Marcus Hayes, Daily News Sports Columnist
Posted: Monday, January 14, 2013, 1:44 AM
HIRING A head coach is a lot like buying a new car.
It's not like buying a house: That would be moving the team or building a stadium; long-term commitment.
It's not like marriage, which is like selling the team. You might be stuck with a new owner for a lifetime, and divorce usually is painful.
The Eagles are just car shopping. But they can't find anything they want to buy.
Fortunately, for the impatient and wearied masses who support the devalued brand, the Eagles appear likely to get the best deal in spite of themselves.
When an NFL team hires a head man, it first decides what purpose the coach will serve.
Will it choose expensive, if practical, autonomy, like a luxury SUV? That's what Mike Holmgren was when he went to Seattle in 1999. There is no Mike Holmgren on the market today ... at least not one who has coached since Barack Obama became president.
Will they take versatility and dependability, like a minivan? That was Wade Phillips landing in Dallas after his semi-successful years in Buffalo. There are two such models today. The Eagles interviewed one of them last week: fired Bears coach Lovie Smith. Unfortunately, they seem as uninterested in Smith as they did in his mirror image, Andy Reid, the man they just fired.
How about coaxing a coach back into the league? That would be a vanity purchase, like one of those big European sedans. The Redskins bought that model twice, first with Joe Gibbs, now with Mike Shanahan, with little success. It worked with the Rams and D Vermeil, but it seldom really works, even with powerful, if idle, personalities like Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher or Brian Billick.
The Birds apparently consider Gruden toxic. They reportedly contacted Cowher, who politely declined. And they reportedly kicked Billick's tires last week.
The coach the Eagles wanted most is a high-value model with plenty of pep and perks, like, say, an Acura. They wanted an established, innovative college coach. Those coaches finally have wised up to this reality:
The NFL might offer quicker riches and brighter fame, but it also strips a coach of control and demands accountability on a weekly basis. One bad year and you're gone.
College coaches realize that it is far smarter to rule for a decade in a backwater fiefdom using gimmicky schemes, skating the edge of the NCAA's rules and exercising complete control, sometimes from the chancellor's office to the governor's mansion.
That's why Nick Saban will never leave Alabama; why Mack Brown will always live in Austin; and why Les Miles will keep chomping chicken fingers in Baton Rouge and not dining on jerked chicken at Emeril's in New Orleans.
It is why Chip Kelly did not leave Oregon and benefactor Phil Knight; why Bill O'Brien, the savior of Happy Valley, did not leave Penn State after he washed away its sins in a season; why Brian Kelly, having reestablished Notre Dame, would be insane to leave the Fighting Irish.
At Notre Dame, that's just a nickname. In Philadelphia, it's a section in the stadium.
Understand this, though: Each of those college coaches would have taken the job had he received the money and the power he sought. They negotiated like they were the luxury SUV.
In the end, they could not envision tying their futures to a faltering organization run by erudite owner Jeffrey Lurie and a bright but untested general manager like Howie Roseman.
Then again, former team president Joe Banner lacked pedigree in the 1990s. Banner hired Ray Rhodes and Reid, both of whom won Coach of the Year awards; both of whom improved the franchise; both of whom spent years as NFL assistants in extremely successful organizations.
Which brings the Eagles to Gus Bradley and Mike McCoy.
Bradley broke into the NFL under defensive savant Monte Kiffin, who, along with Tony Dungy, created an atmosphere of near invincibility in Tampa. Kiffin endorsed Bradley when the Seahawks' coordinator position came open in 2009, and Bradley repaid his endorsement by steadily improving the Seahawks' defense. It now is the stingiest in the league.
The Eagles interviewed Bradley this weekend.
They spoke with McCoy last week.
McCoy's track to prominence is intriguing. As offensive coordinator in Denver, McCoy survived the 2-year debacle of Josh McDaniel's frenetic reign as head coach, then remained to serve as coordinator in Denver under John Fox, who in 2002 had retained McCoy as a low-level assistant when Fox got his job in Carolina.
McCoy gets credit for making Kyle Orton a viable NFL passer, then, in 2011, making Tim Tebow a viable NFL player. The thought is, perhaps McCoy can groom second-year project Nick Foles.
Here are the problems.
Bradley is a defensive coach. Lurie has, in the past, forsworn hiring another defensive-minded coach like Rhodes. This, in the face of the successes of defensive-minded coaches, who have won five of the last nine Super Bowls.
McCoy is an offensive coach and a respected football mind, but he earns little credit for accommodating the talents of Peyton Manning this season.
Both McCoy and Bradley know the rigors and demands of the NFL in football-crazed cities (yes, Tampa is crazed).
Neither Chip Kelly nor Brian Kelly ever has suffered the spotlight of true scrutiny. Neither has had to deal with NFL prima donnas, suffocating pressures from the league and the TV networks that run it, or the horde of media that demands answers three times a week.
O'Brien has not dealt with exactly that scrutiny, either. But what he endured the past year at Penn State carries its own kind of tempering, and he knows life in the NFL. Maybe that's why he stayed; there is no happy valley in Roger Goodell's kingdom.
Really, given the team's defensive issues, the demands of the market and the difficult personalities on the roster, Lovie Smith clearly is the best man for the job.
Failing that, it would be Bruce Arians, the former Temple coach and current Colts offensive coordinator who took over for his ailing head coach and made Indianapolis the best story in the NFL this season.
Jay Gruden, Jon's little brother, remains an Arena League legend with scant NFL credentials. He is expected to sit down with the Birds on Monday.
Jay Gruden would be perceived as the latest in the city's Wrong Brother curse.
Neither Smith nor Arians would be a sexy hire. After all, the Birds just traded in their minivan.
Still, fate might conspire to bring the Eagles a vehicle that meets all of their needs.
In spite of their best efforts.
Marcus Hayes Daily News Sports Columnist Email