It’s often said that Philadelphia is a tough city to play and coach in, and if that’s the case let this serve as Exhibit A. Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is on the hot seat one game into his second season – and the Eagles won their opener over the Lions 38-35. There’s even speculation over a possible veteran replacement, who visited the Eagles in training camp this year – we’ll get to that in a bit.
Moments after the final whistle, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski published a column ripping Gannon, saying he’s “lost any benefit of the doubt,” after that performance. While he stopped short of calling for a firing, the knives were out among Eagles fans on Twitter, and the talking heads in the local sports media cranked up the heat.
Of course, it’s more complicated than all of that, and it’s not just about one game. Gannon’s first year saw the Eagles defense rank 18th in points allowed per game, though the unit was in the top 11 in total yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and passing yards allowed.
However, the Eagles tied for 23rd in third down defense, finished 31st out of 32 teams in sacks per pass attempt, and 21st in interception rate. Those stats are all compiled form the NFL’s Game Statistics and Information System.
So it was a mediocre first year for Gannon, but there was talk that he didn’t have all of the right parts for his scheme. Then general Howie Roseman went out and signed him a premier pass rusher in Haason Reddick and a Pro Bowl corner in James Bradberry, as well as one of the top 10 tacklers in the league in linebacker Kyzir White. Roseman drafted a behemoth run stuffer in the first round in Jordan Davis, and traded for a versatile safety in C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
With all the pieces supposedly in place, the expectations were through the roof for Gannon. The Eagles opened their season against a Lions team that finished tied for 23rd in the league in points scored last season. But the Birds gave up 35 points and were gashed on the ground to the tune of 181 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries, led by D’Andre Swift’s 144 yards and a score on 15 attempts.
Now, the obvious counter is that the Eagles had to integrate all of those new pieces into Gannon’s defense, and that takes time. Communication is critical, teammates need to gel, and the newest addition hasn’t even had a full two weeks of practice yet. Perhaps the Eagles had to dial things down in terms of Gannon’s scheme in order to get C.J. Gardner-Johnson on the field so quickly, a possibility that team captain Darius Slay brought up after the game.
So this is premature, and Gannon certainly deserves several games to try to get things going, but the speculation is out there and the name being floated has ties to this Eagles coaching staff.
Potential Replacement Visited Eagles Training Camp
It’s one thing when people start blowing off steam on social media by complaining about a coach, but you know it’s reached the next level when there are suggestions of possible replacements. This not so subtle tweet from Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation floats a name: Vic Fangio.
After a 19-30 stint as head coach of the Broncos, Fangio announced he’d take the 2022 season off. But he’s open to returning to the sidelines as a defensive coordinator.
“We’ll see where things stand and develop and what’s available to see if I’m a good match for somebody, but it’s definitely a possibility, probably as a coordinator.” Fangio said to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, as reported by NFL.com on August 20.
That was around the time Fangio made multiple visits to Eagles training camp, one of which was photographed by Geoff Mosher of Inside the Birds.
Fangio made so many trips to Eagles camp, he was also photographed with head coach Nick Sirianni.
Last but not least, an out of work coach might as well rub elbows with the general manager, right?
Fangio had five stops as a defensive coordinator over the span of the 19 seasons he held that title in the NFL, and not only has a track record of success but a reputation as one of the most influential defensive coordinators over the last several years, according to Ted Nguyen of The Athletic.
There are also plenty of similarities between Gannon’s scheme and Fangio’s, so it might not be as difficult of a transition as one might expect. That said, it’s practically unheard of to fire a coordinator in-season and replace him with someone who isn’t already on the staff.
Eagles Head Coach Nick Sirianni Downplayed the Visits
It was enough of a topic of conversation during training camp that head coach Nick Sirianni was asked why Fangio was on the sidelines.
“They come in, they eat, they watch practice, you make them work for that a little bit, you pick their brain,” Sirianni said during an August 1 press conference. “He’s here because he’s got relationships with guys, and of course we’d be foolish not to use him.”
In the full clip posted by John McMullen of JAKIB Sports, Sirianni rattled off a list of other coaches who visited camp. Whether that makes it a routine visit or an attempt to make his visit blend in with the others is in the eye of the beholder.
Perhaps the Eagles were just strengthening their relationship with Fangio in case Gannon is hired away after this season, as he’s been rumored to be an up and coming future head coaching candidate. Or perhaps he’s their top pick if they part ways with Gannon after this season. Maybe they really did just want to pick his brain as an influential and experienced defensive mind.
Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that it would be extremely rare to make a change like that in the middle of a season, but if Gannon’s defense continues to struggle, the whispers will only get louder.