The Eagles allowed 31 touchdown passes this season, the most in franchise history. They were the worst red zone defense the league has seen in decades. They were picked apart by geriatric QB (Kerry Collins) and rookies making their first start (Joe Webb) – not to mention Cowboys Stephen McGee in a lackluster season finale loss. There certainly was a case to be made that the Eagles defense needed changing.
Still, it came as a surprise when the team announced Saturday that it was parting ways with Sean McDermott. Andy Reid gave his word Monday when he said McDermott would be back for a third season as defensive coordinator – which indicates perhaps Reid’s word wasn’t the terminal death knell for McDermott, a longtime Jim Johnson disciple and Redi assistant.
“I look at it a little bit different than what you (reporters) do,” Reid said. “I’ve seen him work with young guys, I’ve seen him work through injuries, I’ve seen him stay positive through those situations and still put us in a position to win football games and knowing he is going to do nothing but improve as a coach.” Well, if McDermott does improve as a coach it will be somewhere else. It won’t be in Philadelphia. We know that now.
Reid has generally been loyal to his guys and McDermott was certainly one of his guys, working his way up from administrative assistant to linebacker coach, secondary coach and, finally, defensive coordinator succeeding Jim Johnson. Leslie Frazier and Steve Spagnuolo left the knee of Big Papa Jim Johnson to become defensive coordinators and then head coaches elsewhere. It was McDermott who remained to inherit the job when Johnson sadly passed following the 2008 season and playoffs. Johnson’s final game was an NFC Championship loss to Arizona. Before training camp in July, Johnson was gone and McDermott named defensive coordinator. Andy Reid didn’t hesitate when he made that choice.
Reid might have given McDermott at least another year to resolve some of the problems on defense. Being brutally honest, many of the problems weren’t McDermott’s fault. Injuries forced weekly lineup juggling and the personnel department handed McDermott some pieces that either didn’t fit (Ernie Sims) or didn’t contribute (third round pick Daniel Te’o-Nesheim).
Maybe Reid felt compelled to make a move because he saw the possibility of losing secondary coach Dick Jauron to Cleveland. Last year, Reid fired special teams coordinator Ted Daisher when Bobby April suddenly became available. It could be, Reid knew that if he waited he might lose Jauron to the Browns so he fired McDermott with the thought of promoting Jauron to defensive coordinator. It would make sense unless Reid has his eye on someone else outside the organization… like Mike Singletary, Bill Davis (WHO?), Rob Ryan, Jim Mora, Jr. or Eric Mangini. Speculation had been that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwig would leave to take the Cleveland job, creating the possibility for Brad Childress to return or for Reid to import a new offensive mind (Josh McDaniels, Jim Harbaugh, former QB coach Pat Shurmur). None of those scenarios are going to happen.
There were reports that the organization sought an older, more experienced voice who might have more success with this defense – or who might be less prone to teach defense and faster to overhaul. If so, Jauron – who has coached in the NFL for 25 years, including 10 seasons as a head coach with both Chicago and Buffalo (and three on staff with Green Bay from 1986-1994 with Mike Holmgren) – would fit the description. Excising McDermott from the equation entirely will prove a mistake. Promoting Jauron over McDermott might have been possible if both parties realized it was best for the team. Not sure what the plan is here. Time will tell…
A coach can only do so much. Ultimately, it comes down to the players and McDermott finished the season with a starting lineup that included two free agent linemen (Juqua Parker & Antonio Dixon), two rookies (MLB Jamar Chaney and safety Kurt Coleman, both seventh round picks), plus another seventh round pick (LB Moise Fokou) and a career backup (CB Dimitri Patterson). It wasn’t exactly the Steel Curtain. It wasn’t even the Styrofoam Curtain.
The Eagles invested nine of their 13 2010 draft picks on defensive players – including all of the first five – with little to show for it. End Brandon Graham was a disappointment before he went down with an injury. Safety Nate Allen started off well enough but had a nightmare game in Tennessee and then he, too, was injured. Te’o-Nesheim was such a bust, the Eagles were pulling guys off the scrap heap (Derrick Burgess, Bobby McCray) to line up ahead of him by the end of the year. Rumors that Jevon Kearse received phone calls abounded. There was a Ouija board incident involving the resurrection of the spirit of Reggie White but that never worked out either.
Because he was forced to play so many new faces McDermott was somewhat limited in what he could do. MLB Stewart Bradley went down with an injury as did Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel. McDermott couldn’t implement a lot of complex coverage, because with young players there was a high probability of mental mistakes. He held back on blitzing because he didn’t have confidence that his patchwork secondary could hold up. If Buddy Ryan, Chuck Noll and Dick LeBeau could have combined into one Super Defensive Coordinator, there’s no telling even they could have squeezed more out of these players. Again, this was more about personnel than scheme.
McDermott could put together a very creative package when he had the right pieces. For example, his game plan for the league opener against Green Bay was excellent. He had Aaron Rodgers, a very smart QB, confused the entire day and that’s not easy to do. The Packers won, 27-20, but Rodgers had one of his poorest games of the year (three sacks, two interceptions). Defensive coordinators can do many things but they can’t do more than their players can do.
As the season wore on and the injuries mounted, things fell apart, especially in the red zone. For awhile, McDermott was too cautious inside the 20. He knew he had a weak secondary so he didn’t want to take a lot of chances. Understandable, but he was getting cut to pieces so he took to blitzing. The trouble was he didn’t the personnel to get to the QB so that didn’t work either. Mind you, a good mechanic doesn’t blame his tools – but at what point do you stop pounding your car engine with a baseball bat and realize that the proper tools would be helpful to get the job done? It became his personal Catch-22 and his terminal flaw.
Were there quandaries in the defense to give one pause? Yes. Using the undersized rookie Brandon Graham at tackle rather than end. It slowed his development and took away the one advantage Graham had – which was rushing the QB. Why was Trent Cole, the team’s (nay, the league’s) best pass rusher, dropping into coverage on a zone blitz? He should be chasing down the quarterback, not a tight end. McDermott was doing what all coaches do, trying different things in search of something that works and then building on what works.
Maybe the players lost confidence in McDermott? Maybe they stopped listening to him? Perhaps Reid saw that and it influenced his decision. None of us in the media or the fanbase are around the team closely enough to know that for certain. Maybe Reid wants to switch to a 3-4 defense (the hot NFL trend) and he wants to bring in a coach who can teach it (Eric Mangini? Todd Bowles?) That would be a dramatic departure not just in scheme but in personnel for a team bereft of quality linebacker talent.
For the moment, we’re left to sort out the news of McDermott’s dismissal. Just one year ago, Pro Football Weekly ranked the defensive coordinators in the NFL and had the 36-year-old McDermott at the top of the list, ahead of established and accomplished veterans Dick LeBeau, Dom Capers, Gregg Williams, all of them. The poll quoted an unnamed scout who said: “McDermott is a rising star. I think a lot of people expected the Eagles to tail off after Jim Johnson passed away, but this kid clearly paid attention. He was with Jim 10 years sitting at the foot of the master…and absorbing it all. In some ways – with how creatively he finds ways to bring pressure – I think he might be better (than Johnson). He’s got a great feel (for play-calling).”
From rising star to fallen star in one season. A playoff season at that (despite back-to-back first round playoff losses). When they talk about a career arc, I doubt that’s what McDermott had in mind. Sean McDermott will find work again and don’t be surprised if it is under the eye of Leslie Frazier, Pat Shurmur, Steve Spagnuolo or John Harbaugh. Talk around the league is that any team without an established, secure Defensive Coordinator will pursue McDermott. Frontrunners should be Cleveland, Denver, Carolina, San Diego and San Francisco. Big mistake Eagles. Big mistake. McDermott could have been retained with new leadership but somebody had to be sacrificed.
Sean McDermott isn’t the only assistant coach to lose his job in the wake of the season-ending playoff loss to the Packers. Rory Segrest, who spent the last two years as the Eagles’ defensive line coach, has also been fired. Segrest had never played or coached in the NFL when he joined Reid’s staff after the 2005 season. Head coach Andy Reid (who retains his job for the 13th season) continues to overhaul his defensive coaching staff, a high-placed NFL source said Sunday. The Eagles confirmed the move later in the day on their web site. While a franchise housecleaning is understandable, this is probably as effective as trying to mop a dirt floor. Howie Roseman, Joe Banner and Andy Reid have been making personnel decisions (or “buying the groceries” as Bill Parcells would say). Jim Johnson’s successor Sean McDermott was offered a talent pool and told to make it work. What happened to Reid’s public vote of confidence in McDermott?
Philadelphia Eagles http://prosportsblogging.com/nfl-football/philadelphia-eagles Arbitration for Francisco http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/philadelphia-phillies/arbitration-for-francisco/
Manuel Lame Duck No Contract Extension http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/philadelphia-phillies/manuel-without-contract-extension/
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org