It would be understandable if the Eagles’ powers that be looked at Jonathan Gannon as a defensive coach and not much more.
After all, he’s one of the NFL’s youngest defensive coordinators, he’s going into his first stint as an NFL defensive coordinator and he’s got his hands full just learning the Eagles’ defensive personnel and installing his scheme.
One of the more interesting developments of the offseason is the emergence of Gannon as more than just a defensive coach.
Gannon, 38, is the 4th-youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL. Only Shane Bowen of the Titans (34), former Eagle DeMeco Ryans of the 49ers (34) and Sean Desai of the Bears, a former Temple coach (37) are younger. Gannon’s long-time colleague Adam Zimmer, the Vikings’ co-defensive coordinator, is also 37.
But all indications are that Gannon’s voice is a powerful one in the NovaCare Complex, despite his status as a rookie defensive coordinator.
The first sign that Jeff Lurie, Howie Roseman and Nick Sirianni have a high level of trust in Gannon came when Sirianni was building his coaching staff. It’s clear Sirianni gave Gannon a strong voice in selecting his defensive assistants.
Gannon’s defensive line coach, Tracy Rocker, was with Gannon in 2012 and 2013 with the Titans. And linebackers coach Nick Rallis didn’t overlap with Gannon in Minnesota – Gannon left for Indy in February of 2018 and Rallis was hired in August of 2018 - but both coached under Mike Zimmer, so Rallis certainly shares Gannon’s defensive vision and background.
Think about this: One of the reasons the relationship between Doug Pederson and the Eagles’ front office deteriorated was because of Roseman and Lurie’s insistence on Pederson hiring and firing specific coaches. And now, a few months later, a 38-year-old defensive coordinator has been given more latitude than a Super Bowl-winning head coach in hiring assistants.
And then there’s the roster.
The Eagles have signed three defensive free agents so far – Anthony Harris, Andrew Adams and Eric Wilson – and two of them, Harris and Wilson, played for Gannon in Minnesota. Harris was with Gannon from 2015 through 2017 and Wilson in 2017. Those moves don’t happen if Roseman – as well as Sirianni - isn’t listening to Gannon and doesn’t trust his judgment.
Eagles vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl spoke Wednesday about how important it is when a team has a new staff for the coaches to have honest and detailed conversations with the scouts about what they’re looking for in players who will best fit their schemes.
That scouting-coaching synergy is something the Eagles have always talked about but haven’t always had.
“It comes back to knowing what you're looking at and knowing what you're looking for," Weidl said. "Coach Sirianni, coach Gannon, coach (Shane) Steichen and their staff, they did a really good job of laying that out for us with clarity."
Later, when asked specifically about cornerbacks, Weidl again mentioned Gannon.
“We're going to find guys that come in and fit with coach Gannon and his defense, (what) they require and they need,” he said.
When the scouting director goes out of his way multiple times to mention a rookie defensive coordinator and the importance of finding his type of players, that’s revealing.
This isn’t Jim Schwartz, who was a former NFL head coach when he got here in 2016, had been a defensive coordinator with two other teams and had been coaching in the NFL for a quarter of a century.
Gannon is new at this.
He didn’t actually become a lead position coach until Frank Reich hired him as cornerbacks coach in 2018. He was a quality control coach with the Vikings until 2013 and an assistant position coach through 2017.
So for him to have already earned this kind of respect and authority in the NovaCare Complex is unusual and a sign that he’s held in exceptionally high regard in relation to his experience.
None of this means Gannon will be a good coach. None of it means the players he brought with him will pan out or the coaches he wanted will be keepers.
But it does mean that Roseman, Weidl and Sirianni agree on at least one thing, and that’s to listen carefully to everything Gannon says.
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