to a five-year contract after wowing them in a lengthy interview, according to ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss.

Gannon’s defense finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the NFL. The Eagles racked up 70 sacks — a new single-season franchise record — while registering 27 takeaways and surrendering 20.2 points per game.

Yes, they were out-schemed badly in Super Bowl LVII, but Kansas City came into the game as the top-ranked offense in the league. It was a good year for Gannon, especially after he “gutted” the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

Dennard Wilson Leading Candidate to Take Over

The immediate in-house candidate to replace Gannon in Philly is Eagles defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson. He is a favorite of the players in the locker room, especially in the secondary. Darius Slay has hyped him up on multiple occasions as a rising star assistant. Ditto for head coach Nick Sirianni who bragged on his credentials back on January 23.

“I really think Coach Wilson, I had a second to brag on Gannon after the game, and now let me brag on Coach Dennard,” Sirianni said after the Eagles beat the Giants in the playoffs. “He’s just a great leader of men, and he’s able to bring a group together. I look at Coach Dennard like a really good offensive line coach where you’ve got to bring them all together. They’ve all got to play as one, and that’s a really important position to make sure you’re doing this, and Dennard is really good at that.”

If the Eagles were to promote Wilson to defensive coordinator, then the logical choice to take over as defensive backs coach would be D.K. McDonald. He’s been on the Eagles’ staff since Sirianni arrived in town after spending 18 years in the college ranks.

Outside Candidates to Replace Jonathan Gannon

The Eagles could look outside the organization to fill their defensive coordinator vacancy. The leading candidate gaining traction on social media was Lovie Smith, the one-time NFL Coach of the Year and Super Bowl runner-up. Smith went 3-13-1 last season as head coach of the Houston Texans before being shown the door.

The 64-year-old is considered a defensive guru, a guy who mentored under Tony Dungy as a linebackers coach and helped develop the revolutionary Tampa 2 defense. Smith would be a huge get for Philadelphia, with those rumors already out there.

Meanwhile, here are three other names to keep in mind if Dennard Wilson isn’t the choice:

Peter Hansen: The 43-year-old just inked a deal to be the new linebackers coach for the Carolina Panthers, but what if a better offer came his way? Hansen is a Vic Fangio disciple who learned the ropes with The Godfather in San Francisco from 2011-13. The Eagles love Fangio but they can’t have him. Maybe they lure his protege away from an NFC rival.

Kris Richard: The former secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator for the Saints is a free agent after the two sides mutually agreed to part ways back on February 1. Richard carries a reputation as a player’s coach and he commands respect since he played in the NFL. (He was a third-round pick of Seattle in 2002). And Chauncey Gardner-Johnson developed under his watch in New Orleans.

John Pagano: Nick Sirianni has an affinity for guys he worked alongside in previous coaching stops. Pagano — the no-nonsense defensive coordinator for the Chargers when Sirianni was there — fits the bill as an NFL lifer with a great resume. And noteworthy family bloodlines. He was last seen strolling the sideline as linebackers coach for the Denver Broncs in 2021.

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