Eagles Missed the Boat on Arians
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Despite a scheduled interview, the Eagles never really had any serious interest in Bruce Arians back in 2013 when they were looking for a head coach.
By all accounts Jeffery Lurie was hell-bent on hiring an innovator and Arians was considered to be a traditional head-coaching candidate, albeit a very good one after flourishing as the fill-in for Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis when the latter was battling leukemia.
Chicago fell into the same trap even though the Bears had the inside track on hiring the now Cardinals-mentor.
Then-Bears general manager Phil Emery pounced and filed the proper paperwork first, meaning he had the first shot at securing the services of Arians but the executive was also trying to serve two masters, hiring a good head coach while also bolstering his own reputation within the league.
Instead of going with the sure thing and hiring the widely-respected Arians, Emery made the curious decision to dip into the CFL and bring the nebbish Marc Trestman back across the border.
It was a disastrous decision that essentially cost Emery his job in the Windy City and significantly damaged his standing around the league as evidenced by the fact that the long-time executive no longer works in the industry.
Arians himself thought he had the Bears gig locked up and others around the NFL who had scheduled interviews with the one-time Temple mentor started looking in different directions, including Cleveland and San Diego, as well as the Eagles.
Philadelphia's "search" was always a dog-and-pony show, however, designed to feign a wide net in order to sell the fact that Chip Kelly was head and shoulders above the available competition.
The fact that Kelly played coy with both the Eagles and Browns until it became clear the University of Oregon was going to be facing significant sanctions forced Lurie and former GM Howie Roseman to settle on a backup candidate, now Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley.
And the "Gus Bus" was getting ready to roll in Philadelphia when Kelly picked up the phone and gave Lurie the "innovator" he always wanted.
Of the seven head coaches hired that offseason, Kelly is certainly among the better ones but Arians is far and away the leader in the clubhouse.
Rob Chudzinski was fired after just one season by the always-rebuilding Browns, Trestman lasted only two seasons in Chicago, while Kelly's predecessor in Philadelphia, Andy Reid, is the runner-up among those still employed with a 28-17 record in Kansas City.
Kelly is next at 26-19, Mike McCoy is 21-24 in San Diego and likely on his way out after this season and Bradley brings up the rear at 12-33 in Jacksonville, although his Jaguars still have a chance to win the dismal AFC South, which would certainly keep him safe.
The Cardinals of course got Arians and are now one of the best teams in football, arguably the most talented team in the NFC. With an imposing 11-2 record this season, Arians stands at 32-13 as the head coach in Arizona with two postseason berths and a real chance at stamping his legacy by making a run toward Super Bowl 50.
Conversely, Kelly's "innovation" boiled down to one thing, the tempo of his offense. On the other hand, Arian's time-tested philosophy of taking the ego out of play-calling and allowing a competent quarterback to have the autonomy he needs is the better option.
"It's just my philosophy," Arians said on a conference call with Philadelphia-area media earlier this week. "We want to put a lot of pressure on playing quarterback for our offense and take us out of a bad play and put us in a better play, give you three plays at the line of scrimmage and be able to put your offensive line in position to hopefully be successful."
To me, Arians' greatness is defined by his adaptability. He's no slave to scheme and will change his game plans to accentuate the strengths of the talent he has on hand while maximizing as many deficiencies as possible.
"He's done every kind of offense you can imagine, so he's got great versatility in his scheme," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis admitted. "Then he just kind of says, 'OK, who are my players and where does this ball need to go?'"
If Davis was asked the same question about his boss, he would have to answer a lot differently, at least if he was telling the truth.
The disconnect here is a lot of people confuse "new" with "innovative" and you can count Lurie among them.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JFMcMullen.