What has happened to the Eagles since the Super Bowl is what happens sometimes to successful football teams.
What happens next could have long-range implications.
Coordinators are hired away. Assistant coaches follow. The disappointment over losing the Super Bowl sinks in. Losing is painful and the hurt won’t go away easily — if at all.
There is fraying around the edges. The Eagles’ dynamic roster marched through the 14-win season with few injuries and fewer stress tests.
But, the old gang is breaking apart. Free agents are going to sign elsewhere — including players who are strong influences on and off the field.
Anxiety started two days after the Super Bowl when both coordinators landed head coaching jobs. This news wasn’t a shock because coaching changes are part of the annual grind — you lose coaches, you replace them. Every team does it.
Sometimes the replacement is better; sometimes not. There might be collateral damage among the players over losing coaches they admire. Players know the NFL is a business.
But now, the blockbuster report from The Inquirer that likely has shaken the Eagles and everyone around them. The Inquirer reported that defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson was fired by head coach Nick Sirianni last weekend after a contentious meeting.
Wilson was passed over for the defensive coordinator job that went to Sean Desai. Before the Desai hiring, the Eagles signaled that Wilson was not only a candidate but a strong one. Wilson not getting promoted was surprising. Wilson reportedly getting fired was shocking.
The Inquirer reported that Sirianni wanted assurances that Wilson would work well with Desai. Wilson said he would, The Inquirer reported, but he was fired nonetheless.
Wilson’s situation reminds me of Duce Staley. He coached 11 years with the Eagles from 2010-20. He was a candidate four times for promotions (twice as head coach, twice as offensive coordinator) in Philly but never got the job. When Sirianni arrived in 2021, Staley left for Detroit as the assistant head coach/running backs coach.
WILSON HIGHLY REGARDED
Wilson was respected and valued by his secondary. After defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon left for Arizona, Darius Slay and C.J. Gardner-Johnson tweeted support for Wilson to replace him.
The Eagles were the NFL’s top-ranked passing defense and the second-ranked defense overall. Wilson’s secondary had 16 of the team’s 17 interceptions, tied for fourth in the league.
Wilson’s reported firing could be the most severe test of Sirianni’s coaching tenure.
Egos are everywhere on a National Football League roster. They can be as large as the player himself. They can be responsible for a harmonious locker room or a fractured one.
Do you remember corrosive Terrell Owens in 2005, the year after the Super Bowl? Owens was a disruptive force of nature. This isn’t that. But no one knows what it will turn into.
The 2022 Eagles were mostly a smooth-sailing cruise through the NFL’s choppy waters. Coaches dream of having everyone rowing in the same direction, with the same focus and same goals. The Eagles seemed to have reached that point.
There were minor squabbles, for sure, but nothing that appeared to linger, or nothing that became public. Players constantly portrayed a team with great rapport and solidarity. They were tight.
Strong leadership from Sirianni, Jalen Hurts, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox — among others — kept the mission, the mission. They drove the team forward with one mindset — to improve every day and, ultimately, win the Super Bowl.
At the NFL Combine last week, after the Eagles hired Desai, Sirianni was asked if Wilson would return as defensive backs coach.
- “Dennard is a great football coach,” Sirianni said. “He’s done an outstanding job. If he is still our defensive backs coach, we’ll be lucky to have him because he knows how good of a coach he is.
- “We’re not to that process yet. We just finalized that Sean will be our defensive coordinator, so we’re not there yet. I think the world of Dennard and how good of a football coach he is.”
Such is life in the NFL. You’re a great coach one day, out the door the next.
The Inquirer reported the Eagles are trying to portray this break-up as an “amicable split,” but it isn’t.
Yes, this reported firing is messy. Yes, it can have effects that live past today’s headlines.
We’ve known Sirianni for two-plus seasons. He is a players’ coach. He clearly respects his players and coaches. He has their backs. He doesn’t criticize anyone publicly.
Healing the locker room will have far-reaching ramifications for Sirianni that go beyond whether to run or pass on any particular play.
Mr. Sirianni, the ball is in your court. Strike it wisely.