January 12, 2013

To coach or not to coach.

Do I have an opinion on who should be the next head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles? Well, I am a living, breathing Philly sports fan...

I like Gus Bradley's defense in Seattle. By far the leader in points allowed (28 less than San Francisco) and fourth in yards allowed (behind only Pittsburgh, Denver and the 49ers), the Seahawks looked like a top-5 team throughout the second half of the 2012 season. Much of that was thanks to their defense. Seattle's Week 16 thrashing of the aforementioned 49ers, in particular, was one of the more striking games of the year.

But everything I've read indicates that the Eagles prefer an offensive-minded coach at the top position and a defensive coordinator who runs his own side of the ball, mirroring the Andy Reid-Jim Johnson dynamic of years past. Bradley is also Reuben Frank's top choice, but we've seen many times over that the hot assistant doesn't always make the best coach.

I like Mike McCoy's offense in Denver. Sure, he's lucked into Peyton Manning, but what really impresses me is how flexible he was with Tim Tebow last year. They didn't put up flashy numbers; in fact, most of the time they could barely move the ball. But this is the same Tim Tebow who couldn't beat out the abhorrent Mark Sanchez in New York. My takeaway is that McCoy played to his quarterback's strengths, putting a simplified system in place that worked well enough to keep them afloat.

Reid, in contrast, is the kind of coach who molds quarterbacks to his system. Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, for better or worse, were shaped into pocket passers. This is probably a smarter plan when it comes to sustained success, but as the Vick experiment showed, it can also blow up in your face.

Of course, McCoy isn't some radical who's changing the game. He just recognized some glaring limitations and found a way to (mostly) overcome them. One of the things that felled Reid was his hubris, his insistence in jamming square pegs into round holes. A head coach with some flexibility and self-awareness; that's intriguing.

I like Brian Kelly's...well, I don't really like Brian Kelly. It seems ballsy to hire a head coach with zero NFL experience, even if Jason Kelce likes him. I also don't follow college football very closely, so I'm not sure how relevant my opinion might be.

In fact, I'm sure it's worthless across the board. Most of them are. Everyone loves to freak out over a head coaching search, and to a certain extent that's understandable. It's a lot of fun to go over the pros and cons of these guys and argue about how suitable (or unsuitable) they might be for such a lofty position.

But we don't know a damn thing. We see 1% of what's happening on the field, and zero of what's happening off it. That doesn't mean you have to nod your head and go with the flow; for example, the Cleveland Browns going from Chip Kelly to Carolina's offensive coordinator (19th in points scored) should make all of us point our fingers and laugh. I just hate to see fans puff themselves up and act like experts. Judge the eventual decision and its aftermath accordingly, but don't act like you knew better all along.

Speaking of the decision itself: Jeffrey Lurie has implied that he's looking for an innovator as his next coach, which explains the numerous interviews with coordinators and college coaches, along with the (seeming) lack of interest in Jon Gruden and the other veteran retreats.

And that makes sense to me. There's a lot of talent (I hope) still on this roster, but most of it is in desperate need of reorganization and reshaping. Name coaches can come with a lot of baggage, and there'd be a sort of "win now" mentality attached to such a hire; you're not paying a well-known guy millions upon millions of dollars to assist in a massive rebuild. Even though Philly fans are (understandably) hungry to win again, that kind of mindset would not be beneficial for this organization.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that the Eagles have been employing a "throw a bunch of good-sounding shit at the wall and see what sticks" strategy over the last few years. But winning a championship isn't about having the finest looking roster in September, or making the most headlines in the offseason. Honestly, what works best is probably the Andy Reid plan of the early years: Put a solid team on the field, aim to make the playoffs every year and hope a bunch of the late-season bounces go your way.

Unfortunately, the bounces never really went the Eagles' way. And Reid's eventual big moves, designed to put the team over the top, were ultimately misguided (Vick, Terrell Owens) and too little, too late. A desire to get back to basics -- to fundamentals and a fresh outlook and a disciplined, well-run football team -- sounds like exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles need.

So who's the best man for that job? Hell if I know; Bradley and McCoy both probably deserve somebody's top spot. In the end, all we can do is hope the people who are paid to know choose wisely.

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