Sports

Nick Sirianni’s first coaching staff with Eagles has boom or bust potential

PHILADELPHIA — With the Carson Wentz saga taking up most of the oxygen in the Philadelphia Eagles‘ office, the coaching staff has become something of an afterthought.

But it’s a pretty big deal. First-time head coach Nick Sirianni, 39, has assembled a generally young group with some boom or bust potential, adding risk and intrigue to his mission of replacing Super Bowl winning coach Doug Pederson and getting a flailing Eagles team that finished 4-11-1 last season back on track.

Here are the primary coordinators/position coaches, followed by some analysis.

Jonathan Gannon (Age: 37), defensive coordinator

Shane Steichen (35), offensive coordinator

Michael Clay (29), special teams coordinator

Kevin Patullo (39), passing game coordinator

Jeff Stoutland (59), run game coordinator/offensive line

Brian Johnson (34), quarterbacks

Jemal Singleton (45), running backs/assistant head coach

Jason Michael (42), tight ends

Aaron Moorehead (40), wide receivers

Nick Rallis (27), linebackers

Tracy Rocker (54), defensive line

Dennard Wilson (38), defensive backs

A collection of first-timers

The average age for head coaches and coordinators for the 2020 season was 49 years old. The youngest staff was the San Francisco 49ers at 38 years. Sirianni and his top lieutenants are south of that with an average age of 35.

The Eagles clearly went after up-and-coming coaches with innovative ideas who could grow on the job. But the lack of experience is concerning. Sirianni has never been a head coach or called plays before. Two of his top assistants, Gannon and Clay, have never been coordinators at any level, while Steichen was an O-coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers for a season-plus.

A common thought was Sirianni would surround himself with some veteran coaches to help him navigate his role. He could still hire a senior advisor with prior NFL head-coaching experience to assist him, but as it stands, this is largely the green leading the green.

The most intriguing hire

Brian Johnson served as the University of Florida’s quarterbacks coach the past three seasons and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2020, becoming the first African American in team history to hold that title. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask became a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season under his tutelage. Before that, Johnson helped maximize the potential of quarterback Dak Prescott at Mississippi State.

Johnson played under Jalen Hurts‘ father, Averion, at Baytown Lee High School in Texas, and has known Jalen since he was 4 years old. He later recruited Jalen to play at Mississippi State before Hurts ultimately chose Alabama. The level of trust presumably built over time should be beneficial as the tandem works toward further developing Hurts.

Keeping ‘Stout’

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has a long track record of getting the most out of his players, but 2020 might have been his finest work. The Eagles finished tied for 10th in pass block win rate and second in run block win rate last season despite a rash of injuries that forced Philadelphia to use a record 13 different offensive line combinations over the first 14 games.

There was speculation Stoutland would rejoin coach Nick Saban at Alabama following the firing of Pederson, but he remains under contract in Philadelphia and will continue in the role he has had since 2013 when former coach Chip Kelly first hired him. Of all the staff moves, none were more important than retaining Stoutland.

Analytically speaking …

One notable coach moving on is Ryan Paganetti, the Dartmouth graduate who was the primary voice in Pederson’s ear in-game for analytical-based decisions. The Eagles became trend-setters in the football analytics realm. In Pederson and Paganetti’s five years together in Philly, the Eagles went for it on fourth down 140 times, by far the most in the NFL (the Giants were next at 111). The Eagles were far and away the leaders in two-point conversion tries over that span as well with 41.

There is no clear successor to Paganetti in place at the moment. It’s a safe bet, though, that analytics will continue to influence game-day decisions. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is a huge proponent of the practice, as is former Eagles coach Frank Reich, who served as Sirianni’s mentor in Indianapolis.

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