BETHLEHEM -- Something had to change, and Andy Reid knew it wasnt just the players or the scheme or the playbook.
Sean McDermott, Bill Shuey, Rory Segrest and Dick Jauron, who spent a combined 28 years coaching defense under Reid, were all let go soon after the 2010 season ended with a second consecutive first-round playoff loss.
This had already been a period of great change for the Eagles, with Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Brian Dawkins and everybody else in uniform for Super Bowl XXXIX moving on. The team now belongs to DeSean and Shady and Mike. Its a new day, a new age.
And Reid knew once last year ended that his coaching staff had to change, too. It wasnt an easy decision. He watched McDermott and Shuey grow up. Segrest had been with him five years. He and Jauron were close.
It didnt matter.
They were good coaches, Reid said after practice at Lehigh Sunday. But listen, sometimes change is good for everybody. Ive got a ton of respect for Sean McDermott and the crew we had on defense last year. Hell do wonders there (with the Panthers). But I just thought there needed to be a change.
So the purge began. McDermott was fired after 12 years under Reid. Shuey and Segrest were fired. And Jauron didnt have his contract renewed.
Reid had never done anything like this, not on either side of the football. In fact, he had fired only one assistant coach in his first 11 years as Eagles head coach special teams coach Ted Daisher after the 2009 season. Then he fired four in a week. His entire defensive staff.
The only thing more surprising than how he fired them is how he replaced him. Reid lured highly regarded defensive line coach Jim Washburn on board. He stunned everybody by moving Juan Castillo from offensive line to defensive coordinator. He promoted entry-level coaches Mike Zordich and Mike Caldwell to secondary and linebacker position spots and then he brought in Johnny Lynn to coach the corners.
Reid also tweaked the offensive side of the ball, convincing legendary Howard Mudd to replace Castillo. But the big change came on defense, where every spot on the coaching staff is now occupied by a new coach.
Its way too early to tell what kind of team the Eagles will be this year or how good this defense will be. But you dont have to watch a whole lot of training camp to see the energy and the devotion these guys have to their jobs and to see how seamlessly the new staff is working together.
It just feels different.
Castillo is a maniac, barking out encouragement to his guys after big plays and even dashing sometimes out there into the middle of the pile-up before the whistle blows. Zordich and Caldwell veterans of 12 and 11 NFL seasons are cerebral and intense, effortlessly commanding the respect of their guys. Washburn is vintage old school, cussin out his linemen one moment, then hugging em the next. And Lynn, hes pure inspiration, screaming so loud and so often he lost his voice before training camp was a week old.
The coaching staff we have on defense is wonderful, linebacker Moise Fokou said. Zordich played in the league a long time. Same with Caldwell and Johnny Lynn. Juan was a defensive player (in the USFL). And Washburn, hes the most respected defensive line coach in the league. We have a lot of guys who actually know the game in terms of playing it and coaching it, and theyve seen it from both vantage points. Thats huge.
When you have guys who can give you tips here and there from the perspective of being a player, it makes you that much better. They understand what youre going through. They understand what youre seeing. They understand the mistakes you made, and for them to understand it in both ways as a player and as a coach its a big help to all of us.
McDermott actually did as capable a job as possible last year considering the talent level he had on defense. He was offered two coordinator jobs within hours of getting fired here, and its still a good bet hell eventually be an NFL head coach.
Shuey is out of football. Segrest is coaching at tiny Samford College. Jauron is the Browns defensive coordinator.
But Reids overhaul of the defensive staff had as much to do with simply wanting a fresh start as any limitations of his former coaches. It didnt really matter who was here. He just believed it was time to start over.
New coordinator. New scheme. New players. New position coaches.
I think its working out great, second-year safety Kurt Coleman said. Everyones working toward the common goal, so theres no egos. Everybody wants the same thing, and thats the kind of cohesion we have, and thats what youre seeing out there every day up here.
No coach feels like theyre better than the other one, and no player feels like that. We want to win, thats all we care about, and were all willing players and coaches to do whatever it takes to achieve our goal, which is to win a Super Bowl.
Soon after Reid had his new staff together, the CBA expired and the lockout began. But the Eagles tried to use it as a positive. The lockout gave Reids new coaches a terrific 4 12-month opportunity to come together as a group before they had to worry about a single practice.
All they did during the lockout was meet with each other, second-year linebacker Jamar Chaney said. Theyre a lot of new coaches, but theyve been together ever since lockout started, so that gave them the opportunity to get to know each other, to know the ins and outs of the defense, to learn how to work together, so when they got out here (for training camp), its just basically teaching.
The coaches bonded during daily 10-hour film sessions at the NovaCare Complex from early-March, when the lockout began, until late July, when it finally ended.
We were basically watching tape from 8 a.m. til 6 p.m. every day and discussing different situations, how were going to do certain things, approach different things, Castillo said. So it was a great asset to us, and we were really able to take advantage of that time we had together.
The lockout gave Castillo and his new staff a chance to take a fresh look at everything the Eagles were doing defensively.
They broke down blitzes, goal-line, third down. They looked at personnel and free agents. They examined the way they practiced and trained.
They made sure they broke everything down, started from scratch, and built it back up, Reid said. So from a coaching standpoint, that was a very positive time for them.
The biggest criticism the players had of last years defense was that it was too complicated.
So one of the first decisions Reid and Castillo made back in the spring was to simplify everything. Gameplans. Play calls. Signals. Formations. Personnel groups. Substitutions.
Juan understands that in order to play good defense, youve got to play free defense, and in that sense, theyve kind of made the defense more consistent, where guys almost dont have to think too much and just have to react, Fokou said. I definitely give that up to the coaches.
Because of the lockout, we dont have all kinds of time to see what works and what doesnt. You just have to say, Hey, we have to make sure this stuff does work.
But the biggest difference fans have seen is with the tempo and energy at practice. McDermott was very businesslike and as Reid alluded to when he fired him was still coaching in the shadow of beloved Jim Johnson, who lost his battle with cancer two summers ago. And Segrest, Shuey and Jauron were quiet, content just to be in the background.
The changes at practice this summer are huge. We see a lot more hands-on coaching. We hear a lot more encouragement being shouted out. We see a lot more pure teaching across the board.
And the energy level is off the charts.
I feel like theyre doing a lot of hands-on coaching and teaching, and the guys are really buying into it. Fokou said. And thats the most important thing. Everybody is buying into it.
There was some drama on the coaching staff last year, a little too much drama. There were linebackers who sought out Caldwell for advice instead of Shuey, their position coach. There were veterans who disrespected McDermott for no reason other than he was so young. There were linemen who didnt feel Segrest was truly an NFL-caliber defensive line coach and longed for the days of highly regarded Tommy Brasher.
Thats all gone now. There are no agendas, no egos, like Fokou said. Just tireless coaching.
Tremendous amount of energy, all these guys, Reid said. Theyre all energetic guys, and they know theyre building from the ground level up, and theres a certain energy that comes with that.
Now, therell be trials and tribulations as you go and how they work through that and even grow closer as a unit players and coaches itll be fun to watch that maturation process.
Its already fun to watch their boundless enthusiasm. The Eagles might be the only team in the NFL whose coaches work as hard in practice as their players.
Theyve been doing a good job of showing a lot of enthusiasm, and even though were going to be enthusiastic anyway, it feeds off on us, too, Chaney said.
Sometimes, youre not going to want to practice, but they come out here ready to coach every single day, so we have to be ready to. You cant let your coach have more energy than you do.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org