PHILADELPHIA - Jeff Stoutland isn't going to admit it, but the Eagles' veteran offensive line coach was like a lot of us after Doug Pederson was fired less than three years off a Super Bowl LII championship.
You can envision your own reaction from Stoutland but it was enough uneasiness to send feelers down to Tuscaloosa and Nick Saban about returning to the crown jewel of college football, Alabama.
And things progressed enough to where Bruce Feldman, one of the preeminent college football reporters in the country, reported that Stoutland was likely headed back to the Crimson Tide.
A separate NFL source claimed that the Eagles were preparing to lose Stoutland while also trying to sell him to new coach Nick Sirianni, hardly a difficult sales pitch considering Stoutland's reputation.
The real hero in all of this if you're an Eagles fan, however, is Stoutland's wife Allison.
"My wife, Allison, she’s like, ‘see you, whatever, I’m not going anywhere, this is our home,’" Stoutland joked when asked about the Alabama rumors. "Not that I would even have that conversation, but anyway, if I was going to go back and coach in college football, [Alabama is] where I would go."
That admittance gives you a window into just how close Stoutland was to leaving the Eagles.
Other than his wife, there were other things that kept him tethered to Philadelphia.
Most notable among them was his desire to keep coaching at the highest level, his respect and admiration for the city as well as the attachment he has to his guys, not only the stars like Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, and Brandon Brooks but the young players he took immense pride in developing last season.
"No. 1, this is the highest level of football that a coach can be at," Stoutland said. "It’s like the ultimate position. If you want to coach on the offensive line, there are 32 coaches in the offensive line in the National Football League. That’s it.
"This is the highest level. I really love coaching in the National Football League, but most importantly, I love working for the Philadelphia Eagles, and I mean that sincerely. I love the town, I love the city, I love everything about it."
To the outsiders looking in during 2020, the disaster was easy to see. Stoutland was forced to use an NFL-record number of OL combinations over 16 games due to the attrition the Eagles suffered.
Ever the coach, Stoutland gushed at controlling what he was able to control and helping young players like Jordan Mailata, Nate Herbig, and Sua Opeta turn from projects to players who could carry their own water against NFL competition.
"It’s going to sound strange, but look, winning is everything," he said. "There’s no feeling like winning, believe me. But there’s this satisfaction you get when you’re watching, and you have these meetings and you have the walkthroughs and then you watch it in the game," Stoutland explained to SI.com's Eagle Maven.
"There are all kinds of things that happen when the game starts. All kinds of things start – movement, backers running downhill fast, the game is so much faster, blah, blah, blah. But when it actually happens on the film and you see Sua Opeta, and you see Jordan Mailata in the New York Giants game – and they have good D-linemen; they’re big and long – and you see those two guys come whistling off the ball and knocking guys back and putting them on their back, and then Boston Scott is running right in behind them for a 7, 8-yard gain.
"And they’re executing technique and they’re surfacing the block the way I teach it to them. That’s freaking awesome. I just feel so good about that. There’s more that happened (last) year with some of these young guys."
The joy of developing players like Mailata, who has gone from an Australian rugby player to a left tackle some former offensive linemen like Brian Baldinger, Ross Tucker, and Barrett Brooks believe has Pro Bowl potential, resonates with Stoutland's students in a reciprocal fashion.
“I almost had a heart attack when those [Alabama] rumors came out,” Mailata admitted “He reassured us he’s coming back. I was very relieved. He’s like my dad.”
Johnson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection regarded as the best right tackle in football when healthy, is at the other end of the spectrum, a proven star who understands where the foundation of his success was built.
“With how he teaches and how goes about his business, I don’t think there’s anyone better in the business," Johnson said.
Nationally, not many expect much from the Eagles in 2021 with a rookie head coach and a first-year starting quarterback. Perhaps those doubters fail to look up front where Johnson and Brooks are expected to return at 100 percent to rejoin Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, and either Mailata or Andre Dillard.
“I think [Hurts has] got a better team around him than other people do,” Ross Tucker told SI.com's Eagle Maven. “I mean, look at the offensive line, if Brandon and Lane are healthy, it’s a top-10 line all day.”
And the coach of that top-10 O-Line?
"It’s like anything else," said Stoutland. "I’ve done this for 38 years, and I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never been a better coach than I am right now."
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.