New Eagles coach must think on hire level
Paul Domowitch, Daily News NFL Columnist
Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013, 1:33 AM
WHEN JEFF LURIE was running down the list of qualities he was looking for in his next head coach after firing Andy Reid 2 weeks ago, he made sure to mention - right after being a strong leader, strategic and comfortable in his own skin - that the guy had to be able to put together a first-rate staff, which presumably means no turning offensive-line coaches into defensive coordinators and no picking defensive line coaches who don't play well with others.
"How well does the person hire?" Lurie said. "Is he going to surround himself with strong coordinators and good assistant coaches? In this league, that's one of the most underrated aspects.
"If you don't hire the best around you, if you don't hire great teachers and strong coordinators, I think you'll be operating at a disadvantage."
Which brings us to the man who could be named the Eagles' new head coach any minute now, Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
The Eagles interviewed 11 people for the head-coaching job. Only three of them - Bradley, Lovie Smith and Mike Nolan - came from the defensive side of the ball. Well, four if you want to count Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who played linebacker in college and began his career as a defensive assistant.
Bradley's success with the Seahawks' defense - they were first in the league in points allowed and fourth in takeaways this season - offers hope that he'll be able to fix an Eagles' defense that gave up a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes, had a league-worst 13 takeaways and finished 29th in points allowed.
But there also is a turnover-prone offense that needs tending to and a young quarterback who needs developing. So, if Bradley gets the job, all eyes are going to be on him to see who he brings in as his offensive green thumb.
"If you've got what you believe is a talented young quarterback, you'd better make sure that quarterback is being developed," said FOX analyst Troy Aikman, a Hall of Fame quarterback. "It's a quarterback-driven league, so you'd better make sure that whoever is coaching that guy is really good.
"I don't think it matters whether you hire an offensive-minded head coach or a defensive-minded one. But there's got to be an appreciation for the [quarterback] position. It can't be, 'We're going to run the ball and play great defense.' There was a time when that was a great formula. And if you're really great on defense, it still is a good formula.
"But there aren't those dominant defenses, for the most part, out there any more. So you'd better be able to throw the ball and score points. If your mindset is, 'Hey, just don't lose the game,' that to me isn't developing the quarterback."
The Eagles aren't quite sure yet what they have in Nick Foles. He showed some promise in his six rookie starts. But he needs a mentor. He needs somebody who can bring out the best in him, or at least find out if his best is good enough.
With all of the coaching turnover in the league the last 2 weeks, there are a slew of good offensive coordinator candidates out there, including recently fired head coaches Ken Whisenhunt (Cardinals), Mike Mularkey (Jaguars) and Pat Shurmur (Browns).
Whisenhunt interviewed with the Eagles for the head-coaching job on Monday. I don't know this for a fact, but you'd have to think that, at some point during the interview, Lurie or Howie Roseman felt Whiz out about the possibility of coming aboard as the team's offensive lieutenant if they opted for Bradley.
Another interesting candidate: former Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress, who was instrumental in Donovan McNabb's development. The Eagles also finished in the top seven in fewest giveaways 3 of the 4 years he served as Reid's offensive lieutenant.
Childress was the Browns' offensive coordinator last season, working with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Lurie said that the new coach will make the decision on what happens at quarterback - whether they hand the starting job to Foles or go out and get another quarterback, either in the draft or free agency or on the trade market, to compete against Foles.
"Nick has every opportunity, and everyone in the building thinks the world of him in terms of his promise and potential," Lurie said 2 weeks ago. "[But] this is going to be a decision made by the new head coach."
If only from a salary-cap standpoint, the Eagles dearly want Foles to pan out. As a third-round pick, Foles' cap number the next 2 years is under $750,000. Under the terms of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, he can't get a new deal until after his third year in the league. The cap space they'd be saving on the quarterback position would give them flexibility with the rest of their roster.
"If you hire an offensive-minded head coach who is going to be working with the quarterback, then you'd better have an excellent defensive coordinator," said FOX studio analyst Jimmy Johnson, who won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the '90s. "And if you hire a defensive-minded coach, then he's got to make sure he's got somebody that can work with the quarterback and develop him.
"Plus, the head coach is going to have to oversee a lot of different things. Sometimes, the offense gets slighted a little bit. And you can't slight the No. 1 position on your football team - the quarterback."
The Vikings managed to make the playoffs this season with a prolific run game, a pretty good defense and a quarterback - Christian Ponder - who finished 21st in passing and 31st in yards per attempt. But it's rare to succeed without good quarterback play.
"You have to be so good on defense, so good at every other position, if you're going to try and win with so-so play at quarterback," Johnson said. "Having a great quarterback overcomes a lot of deficiencies.
"It's been proven that you can win big with a great quarterback and being so-so in other areas. But with the way the league is now, in order to win, you have to get outstanding play from your quarterback."
And to get outstanding play from your quarterback, you need an offensive coordinator who can bring out the best in him.
On Twitter: @Pdomo
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Posted 16 January 2013 - 05:40 AM