Examining the NFC East: Head Coaches
Our daily series examining the NFC East with the help of league personnel sources concludes with the head coaches, a job in which there has been significant turnover inside the division.
Every team outside Philadelphia has a new head coach with Dallas finally moving on from Jason Garrett to Mike McCarthy, Washington bringing in former Carolina coach Ron Rivera and the New York Giants trying to stop their disastrous post-Tom Coughlin run with the unknown Joe Judge.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have continuity in Doug Pederson, who will enter his fifth season at the helm on the heels of three consecutive playoff berths and the franchise’s lone Super Bowl championship back in 2017-18.
The theory is that continuity should give Philadelphia an advantage and one that is magnified at least a bit due to the first virtual offseason and the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the ability to quickly implement scheme and philosophy changes.
From a practical standpoint, however, the gap is closing for the Eagles, not because of Pederson himself but because the Cowboys and Redskins got significantly better at head coach with the Giants remaining the lone question mark.
McCarthy, like Pederson, is a Super Bowl-winning coach, and Rivera made the big game as the head man of the Panthers. The criticism leveled at Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur with the Giants is largely an organizational failure tied to the stubbornness of not pulling the plug on Eli Manning sooner but now that that page has finally been turned, the Giants are also on the uptick.
4. - New York Giants - A Philadelphia native, Joe Judge is the latest Bill Belichick acolyte given an opportunity in the big chair. At just 38 his entire NFL resume is in New England.
Belichick plucked Judge from Alabama where he was a special teams assistant under Nick Saban, a good friend of the Patriots’ head coach.
That was 2012 and Judge spent three seasons as a special teams assistant with the Pats before being promoted to special teams coordinator in 2015. By last season Judge had a dual role as STC and receivers coach before his meteoric rise in the coaching ranks finished with the top job for the Giants.
A few years ago the thought in the NFL has been tabbing the STC as a fill-in head coach might not be a bad idea because other than the head coach, the STC is the only other coach that communicates with the entire team. Mike Priefer and Jim Fassel are a few examples of STC being given short-term opportunities in various circumstances while Dave Fipp with the Eagles told SI.com why that trend was developing.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who was the Eagles’ long-time STC under Andy Reid, is the template for this type of move and like Judge taking on WRs, Harbaugh moved to the secondary before getting an opportunity.
“(Matt) Rhule was the obvious choice and when Carolina got him things shifted. It’s bold coming off the last two hires,” a former AFC personnel executive said.
3. - Washington Redskins - Jay Gruden was actually a competent coach with the Redskins but the expiration date was past due. From there Bill Callahan was the placeholder for Rivera, who spent eight-plus years as the head coach of the Panthers, winning 76 games and making the playoffs four times with the high-water mark being a win in the 2016 NFC Championship Game and a subsequent loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
A steady hand, Rivera, who was the Eagles’ LB coach under Reid from 1999-2003, figures to be a big upgrade over the priors years in Washington but like Gruden will ultimately be subject to the whims of meddling owner Daniel Snyder.
If allowed to do his job, Rivera will have Washington moving in a positive direction.
"Ron knows how to run a program," a former AFC personnel executive said. "With (Jack) Del Rio there as well, you know the defense is going to be solid. Did they make the right decision at QB (in 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins)?"
2. - Dallas Cowboys - McCarthy was the head coach in Green Bay for 12-plus seasons resulting in nine playoff appearances, four NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl XLV title. That impressive run coincided with the prime of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Aaron Rodgers and at least some critics have spun “only” one Lombardi Trophy as a failure.
Things went bad as Rodgers began to ignore scheme for more and more freelancing, a catch-22 and something Matt LaFleur is dealing with right now with the Packers.
Putting any concerns aside, it’s hard to imagine McCarthy being anything other than a huge upgrade over the toothless Jason Garrett, who is now Judge’s offensive coordinator with the Giants
The potential pitfall is Jerry Jones, the most hands-on owner in the NFL.
“Is Jerry going to let him do the job or step in at the first sign of trouble?” an ex-AFC scout asked rhetorically. “You have to think there will be at least a short honeymoon so Mike has to take advantage of that.”
1. - Philadelphia Eagles - Pederson is one of the few NFL coaches who has married an adeptness for X’s and O’s with the ability to handle a locker room. His long-term NFL career as a backup QB enables him to understand both sides of a very difficult equation.
“I laughed when (Jeffrey) Lurie said ‘emotional intelligence,’" a former NFC scout said. “Damn if he didn’t get it right. Doug knows how to deal with people and he was next to Don (Shula), Mike (Holmgren), and Andy (Reid) all those years. Maybe we should have all figured it out sooner than we did.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen