McMullen: Eagles’ Coaching-Staff Shakeup is a Sleight-of-Hand Trick
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - If you're paying attention Doug Pederson's "new normal" has actually been implanted at the NovaCare complex.
The sentiment, first verbalized after the Super Bowl LII win, wasn't a fool's gold promise to win the Lombardi Trophy every year, it was about getting to January football, something that has happened for three straight seasons with the Eagles despite the curveball of attrition plaguing an aging roster.
Success increases expectations, however, and playoff appearances are no longer good enough even with the context added on.
You can make an argument -- and I have on 973espn.com's "Football at Four" that 2019-2020 was Pederson's best coaching performance to date and even better than the 2017-18 Super Bowl run. His reward for that seems to be questioning, something expected by the emotion of a fan base wanting bottom-line results but not from the top floor at the NovaComplex which should know better.
Instead, a scapegoating process has begun with Jeffrey Lurie putting a loyal man on notice by forcing him to sacrifice assistants like Mike Groh, Carson Walch, and Phillip Daniels. A fourth, defensive backs coach Cory Undlin technically got a promotion to defensive coordinator In Detroit, but Philadelphia wasn't exactly blocking the door when Undlin was leaving, an NFL source tells 973espn.com.
Pederson is loyal to a fault according to some critics and left to his own devices, it's unlikely any changes were coming other than promotions for those replacing coaches like Undlin, who got better jobs.
Lurie's take was that the organization needed "new eyes" from outside the organization and to that end the Eagles interviewed Baltimore QB coach James Urban and Southern Cal OC Graham Harrell for the most high-profile of the open jobs, the vacant offensive coordinator position.
The staff positions as a whole will likely become clearer this week at The Senior Bowl, which serves as sort of a convention for coaches looking for work.
Pederson, of course, was forced to deny he was being pressured to shake up his staff but he also artfully couched that with the thought that he has bosses to answer to as well.
"I have a bunch of conversations, but ultimately it's my decision," Pederson told a Philadelphia-area radio station when discussing the changes. "I do have a lot of conversations in the building. And part of my evaluation, me personally, is with our owner Mr. Lurie. I think it's important he and I continue to stay on the same page, along with Howie. We do have some tough conversations. I think in my standpoint, it's very beneficial to me, personally, and it helps me lead the football team."
The narratives have been muddled with some espousing Pederson needs a steady hand guiding him like Frank Reich once provided and that Groh simply didn't have the cachet or gravitas to replace the now Indianapolis head coach. Some of those same critics also tied themselves into a pretzel claiming that the 34-year-old Harrell would bring "new ideas" to the table after excelling as an "Air Raid" coach at North Texas for three years before a potential one-and-done at Southern Cal.
Former QB coach John DeFilippo and his hard-coaching style of Carson Wentz is also a favorite spin even after Flip's failed stints in Minnesota and Jacksonville as an OC put him into career rewind as the new QB coach on Chicago where he will take on the next sequel in the "Mission Impossible" series, fixing Mitchell Trubisky.
It's hard to defend Walch after the regression of Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor but the former was simply banged-up and the later was just never very good to begin with despite a first-round pedigree.
All the white noise -- and the new hires -- shouldn't obscure the real issue here, though. A Super Bowl-winning coach has earned the right to pick his assistants, especially when the ring was followed to by two more postseason appearances despite significant attrition coupled with poor personnel decisions.
The definition of a scapegoat is a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency.
The Eagles' coaching staff-shakeup is a sleight of hand trick, a public-facing entity hoping its customers focus on the shiny quarter instead of the substance.
A broken leg doesn't need a Band-Aid and in this case, if the injured limb is ultimately repaired, it will be the result of better personnel decisions not Plan C at The Senior Bowl.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen