Why isn’t Josh McDaniels head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles instead of (checks notes … checks notes again … squints … holds paper away from face … brings it closer … cocks head to side … shrugs … clears throat) Nick Sirianni?
Probably because – relative to McDaniels – the 39-year-old Nick Sirianni is a virtual unknown. He spent the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis under Frank Reich. And since Reich is an offensive-minded coach, he’s gotten the notoriety, not Sirianni.
This being his first head coaching gig, Sirianni is in the “just happy to be here, excited for the opportunity” phase of coaching life.
McDaniels is not. At 44, with one coaching flop a decade ago, all the success he’s had as an OC for the greatest dynasty in NFL history and a very public humiliation of the Colts when they tried to hire him in early 2018, he’s got to get this gig right.
He can’t wander into a situation with a team that’s got cap problems, quarterback problems, roster problems and a Napoleonic GM and just hope for the best.
After standing on the high board staring down at the water for eight coaching cycles, McDaniels can’t take the plunge now until it feels just right. And the Eagles job is not just right.
A franchise needs to experience a complete and utter cratering before its ownership/GM/front office cohort pleads for help from an outside source and promises them full control.
The Eagles haven’t cratered. Their problems, as owner Jeffrey Lurie said earlier this month are “very fixable.”
They don’t want a head coach who’ll come in and tell them what’s wrong and what needs fixing. They just want their Carson Wentz repaired, thank you very much. McDaniels isn’t really wired that way. If he got to Philly and found that the Wentz thing wasn’t going to work, he would have said so.
He’s worked and crossed swords with the best there ever was and won six Super Bowls. He’s not going to relish getting into debates with Wentz -- who hasn’t really peed a drop in the league relative to Tom Brady -- and try to get him repaired if Wentz is as resistant to coaching as has been reported.
What the Eagles want is someone to come in and rub Wentz’ back until he feels good about himself. As Lurie said after axing Doug Pederson, “It behooves us as a team with a new coach, a new coaching staff, to be able to really get [Wentz] back to that elite progression.”
No it doesn’t. It behooves the Eagles to determine whether the employee is willing and capable of returning to that elite progression. Then acting swiftly if he isn’t. Sirianni isn’t going to tell them that. McDaniels probably would. Or did.
And that’s likely why his interview with the Eagles on Sunday took about 10 hours. He is, undeniably, the most decorated and accomplished head coaching candidate available. The guy’s coached in eight Super Bowls, won six, understands all there is to know about motivating and working with high-level players, has developed players like Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo, pivoted his offense to whatever personnel the Patriots are working with and can conjure plays that create points and wins when he’s got some of the most underwhelming offensive talent in the NFL.
He makes good cash in New England. The franchise desperately needs him to stick around. He can – in one respect – be very choosy about where he goes because of that. In another respect he HAS to be choosy because - after the Denver and Indy experiences – McDaniels knows he’s probably not going to be cut a lot of slack if things go poorly.
And the potential for things to go poorly in Philly are there. So it was imperative McDaniels interviewed the Eagles as hard as they interviewed him. Would that turn the Eagles off? Would it make them decide they needed someone they could give marching orders to rather than a collaborator? Perhaps. Or maybe they just liked Sirianni more than McDaniels.
Whatever. Bottom line is, Philly’s decision is the Patriots gain because – even if you mistakenly believe McDaniels is not a great coordinator – Bill Belichick already has too much on his plate for 2021. He doesn’t have the bandwidth to run the offense too.
Consider these facts.
The Patriots have more than $60M in cap space for this offseason yet aren’t the plum free agent destination they were when Brady was on the roster. Belichick’s going to have to recruit and he won’t have former personnel head Nick Caserio around to run things, as Caserio so often did. Furthering the free agent quandary is the crop of veteran Patriots with expiring contracts the team needs to make decisions on.
Meanwhile, the Patriots will select 15th in April’s draft and – having ignored or flat-out missed in the draft at a number of key spots – the team is in must-hit territory. And yet COVID will make the draft that much more imprecise.
Belichick’s been able to let McDaniels do what he does with the offense and has trusted it will be done right. And – no matter the personnel Belichick’s brought aboard – McDaniels has found a way to do that.
Because the Eagles went with Nick Sirianni, Belichick doesn’t have to sweat whether or not the players he brings in will be in good hands. All he needs to do is find some good players. And until McDaniels finds the good opportunity, the collaboration will continue.