The Philadelphia Eagles don’t have a “famous” group of assistant coaches. And they certainly don’t have any “hot names” bandied about for coaching vacancies every year—at least not yet. But what they do have is a group that knows the game, knows their team and coordinates them to perform at maximum ability.
Yes, there is a former NFL head coach—offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg—on the staff. There are also two former Eagles players, Otis Smith and Mike Caldwell, on the defensive side of the ball. There are young upstarts, cagey veterans, and even a pair of coaches that remember the Ray Rhodes era.
Most of the credit goes to the coordinators. On the offensive side of the ball, Mornhinweg is often maligned but a very important cog in Andy Reid’s machine. The former quarterback at the University of Montana is well-versed in the West Coast offense.
After a decade as a college coach, he came to the NFL with the Green Bay Packers in 1995 as a quarterbacks coach.
When he moved to San Francisco to become Steve Mariucci’s offensive coordinator in 1997, it was the beginning of a four-year apprenticeship from one of the masters of the West Coast offense—and, ironically enough, gave Reid the opportunity to succeed him as Green Bay’s quarterbacks coach.
While his two-year stint as head coach of the Detroit Lions wasn’t very successful—but then again, what Lions administrator has been this decade? That experience has paid dividends for Mornhinweg since joining the Eagles in 2003.
He knows the ins and outs of what Andy Reid goes through, and as his assistant head coach, Mornhinweg is a second set of eyes, ears and protocols. He knows the system, he knows the role, and he knows how to get the most out of his players.
Looking at his accomplishments, it’s easy to see that he may well be the best offensive coordinator the Eagles have ever had. The 2008 Eagles scored a franchise record 418 points, while the 2006 unit holds the team mark with 6,103 net yards.
Several individual players have set several other team marks, and he’s mentored a total of four Pro Bowl quarterbacks.
Underneath him are a handful of quality guys in a similar mold. Quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur has been with the Eagles since the beginning of the Andy Reid era and has been very instrumental in Donovan McNabb’s progression into a multiple-time All-Pro.
Running backs coach Ted Williams and offensive line coach Juan Castillo, who have both been with the team since 1995, have produced one of the NFL’s top running games for over a decade.
Williams is credited for the development of Brian Westbrook in a similar manner to the Shurmur/McNabb relationship, while Castillo’s offensive lines always are near the top of the league in sacks allowed and rushing yards gained.
The true star of the show, however, may be defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. The 67-year-old Johnson, who has been the coordinator for the entire Andy Reid era, is noted for his unique blitz schemes and ability to make speed rushers into legitimate NFL threats.
His secondaries are also usually among the best in the league—with his 1998 Seattle unit, the last he coached before coming to Philly, scoring an impressive 10 defensive touchdowns.
Looking at some of the accomplishments Johnson’s defenses have racked up, it’s hard to argue with his autonomy.
Over this decade, his defenses rank second in the NFL in sacks and third-down efficiency, and their 17.7 points per game are the fourth fewest in the league over that time. Those numbers echo why Eagle defenders have snagged 26 Pro Bowl berths in the Johnson era.
However, with Johnson sidelined indefinitely while battling cancer, the most important member of the staff may be secondary coach and interim defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. If there was a perfect fit to replace Johnson in either the short or long-term, it’s McDermott—who has been with the Eagles and studying under Johnson since 2000.
A former standout safety at William & Mary, McDermott knows Johnson’s schemes inside and out. Two members of the Eagles secondary—Brian Dawkins and Asante Samuel—made the 2008 Pro Bowl, with Dawkins registering four berths under his leadership.
And even in his one year as linebackers coach, McDermott showed he can develop players at any position, as untested Omar Gaither came on strong and had a team-leading 170 tackles in 2007.
McDermott will have plenty of help, however. The man who will temporarily take his spot as secondary boss, Otis Smith, is a former All-Pro cornerback himself who spent four years as one of the Eagles’ starting corners.
Linebackers coach Bill Shuey succeeded McDermott when he moved back to the secondary, so he knows McDermott’s mind and knows how to develop the Eagles’ perennially underrated linebackers.
And quality control coach Mike Caldwell, another former Eagle, is a hard-nosed player who proved his worth as a hard-nosed assistant in his first season on the sidelines.
The key thing about every Eagles assistant is that they all know their roles and flow well together. Reid, Johnson and Mornhinweg are all excellent coaches, and the mix of veteran assistants and new additions mesh well under their guidance.
And hey, while they may not be sexy names right now, if Johnson is out for an extended time and the Eagles’ defense continues to impress—Sean McDermott may become the next Steve Spagnuolo, Rex Ryan or Romeo Crennel.