The Philadelphia Eagles threw the football world into a tailspin on Monday when they parted ways with head coach Doug Pederson. It wasn’t that the move was totally shocking, but it was perplexing for a franchise three years removed from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called Pederson someone he deeply cared about — a “family friend, family to me” — when discussing the breakup. In the end it came down to Pederson’s vision for the future not aligning with his own. Translation: the franchise might believe in Carson Wentz more than Pederson.
“He’s a close friend, he’s a family friend and Doug is family to me,” Lurie told reporters on Monday. “What can I say? So it’s even harder to make the tough decision with somebody like that and that relationship but it goes with the territory.”
Either way, the two sides made a clean break and a coaching search has begun in Philadelphia. It will be the third one since 2013 and fifth one in Lurie’s tenure after he bought the team for $185 million in 1994. Four out of the five men have been offensive-minded coaches.
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7 Head-Coaching Candidates for Eagles
Heavy.com first explored possible head-coaching options for the Eagles back in September. It was purely speculation at the time, based solely on a weak petition from a disgruntled fan. Four months later, it’s a reality as the Eagles begin a legitimate coaching search.
So let’s take another look at seven potential candidates:
Lincoln Riley: The name already generating the most buzz has been Jalen Hurts’ coach at the University of Oklahoma where he averaged 275.1 passing yards and 92.7 rushing yards per contest. Riley has developed a reputation as a “quarterback whisperer” while working with guys like Hurts, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. All three were Heisman Trophy finalists, with Mayfield and Murray winning the award. Meanwhile, Riley’s “scorched earth” air-raid offense ranked 11th in the country this year (494.7 yards per game) after finishing fourth (522.8) in 2019 and first in both 2018 (570.4) and 2017 (579.6). Riley knows quarterbacks and offenses, two things that Lurie loves more than Howie Roseman.
Mike Kafka: Yes, this is a name that got bandied about last year when the Eagles were looking for a new offensive coordinator and now he’s being mentioned for the head job in Philly. It’s not a flashy choice but a safe one. Kafka works under former Eagles boss Andy Reid as passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. He also has familiarity with the organization having spent the 2011 season as a backup quarterback for the Eagles. His credentials? Well, look at Patrick Mahomes. Remember, Reid was a quarterbacks coach when the Eagles hired him in 1999.
Brian Daboll: The Buffalo Bills might have the best shot at unseating the top-seeded Chiefs due to their explosive offense. Credit Daboll for turning third-year quarterback Josh Allen into a legitimate MVP candidate and architecting the NFL’s second-best unit in total offense (396.4 yards per game), third-best passing offense (288.8), and second-highest scoring offense (31.3 points). The veteran coach was a five-time Super Bowl champion under Bill Belichick in New England and won a national championship under Nick Saban at Alabama. Pedigree matters.
James Urban: The Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach took his name out of the running for Eagles offensive coordinator because he wanted another year to work with Lamar Jackson. Smart idea. Jackson has thrown for 5,884 yards and 62 touchdowns over the last two seasons while rushing for 2,211 yards and 14 additional scores. Hurts has already drawn comparisons to the 2019 NFL MVP, so the transition could be seamless (unless they stick with Wentz). Plus, Urban helped unleash Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick on the league during his tenure on Andy Reid’s staff from 2004 to 2010.
Duce Staley: Lurie brought up Staley during a Zoom call with the Philly media on Monday, adding that a minority candidate would be of special interest. (Remember, Lurie’s first coaching hire was Ray Rhodes in 1995). The former running back has been on the Eagles’ coaching staff since 2010 (intern) and was promoted to assistant head coach in 2018. When Pederson tested positive for COVID-19 back in training camp, Staley was the one who took over as interim head coach. Not Jim Schwartz. Players love him. Staley interviewed for Philly’s head job in 2016, then got passed over (twice) for offensive coordinator. This could be his last shot.
Ryan Day: Day has gone 23-1 at Ohio State since taking for Urban Meyer. The former Temple offensive coordinator was named Big 10 Coach of the Year in 2019 and has the Buckeyes in the national championship this year. Ohio State has ranked fourth in total offense in back-to-back years (544.9 in 2020) and (529.9 in 2019). Sounds good, right? Wait. Day has close ties to Chip Kelly — he played for Kelly at New Hampshire — so the franchise may be unwilling to re-open those wounds. He served as Eagles quarterbacks coach in 2015 under Kelly before following his mentor out to San Francisco. Paging Justin Fields in the draft?
Jim Caldwell: The 65-year-old would bring a wealth of experience to either Wentz or Hurts, if the Eagles wanted to turn the room back over to the grown-ups. Caldwell is best known for his seven-year stint as head coach of Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts where he compiled a 62-50 record and appeared in a Super Bowl. He has also been praised for his work with Joe Flacco in Baltimore where he won a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator — and for his role in raising Matthew Stafford’s passer rating to a career-high 99.3 in 2017 at the time.
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