PHILADELPHIA – Jeffrey Lurie’s search for the Philadelphia Eagles’ next coach began before he fired Andy Reid and could last until the Super Bowl.
While the Eagles were struggling toward a 4-12 finish, Lurie “meticulously and in great detail” researched potential successors to replace a coach that won more games than any other in franchise history.
Reid, however, didn’t win a Super Bowl and the team still is seeking its first NFL title since 1960. Lurie considers the Vince Lombardi Trophy his “obsession.”
So the pressure’s on to find a coach who can deliver that elusive championship.
“The important thing is to find the right coach, not to make the fastest decision,” Lurie said. “That’s our priority.”
The Eagles already have lined up interviews with three assistant coaches on the Atlanta Falcons: defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and special teams coach Keith Armstrong. The Falcons (13-3) are the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and have a bye this week.
Other NFL assistants that are likely on Lurie’s “very defined list” include Denver’s Mike McCoy, San Francisco’s Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, Cincinnati’s Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer, Seattle’s Gus Bradley, Green Bay’s Ben McAdoo and Arizona’s Ray Horton. Bruce Arians, who was 9-3 as interim coach with Indianapolis, is another candidate.
Oregon’s Chip Kelly may be the most sought-after coach from the college ranks, and he’s said to be atop Philadelphia’s list. Penn State’s Bill O’Brien would be more attractive if it weren’t for the $9 million buyout in his contract.
“I think the most important thing is to find the right leader,” Lurie said. “I’m not one who wants to buy schemes, wants to buy approaches that are necessarily finite. What you’ve got to find is somebody who is strategic, somebody who is a strong leader, somebody who is very comfortable in his own skin. That, to me, is probably one of the one or two top traits because players today see right through if you’re not. If you’re a salesman coach, that’s not going to work.”
Fans hoping the Eagles make a big splash and hire a high-profile coach like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden are probably going to be disappointed. Lurie downplayed “famous” names and pointed to Reid as an example of an unknown coach who had tremendous success after getting his first chance.
When Lurie hired Reid in 1999, he was never a coordinator. Reid coached quarterbacks and offensive linemen in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren.
“Somebody who is completely comfortable in his role and in who they are as a person, that’s the most important thing,” Lurie said. “But there’s a lot of other characteristics that go into it. How well does the person hire? 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 — they may not be name coaches but you’ve got to hire great teachers and strong coordinators — I think you’re operating at a disadvantage … .”
Reid assembled a strong coaching staff in Philadelphia, especially in the first half of his tenure. Six of his assistants became head coaches: Brad Childress (Minnesota), John Harbaugh (Baltimore), Leslie Frazier (Minnesota), Ron Rivera (Carolina), Pat Shurmur (Cleveland) and Steve Spagnuolo (St. Louis).
Harbaugh has reached the playoffs in each of his five seasons with the Ravens. Frazier has the Vikings in the playoffs in his second full year. Childress took Minnesota to the NFC championship game in 2009.
“I’m looking for someone that’s innovative, somebody that is not afraid to take risks, somebody that looks and studies the league and studies the college world,” Lurie continued, “and decides what the best inefficiencies are on offense and defense and special teams, and can execute it with their coaches so that you take advantage of trends and take advantage of, again, inefficiencies in terms of where the game is at and understand where it’s going. So a student of the game who is obsessed and who absolutely and, on his own, is completely driven to be the best, that’s what you’re looking for.”
This is the third time Lurie will hire a coach since he bought the Eagles from Norman Braman in 1995. His first hire was Ray Rhodes, who took the Eagles to the playoffs his first two seasons and lasted four years.
Reid led the Eagles to nine playoffs appearances, six division titles, five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl loss.
“Once you’ve experienced the success we’ve had, it makes you just realize that there’s nothing more that you want than a Super Bowl, and to deliver that to our fans,” Lurie said. “I’m very confident that we can attract a very good head coach, and he’s going to attract a very good staff. We have the people in place to work with them to be very, very impressive in terms of the future.”