In which I spend way too many words on the Eagles coaching staff.
I think Chip Kelly was the best hire the Eagles could have made. Maybe he won’t turn out to be, maybe he will, time will tell. I’m not completely sold on him but there wasn’t anyone out there that was clearly better. There’s things to like and legitimate reasons to be doubtful, of course nothing’s guaranteed. That’s also a fair description of his staff.
Chip Kelly finally announced his staff on Monday. Finally the local media can stop complaining about it instead of ignoring their jobs and actually researching these coaches for what they bring to the team instead of just reading Wikipedia and proclaiming “everything you need to know” about the staff. Since we’re 7 months away from kickoff and there’s nothing else to talk about, I’ve taken a closer look at the staff. I started out thinking this is a weak collection of coaches, but the more I read the more I came around to it. For the most part I like the assistant coaches and I’ll give Kelly the benefit of the doubt on these, but the coordinators should be held to a high standard and they are weak hirings. On face value, the staff is a good mix of college coaches and NFL coaches, experience and youth. But you have to dig deeper than face value. Kelly can hire 100 guys who share his philosophy and talk a good game, but at the end of the day results matter. Kelly’s coordinators are thin on results in those roles, but nearly all of his assistants have a track record of success at something. Let’s start with the offense, since that is Kelly’s forte.
Offensive Coordinator: Pat Shurmur
Shurmur was a terrible head coach, did nothing noteworthy as an offensive coordinator, and his QB credentials are being ridiculously overstated. As an OC and HC who called plays, his offenses sucked. In fairness to Shurmur, I’ll ignore the 2009 season because the Rams were probably tanking to get Bradford:
Shurmur’s QBs have played like crap. He oversaw the worst season by Seneca Wallace, who was a good backup QB under four previous coaches. He had Colt McCoy, who in 2010 under Eric Mangini’s staff (OC: Brian Daboll) was decent for what he was: a 3rd round rookie thrust into a starting role due to injuries (hmm, sounds familiar). As in all things, context is key, and McCoy had little to work with and was thrown into the fire. But then under Shurmur, McCoy regressed. For comparison’s sake, another 3rd round rookie who was thrown into the fire, and Sam Bradford’s overrated Rookie of the Year season under Shurmur, complete with stats I don’t even like but you might for your reading enjoyment:
Colt McCoy was never good, but his best season was the one without Pat Shurmur. Brandon Weeden stunk. Bradford wasn’t much better. Whatever minimum expectations you have for a #1 overall pick who starts on day one for a horrible team, Bradford met them. But he did no better than that. There’s nothing wrong with meeting but not exceeding expectations as a rookie, lots of players are not particularly good their rookie year but blossom in the next (and this year, his second full one, Bradford did, giving average production). But “meeting low expectations” is not impressive for a player or a coach. The Rams offense didn’t have any overachieving productivity, they had no productivity that really achieved, or any kind of creativity. Bradford got a lot of credit for improving the Rams by six wins, but they had the easiest schedule in the league (per Football Outsiders) and had the 30th ranked offense. The improved record was due to the defense, who went from one of the worst in the league to about average. Nothing about their offense was impressive. I want my coaches to get blood from a stone. Pat Shurmur breaks it into pebbles. True, Bradford didn’t have a lot to work with, but neither did McCoy or Weeden. Gee, maybe if they had Julio Jones instead of Greg Little… more on that later. On the eye test, Bradford showed signs he could be very good, that his team was bogging him down a bit, but so was the playcalling. McCoy on the other hand looked like a lost puppy before Shurmur thought it was a good idea to keep him in the game with an obvious concussion on national TV, and Weeden for some odd reason looked like a 29 year old rookie. For the past few years there has been an obviously bad head coach hiring. This year it’s Bruce Arians, last year it was Romeo Crennel, in 2009 it was the trifecta of Raheem Morris, Jim Mora and Eric Mangini, in 2008 it was Jim Zorn. In 2011 the Browns, with an absentee team president Mike Holmgren (who was awful as the GM in Seattle) leading the way, made it Pat Shurmur. Shurmur was a familiar, insular hiring for the Browns, with Holmgren and Tom Heckert sharing the same agent, and Shurmur’s uncle Fritz had coached for Holmgren. Maybe Bob LaMonte was actually running the team:
When Browns owner Randy Lerner gave Holmgren a five-year contract for a reported $50 million, he essentially paid LaMonte to own his team. They might be called the Cleveland Browns on the field, but the Cleveland “LaMontes” might be their real name. No one will gain or maintain employment with the Browns unless they come with the blessing and representation of LaMonte.
Besides his takeover of the Browns, LaMonte’s ability to secure the single worst deal in the history of contracts for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame is reason alone to be named Man of the Year. LaMonte created the illusion that Weis was wanted back in the league, then secured a huge deal for him without giving Notre Dame an offset, which made the deal ridiculous. Weis will actually be paid more and longer from Notre Dame than new head coach Brian Kelly.
Shurmur received some criticism for play selection in the Rams’ season-ending 16-6 loss to Seattle, which cost the Rams a spot in the playoffs as NFC West champion.
In that game, Jackson, who rushed for over 1,200 yards during the season, carried the ball only 11 times for 45 yards. He had only four rushing attempts in the second half. The Rams had seven possessions in the second half and none longer than six plays.
Yeah, that’s an Andy Reid disciple. Read the whole thing, it’s basically just an extended Wikipedia bio. There’s no energy in it, and none was deserved. Rams fans were happy to see him go. And he’s getting way too much credit for being Donovan McNabb’s QB coach. By 2002, when Shurmur was made QB coach, McNabb was already an established player. He was entering his fourth year, and as we all know by then he had finished 2nd in MVP voting in 2000 and lead his team to an NFC Championship Game in 2001. Sure, McNabb progressed during the time Shurmur was QB coach, but how much of that was really due to Shurmur? Andy Reid of course gets credit for McNabb turning into a very good pocket passer. Brad Childress deserves it as well, having been his QB coach from 1999-2001, and then his offensive coordinator from 2002-2005. Marty Mornhinweg also deserves credit. And this seems to always get overlooked when evaluating a player’s development: the player deserves a lot of credit. All the coaching in the world won’t improve a player unless the player has the ability and puts in the work. So that’s four guys ahead of Shurmur that deserve credit. I’m sure Shurmur did some good things, he did have the job for 6 years. But how much credit should we give Shurmur? Partial, but he’s getting talked about like it was all him. The same goes for any QB coach, who is at best the #2 coach in the pecking order? I’ll give you a guy who was a QB coach for what turned out to be two excellent QBs at the same time for two years. How much credit do you give the QB coach of the 2004 and 2005 Chargers? Drew Brees went from mediocre QB to one of the best in the league, and Phillip Rivers developed enough to let Brees walk at the end of his contract and it’s hard to say they were wrong to do so. That coach is Brian Schottenheimer. No thanks.
If you couldn’t tell, color me unimpressed. Just in the pool of OCs and HCs who were fired this year, there were far better options. Norv Turner and Ken Whisenhunt were hired as OCs in the NFL, Cam Cameron for a top college team, Brad Childress is out there and has the added bonus of being another ex-Browns and ex-Eagles coach. Chan Gailey and Curtis Modkins of the Bills were available. Despite their flaws, and they all have them, they’re all better than Pat Shurmur. They all have some success at the NFL that you can point to and understand why you would hire them. Norv Turner has put together some very good offenses and helped Phillip Rivers to the next level; Ken Whisenhunt developed Ben Roethlisberger and oversaw the Act II of Kurt Warner’s career; Brad Childress helped develop McNabb, turned an FCS project Tarvaris Jackson into a serviceable player (I know, it’s Tarvaris Jackson. I’m not saying he’s good, but he’s done better than guys who were top picks, and turned out to be the 2nd best QB in his draft) and oversaw perhaps the best year of Brett Favre’s career (and definitely the worst); Cam Cameron was Drew Brees’ OC when he took it to the next level in 2004 and was the OC for LaDainian Tomlinson’s best years; Chan Gailey and Curtis Modkins brought the pistol to the NFL in KC in 2008 and took it with them to Buffalo and got Ryan Fitzpatrick paid. Shurmur has nothing you can point to and say “this is what he did really well and will help the Eagles and Chip Kelly at.” His QBs stunk. His running game stunk. His WRs weren’t good. His game planning stunk. His play calling stunk. And he’s a horrible judge of talent:
But we obviously started off the draft by making a historic trade, probably one of the greatest trades in draft history, when we traded with Atlanta — our sixth pick to get to (No.) 27, eventually up to (No.) 21 — because we felt like we needed help in areas and based on the talent, based on what other teams around us were going to do and based on what we needed, we felt like that was the perfect thing to do.
The Browns wound up essentially trading Julio Jones for Phil Taylor, Greg Little and Brandon Weeden. I wouldn’t do that trade for Cleveland unless a gun was to my head or I hated my bosses. Or the city of Cleveland, so maybe I would. Finally, the worst thing I’ve seen written about hiring Shurmur: he gets to learn the spread! Why does this matter? To paraphrase the great George Allen “I will not have people (he said rookies) gaining experience at my expense.” People who don’t know what they are doing are liabilities, not assets.
I wrap the Pat Shurmur HateFest with this:
Writing about Cleveland’s offense leads me to a game I play every week at NFL Films. I sit in my office in Mt Laurel, N.J., put the Browns’ attack on my screen and call a friend who was a coach in the league, but is now in between successes. I tell my friend the personnel group, the formation, where the ball is located on the field and what hash mark and describe the motion — if there is any — and ask him to tell me the exact play that will be run. He is correct about 95 percent of the time. No lie. The Browns are so integrated into the West Coast system that their predictability is becoming legendary around the league.
Quarterbacks: Bill Lazor
His offenses at Virginia stunk. They were 80th, 70th and 85th in passing under Lazor. Awful. He was QB coach of the Redskins in 2006 when Mark Brunell and Jason Campbell finished 16th and 21st in DYAR and 12th and 20th in DVOA respectively. In 2007 Jason Campbell and Todd Collins finished 17th and 19th in DYAR and 20th and 19th in DVOA, respectively. Mediocre production from mediocre QBs. In Seattle, in 2008 Matt Hasselbeck was literally one of the worst QBs in the league, finishing 39th in DYAR and 38th in DVOA out of 41 QBs that qualified. In 2009 he was no better, finishing 43rd and 34th out of 46. Inspiring.
Wide Recievers: Bob Bicknell
Bicknell is an interesting hire. He is experienced yet young, and has spent most of his career coaching the offensive line. He also served as offense coordinator in NFL Europe, giving Kelly three coaches under him who have held an OC gig of some kind (and five DCs too). Five of his NFL Europe linemen went on to careers in the NFL, one became great. Brian Waters played center for him in 2000 (and in ’07 and ’08), then became a 6 time Pro Bowler and 2 time All Pro. Ben Hamilton started 110 games in the NFL, Tony Pashos 67 games, Tony Berti 30, Sammy Williams 14. That’s a damn fine haul for NFL Europe. Bicknell didn’t have a huge hand in their development, but those players obviously showed something in NFL Europe and he should get some credit for that. He seems to have a promising career for an offensive line coach, but instead he’s the WR coach, a position which he has only coached for a year. Bicknell has also coached tight ends, for two seasons in Kansas City, before coaching wide receivers under Chan Gailey with the Bills. Hmm, a coach from the staff that brought the pistol to the NFL. I’ll settle for that. You know a guy loves football when he coaches in Europe for 8 years and takes a job at Temple. I figure Kelly wanted Bicknell on the staff in some capacity, as Plan B for the offensive line and when he was able to land Jeff Stoutland he put Bicknell at WR.
Offensive Line: Jeff Stoutland
Stoutland is yet another college-only coach, giving Kelly four out of 11 key assistant jobs filled by first time NFLers. It’s clear that people around college football think highly of him. He was named the interim coach for the Sun Bowl after Randy Shannon was fired in 2010, teams don’t just give bowl games to anybody. (And FWIW, he apparently thought highly of Nevin Shapiro, although he appears to be in the clear in terms of any sanctions.) Nick Saban also thought highly of him, making Stoutland was the 3rd highest paid assistant at Bama even though he never before worked for Saban (though he did work for then-OC Jim McElwain at Michigan State). And Stoutland apparently turned down the OL job at Tampa Bay last year, so Chip Kelly 1, Greg Schiano 0. That’s a pretty good rep. At Alabama he’s overseen an offensive line of men among boys and helped turn Barrett Jones from good player to a two time All American and Outland and Rimington Award winner. Stoutland is a zone blocking guy, or at least he was at Alabama (and Kelly ran it at Oregon), so that will be the Eagles scheme this year, which is good. Jason Peters played great in it, Evan Mathis was a revelation and Jason Kelce was a pleasant surprise. Continuity in an offensive line is huge in terms of both players and attack.
Keeping Ted Williams on the staff (as TE coach) was smart, he’s a good coach and is well respected, and I like giving Duce Staley a promotion to the RB coach position. Staley should spend the entire off-season trying to punch a football out of Bryce Brown’s hands. Break into house and try to strip the ball from him, jump in the aisle at the grocery store and try to punch the ball out, try to grab it out of his hands while he’s waiting for his car to get washed, whatever it takes. Be relentless. If his only accomplishment is getting Brown to hold onto the ball, he’ll deserve a raise. Williams and Staley’s experience and reputation in Philly could be invaluable to Kelly’s transition.
Shaun Huls used to train Navy SEALs, so maybe the training went both ways and he can discipline guys by choking them with his elbows or something. Perhaps Richard Marcinko could be his assistant.
Special Teams: Dave Fipp
A former defensive coach in college, Fipp was the assistant STC for some excellent units. SF was 3rd in DVOA in 2008, and 20th in both 2009 and 2010. Miami was 6th in 2011 and 14th in 2012. Fluctuation in special teams performance is common. This year, by DVOA, Baltimore was 1st, Minnesota was 5th. Last year they were 30th and 27th, respectively. Three teams in the top 10 were in the top 10 last year, four were in the bottom 10. In 2011 it was four each. What I want to see is someone who has coached some very good units, and Fipp has. And by not being Bobby April, he’s probably an improvement. Just to be sure he should spend training camp lowering expectations.
With the imminent switch to a 3-4, or whatever hybrid the Eagles will wind up running (ICYMI: mandatory hybrid defense reading), having experienced college coaches is a good thing. Players will find themselves playing new positions, college coaches have plenty of experience teaching their players new positions, converting players happens routinely in college. Remember what George Allen said about rookies? Aside from being in over his head, one of Juan Castillo’s biggest problems was that his position coaches for the weakest units of the Eagles, linebackers and safeties also lacked experience. Mike Caldwell and Mike Zordich were first time position coaches under him. The new defensive staff at least has plenty of experience. With coaching being such a big problem the last three years, this is a staff Kelly needs to get right. But has he?
Defensive Coordinator: Billy Davis
I had a lot written about Ed Donatell, and then the 49ers wouldn’t even let him interview. Lame. In short, I liked him for the DC role. He did well in Green Bay and in Atlanta the Falcons front office was in a “let’s do what the Redskins do!” phase of acquiring players and you can only do so much with that. It would eventually get them fired (well, actually Rich McKay got a promotion in the wake of the Petrino era, but he’s been really good for the franchise in that role). But it doesn’t matter since he’s staying in SF. I did have this written though, and I was going to delete it until I saw “Billy Davis”:
But Donatell was added late to the party, after Kelly apparently considered other choices first. Nothing wrong with that, or with what appeared to be his first choices in Todd Grantham or Kirby Smart; Grantham with a decade of NFL experience and Smart with half a decade of churning out NFL defenders. Either would have been a good hire, but neither happened. Fine. Other candidates were Giants LB coach Jim Herrmann and Browns LB coach Billy Davis, who as a DC in SF coached the 31st and 29th DVOA defenses and in Arizona coached the 11th and 25th defenses. Ugh.
I had Davis written off as a lousy also ran. After looking deeper, I don’t see a lot that changes my mind. In his favor, he has a good history as a linebackers coach. In Carolina, under head coach Dom Capers and DC Vic Fangio, he had a good stable of veteran linebackers and got production out of them. LaMar Lathon had 8.5 sacks as a DE for the Oilers in 1994, then had 8 and 13.5 sacks in his first two years as an OLB in Carolina before his play fell off a cliff. After a down year (for him) in 1995 with the Steelers, Kevin Greene led the league in sacks in ’96, jumped to SF in ’97 and had another down year along with a spat with 49ers management over his wrestling career. Kevin Greene was awesome. He came back to Carolina in ’98 and was 3rd in the league in sacks. Greene was going to get his sacks regardless of where he was, but ’96 and ’98 were special years for him. Davis should get some credit for that, but similar to Pat Shurmur working with McNabb, Davis was the position coach behind a top notch DC and another top notch DC who was head coach. Partial credit only. He also had Sam Mills, who continued to terrorize the league with the Panthers, he also got good seasons out of scrap heapers, cast offs and journeymen in Darion Conner, Michael Barrow and Andre Royal. Linebackers were the strength of the Carolina defense under Capers and Fangio (who was the LB coach for the Dome Patrol), and it’s continued to be in their subsequent stops.
Davis’s next positional coaching job was as Atlanta’s LB coach from 2001-2003. In 2001 the Falcons were a 4-3 team and stunk at everything. Dan Reeves decided a change was needed and brought in Wade Phillips. Phillips made an immediate impact, the Falcons were 4th in sacks and interceptions, and jumped from 25th in DVOA to 16th, 17th against the pass and 13th against the run. The offense also turned around and the Falcons made the playoffs. Then it all fell apart in 2003 and everyone got fired. But we’re looking at the LBs. Keith Brooking made the first of his 5 straight Pro Bowls in 2001, flanked by different linebackers every year (which is a credit to Brooking): Chris Draft and Henri Crockett in 2001, Sam Rogers, John Holecek and Matt Stewart in 2002, and in 2003 Keith Newman and a return appearance by Draft. A yearly rotating cast of linebackers? That’s Eagles football!
He then went to the Giants for a year, where he was given extra responsibilities, which helped get him the job as San Francisco’s DC under Mike Nolan:
Even though Nolan has followed Davis’ career for some time, it was a recommendation from Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis that swayed Nolan. Lewis, who competed with Nolan for the 49ers’ coaching vacancy, said that Davis commanded the room whenever he spoke to players. Lewis also told Nolan that Davis compiled the blitz packages, along with other duties typically handled by the defensive coordinator.
It continues, emphasis mine:
Former coach Dennis Erickson hired Willy Robinson as a coordinator last year, and the 49ers’ injury-depleted defense yielded a league-high 452 points. Part of the problem was the team’s heavy flirtation with a 3-4 scheme in training camp.
One opposing coach said the 3-4 defense the team ran in exhibition games was the worst he had seen in more than two decades of coaching. The alignment was abandoned just before the start of the regular season.
“For one, there are only a few people who know how to do it,” said Nolan, who installed it in Baltimore after the Ravens purged their roster after the 2001 season. Davis has coached in a 3-4 defense in nine of his 13 NFL seasons.
“It can get more speed, more athleticism out on the field,” Davis said. Nolan reiterated that he’s leaning toward going with a 3-4. One reason is that it’s far easier to go back to a 4-3, once the 3-4 is established.
What Nolan doesn’t know is how Davis will be calling the defense on game day. “I know there’s a learning curve,” Davis said. “I grew up with (Houston head coach) Dom Capers in this league. He was great at preparation. I plan to be very prepared.”
I bold those parts because the 49ers defense was a grease fire in 2004 and couldn’t handle moving to the 3-4, but the 49ers decided to go that way again and tasked Davis with running it. A year and a half later, this article called for his firing for incompetence in SF:
Though it was accepted that the Chargers were the vastly superior team, the 49ers filed out of the stadium acutely aware of their most visible weakness.
Their defense is a mess. Preparation seems to be poor. Assignments often are blown. Problems exist from top to bottom, in all the margins and creases. The pass rush is inconsistent, the linebackers are a step slow, and the cornerbacks can’t cover a turtle with a tarp.
More to the point, the defensive coordinator Billy Davis — who drifts between the 4-3 scheme and the 3-4 scheme — not only has been incapable of masking these deficiencies but also seems to find ways to accentuate them.
Damn son. It doesn’t get better as you keep going. Davis would get fired at the end of the season. His next stop was the linebackers coach in Arizona under Clancy Pendergast. Pendergast is one of those coaches who keeps getting a job for some reason, the defensive version of Jimmy Raye Jr. In fairness to Davis, the 49ers had very little talent to build around, and he was working under Mike Nolan, who also deserves a lot of blame. But the record is what it is, and the Niners sucked. But that was six seasons ago, and with Davis working under a defensive head coach, he shouldn’t get all the blame.
So let us turn our attention to the Cardinals, who did have some talent and did not have a defensive head coach that Davis answered to. In another article making the rounds, Sheil Kapadia has a break down of what the Seahawks do with a similar defense and looks at Arizona did with their players under Davis. Decent read, but he overlooks if Arizona was any good or not. He notes that Chike Okeafor rushed the passer 70% of the time in this defense. But Kapadia doesn’t mention his production as a pass rusher, which dropped. In the four years prior to being that system, he was a 4-3 DE and had 8, 8.5, 7.5 and 8.5 sacks. He was a good, dependable pass rusher in the 4-3. He missed 2007 due a biceps injury, and in 2008 and 2009 he had only 4.5 sacks each year. Some of that can be explained by fewer opportunities to rush the passer, but since Okefor almost certainly rushed the passer about 95% of the time in prior years, his sacks dropped at a greater rate than his time rushing the passer did. Okeafor never played again after 2009, so you can chalk some of that up to him dropping off due to age and injury, but it’s something to keep an eye on for whoever gets that role on the Eagles. Davis couldn’t find anyone better and kept putting him out there. On the other hand, the “Predator” role had Bertrand Berry (who retired after 2009) and Travis LaBoy rushing the passer 94% of the time and did a respectable job. LaBoy, previously a backup with good production in Tennessee (20 sacks in 54 games), had four sacks in his first four games, then suffered a biceps injury (what the hell were they doing in Arizona with biceps?) and not surprisingly never had another sack all season. Needing surgery and facing a four game suspension (allegedly for steroids), he was cut at the end of the year. With a one armed man taking up half the rotation, the duo had a respectable 9 sacks. LaBoy would be gone the next season, Berry would rack up 11 sacks in the two years under Davis. With better talent on hand with the Eagles, whoever fills that role this year should have double digit sacks. In 2009 the Cardinals DEs and OLBs had 34.5 sacks, in 2010 they had 24. Seattle, the team everyone wants to mimic, had 24 this year. Of course, defense is more than sacks. The Cardinals run defense was not very good under Pendergast or Davis. Really, nothing was on a consistent basis :
The 2007 Cardinals defense was not very good, but it had promise. Darnell Dockett blossomed into a top lineman, with his versatility of playing inside and outside being a great asset. The change to a 3-4 was a great fit for Calvin Pace, who would leave for the Jets after that season. Gerald Hayes had his best season, Karlos Dansby was there and was very good, they also had Antonio Smith, who made the Pro Bowl last year for the Texans, and safeties Antrel Rolle and Adrian Wilson were a good but overrated duo. With another year in the system and the addition of 1st and 2nd rounders Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Calais Campbell, and veteran DT Bryan Robinson (allowing Dockett so slide over to DE) the 2008 Cardinals defense should have improved. It didn’t, and as a result, Pendergast was fired and Davis was promoted. And brought some Ryan-esque bluster:
Three weeks into the season, the 1-2 Cardinals are 0-2 at home and are coming off a crushing 21-point loss there to the Colts before a national primetime television audience. Probably not the best time for anybody on the team to start sounding cocky, right?
Well, somebody is. And it isn’t a player on his Twitter account, either.
“This defense can go to the top of the NFL,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis predicted this week in an interview with The Republic, “and we will.”
That’s a pretty bold statement considering Davis’ defense ranks 20th overall in the NFL, allowing an average of 360 yards per game, and his pass defense (280.3) is worse. It’s ranked second-to-last in the league, behind even the Detroit Lions. And he’s talking about being No. 1?
“Yes, because we can,” Davis, the first-year coordinator, said. “I know we have the talent to do it. And I’m not going to back off of that because I know what I’m looking at. I just have to get them together and get it right.”
Shurmur-esque, even. He was partly right, the defense did improve that year, as you can see above. And as you can see above, it didn’t last. In 2010 they struggled early:
The next target on my list is Bill Davis. While I search for a word to describe how horrible his coverage schemes were today, let me say that his defense allowed over 400 yards of total offense and allowed Mike Tolbert to run wild — reaching 100 rushing yards. At one point I think Davis decided to bury his head in the sand and cower until the game was over — hence the picture above. His predictable ways continued today, often blitzing on third downs instead of double covering Antonio Gates like he should have been. He continued to let Chargers’ running backs blow through holes instead of stacking the box. The defense couldn’t get a stop until late in the fourth quarter when the Chargers punted for the first time in the game. I’ve reached my limit with Davis and am counting down the days till he’s no longer part of the team.
Hasselbeck was outstanding, but the Cardinals’ defense was far more generous than it needed to be. The secondary was no match from the beginning, with Arizona even replacing struggling cornerback Greg Toler. I put Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis on the hot seat heading into the season because Arizona has had trouble finishing games on defense. The designation was arguably premature because injuries were a significant factor late last season. Injuries are not the only problem now. They are not even a primary problem. Davis’ defense had trouble starting and finishing Sunday. This has to rank as one of Arizona’s most disheartening performances on defense. Seattle hadn’t done anything on offense recently, even when Hasselbeck was at quarterback.
The Cardinals have allowed 407, 507 and 490 yards in their past three games. They have allowed more points than any team in the league. They are missing tackles left and right. The defense appears to have no confidence, no killer instinct and poor fundamentals. Younger players such as Greg Toler and Calais Campbell appear to be regressing.
The Panthers offense is about as complicated as a glass of water, but it was effective enough Sunday. The Cardinals, normally a 3-4 defense, used four down linemen for much of the game, and the Panthers gashed them in the first half for 96 rushing yards.
It cost Davis his job. Yes, he lost some starters from the 2009 season, the team wasn’t as talented. Karlos Dansby departed, which was a significant loss, but he didn’t single-handedly carry the defense. He was replaced by 1st round pick Daryl Washington. They also released Rolle because he wasn’t worth his contract (and hasn’t been in NY), replacing him with Kerry Rhodes, a fairly lateral move. They let Okeafor go and Berry retired. The talent level took a dip, but Davis has some responsibility in their replacements. It was his defense and he certainly had input into the players they signed and drafted. Because the third time is a charm, Whisenhunt finally got it right in hiring Ray Horton, who turned the Cardinals into a very good defense using a similar scheme and terminology. Not a good sign for Davis.
Next stop, Cleveland, where under Dick Jauron he had D’Qwell Jackson, who was a good player in 2007 and 2008 before a series of injuries, blossom into a top LB, and managed to somehow turn Chris Gocong into an actual player, reaffirming that Davis knows how to coach linebackers. Davis appears to be a fine linebackers coach, and with what assume will be Trent Cole, Brandon Graham moving to OLB and Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans to 3-4 ILB, the linebackers will have the hardest transition, which is common when a team moves from the 4-3 to the 3-4.
But Davis isn’t the LB coach, he’s the DC. Sure, he’s coached under some of the best 3-4 coaches in the league in Dom Capers, Wade Phillips, Vic Fangio and Mike Nolan. That’s great to have on your resume when you get started, but after having your own DC gig twice already it’s kind of like putting your college internship on your resume when you are 27. And after Jim Washburn’s arrogance and Juan Castillo not knowing what he is talking about, this bears repeating: you can say all the right things, but there’s no getting around this: at the end of the day, you have to produce. And he hasn’t.
“Shutability?” In four years as a DC, Billy Davis’s defenses have held the other team to single digits twice. Okay then. Finally, Davis has never worked with any of these coaches before (nor has Shurmur). That a definite concern, as is his own claim that he couldn’t have gotten this staff together if it was up to him.
I can understand why you would hire Billy Davis as a LB coach. But as a defensive coordinator, I don’t get it. His strength as a defensive coordinator rests entirely on one season. Well, anyone can have a good year, and anyone can have a bad year too. But three bad years to one good one is not a good ratio. There were better options available. Ray Horton is clearly better and ran a similar defense with many of the same players and got much better results; I’d take Mike Pettitine but can understand why someone wouldn’t; Dick Jauron has a better history and is also an ex-Brown and ex-Eagle coach; and John Pagano did a good job last year with mess that was the Chargers. Billy Davis appears to be a hire that Chip Kelly had to settle for. Kelly said he wanted his coordinators to have NFL experience at those positions, but he’s lying. Kirby Smart and Jim Herrmanns have never been DCs in the NFL. Davis wasn’t at the Senior Bowl like almost every other Eagles coach was and he wasn’t announced until after the 49ers wouldn’t let Donatell interview anywhere. You can’t always get what you want, but you don’t always get what you need either.
Defensive Ends: Jerry Azzinaro
Azzinaro follows Kelly from Oregon, where liked violence. I like that. Normally I ignore an official team bio’s accolades, as it’s filled with fluff, but they can be useful for coaching tree information or some details that you didn’t know, such as this, though you immediately see the fluff:
At Oregon, he has made a habit of molding unrefined athletes into stellar forces in the trenches. A year ago, he was instrumental in the development of Dion Jordan, who emerged to earn first-team all-conference accolades after finishing the year fifth in the league in quarterback sacks. His tutelage also resulted in honorable mention acclaim for Taylor Hart and Terrell Turner.
In 2010, it was converted tight end Brandon Bair who was named a second-team Pac-10 all-conference choice, as did Kenny Rowe. Will Tukuafu was another product of Azzinaro’s mentoring in 2009.
See what I mean about changing a player’s position routinely happens in college? Jordan was another one. He was a 4 star athlete out of high school with DE being a possible position for him, but he was primarily a TE/WR. Azzinaro made him into a first round talent and has gotten a lot of mileage out of his players, this looks to be a good hire. I do have an issue with the hiring process and philosophy behind the whole defense though, because we’ve seen it before with the hiring of Jim Washburn and Juan Castillo. Andy Reid first decided on his defensive philosophy and hired Jim Washburn, then hired a defensive coordinator. Having Washburn and his rigid Wide 9 already installed did not help Reid land a DC and was a large part of his demise. The process and the outcome stunk and now Chip Kelly is repeating it. He decided he would go to a 3-4, which is fine, and hired his DE and LB coaches before hiring a DC. But hey, he’s coach Azz and he yells a lot, so people who have never heard of him like him. That part makes no sense.
Inside Linebackers: Rick Minter
This is another hiring I don’t get. Nor do Kentucky fans. I’ve tried to find something in Minter’s career to hang his hat on, but I am unable to. Minter spent ten years as Cincinnati’s head coach, at the time of his firing he was their most successful coach, which says more about the Bearcats program at that time than Minter. Since being fired at UC in 2003, he has bounced around college football with a downward trend of prestige. In 2004 he went back to his previous coach, Lou Holtz during his South Carolina stint, where his defense beat up on the cupcakes and got pounded against good teams. The next year he went back to Notre Dame as Charlie Weis’ first defense coordinator. He was awful there too, with his defenses giving up 400+ yards and 40+ points in big games. Minter’s defenses were good at nothing:
Minter probably got a raw deal in 2007, as Weis’ offense was one of the worst in college football, but his defenses just weren’t good. Turns out the other teams had “a decided schematic advantage.” His next stop was Marshall, where his defenses were run of the mill, which for Marshall is pretty good. When Marshall head coach Mark Snyder was fired in 2009, Minter was named interim coach and then was let go (a good sign as noted earlier), with the best available job being the DC of FCS Indiana State (obviously not a good sign). The past two years he was Joker Phillip’s DC at Kentucky, who were nothing short of horrible last year, that staff got fired too.
Minter’s had a handful of excellent coaches work under him while at Cincy: John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Jimbo Fisher and Rex Ryan. That’s nice line on the resume. On the other hand, he’s only produced a handful of quality NFLers in the front seven and that is being generous. He coached Trent Cole at Cincy, he had him playing DT in his sophomore year; Cole’s senior season was not under Minter. He has ties to another Eagles DE, having coached Vinny Curry at Marshall for two seasons. The best NFL players he has produced have been DEs, in addition to Cole he coached a couple of solid but unspectacular 3-4 DEs in Mike Gann and Eric Dorsey at Ball State in the 80s. He hasn’t produced any linebackers of note, Rocky Boiman was the best of the bunch, and he only spent his freshman and sophomore years under Minter. Yes, you read that correctly, the second and third best players Minter produced were in the 80s. He has produced no LBs of note, but he is a LB coach. I don’t get it.
Outside Linebackers: Bill McGovern
His defenses steadily declined under his tenure as Boston College’s defensive coordinator, contributing to head coach Frank Spaziani and his staff getting the ax this year. Sense a theme? BC’s defenses under his tenure: 2009: 21st overall, 8th rushing, 35th passing; 2010: 10th overall, 2nd rushing, 36th passing; 2011: 51st overall, 65th rushing, 28th passing, 74th overall, 62nd rushing, 88th passing. Two excellent years, continuing BC’s excellent defense against the run, followed by two mediocre years. But it’s not all grey skies. We’ve seen for years the Eagles get gashed up the middle on runs because of weak inside play and linebackers. McGovern has a history of coaching and being part of a coaching staff that has been extremely good at it. This could be a really good hire if those problems go away. He has also produced a handful NFL linebackers in his young career, having coached Luke Kuechly, Mark Herzlich and Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Seemingly solid hire, although for some reason he is coaching the outside linebackers, not the inside, which seems to be more his bread and butter. If you flipped Minter and McGovern, that would make more sense.
Defensive Backs: John Lovett
Another college coaching lifer, Lovett has also bounced around college football. He’s a Tommy Tuberville guy, having been his DB at Ole Miss, DC at Auburn from 1999-2001 and his DB coach last year at Texas Tech (where the pass defense dramatically improved) and was supposed to go with him to Cincy this year. (This is the 2nd time Lovett has switched teams twice in one off-season, in 2005 he moved from Clemson to Louisana Tech then to Bowling Green.) Lovett is another hybrid 3-4/4-3 guy, and as a college DC has coached some stout defenses. He engineered a huge upset of Florida in 2001, holding one of the best offenses to a pedestrian game, and Tommy Bowden remembered him giving his Tulane team a tough time, similar to how Andy Reid was impressed with Jim Johnson. Lovett’s gotten results at a lot of schools. Hopefully he can turn around the disaster that has been the Eagles secondary.
Mike Dawson, who coached with Kelly and New Hampshire and with McGovern at BC, is the one assistant position coach of note. Because last year he was an athletic director of a high school, which is good because with DeSean Jackson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and LeSean McCoy this team has a few players that can act like high schoolers. Maybe he can bring a guidance counselor with him.
Seriously though, obviously I don’t like the coordinators. Shurmur and Davis stunk and there were better options available. I hope I’m wrong, I hope the defense turns itself around and we see the Eagles offense dominate through excellent gameplans and great adjustments. I have my reservations they can do so. I don’t claim to know it all. These guys all know more about football than you and I do, I’m sure that most of them will turn out fine. Some will not simply because unless you’re Bill Walsh or Mike Holmgren it’s near impossible to put together a who’s who of assistants. It is concerning that the coordinators have never worked with their assistants, have bad track records as coordinators/head coach, and that so many of the coaches keep getting fired; in fairness coaches who are unemployed are easier to hire. I am truly giving these guys the benefit of the doubt. By default you almost have to.
Chip Kelly is an outstanding college coach and I hope he’s an outstanding coach for the Eagles. Part of being one is having a quality staff. We shall see if he has that.