Five potential candidates to run Eagles' defense

Packers' Mike Trgovac has family issues that could keep him from moving away from Green Bay.
Packers' Mike Trgovac has family issues that could keep him from moving away from Green Bay.
Posted: January 26, 2011

WE'VE ALL had our fun with the Eagles' achingly slow search for a new defensive coordinator, particularly since it included the man who is doing the searching flying off to Antigua with the missus for a week right after firing the old defensive coordinator.

It's made for a lot of great Twitter jokes, and God knows I love a good Twitter joke. But it's time to get serious here and try to figure out whom exactly the Eagles are waiting on. Because they most certainly are waiting on somebody.

As much as some talk-show hosts would like you to believe the Eagles are the NFL's version of the Keystone Kops, they aren't. You don't get to the playoffs nine times in 11 years by being totally clueless.

That doesn't mean that I think they should have fired Sean McDermott. And that doesn't mean I'm confident they're going to find somebody better when they do get around to hiring his replacement. It just means that they're not sitting around the NovaCare Complex with their faces in their oatmeal bowls.

They have a plan. It might be a good one or it might be a bad one. But they're not making this up as they go along. At least I don't think they are.

So, for the sake of argument, let's assume the reason they haven't yet talked to the defensive coordinator of their dreams isn't because he's on an around-the-world cruise or sitting in a jail cell at Graterford or doing a rehab stint with Lindsay Lohan or moose hunting in the Canadian Rockies with no access to cell service.

Let's assume it's because it's somebody on the coaching staff of one of the two teams that are headed to Super Bowl XLV - the Steelers or the Packers.

A problem with that is that both the Steelers and Packers play 3-4 schemes. It's been suggested that the Eagles might be thinking of switching to a 3-4. But no one in the organization has given any indication that they're contemplating that.

Also, you would need a lot of offseason practice time to make the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4. And with the very real possibility of a long lockout on the NFL horizon, they'd be absolutely crazy to try to do it this year.

But somebody's going to be the Eagles' next defensive coordinator. Before we proceed any further, I'm going to tell you who it definitely won't be. It won't be Dick LeBeau.

While the Steelers' Hall of Fame defensive coordinator will technically be a free agent after the season, he's not interested in leaving the Steelers. He loves Pittsburgh and enjoys coaching for Mike Tomlin. He has a close bond with his defensive players.

LeBeau is not the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the league, but at 73, that's not a particularly big deal to him. He's making more than enough. He's not going to leave just because the Eagles or somebody else offers him an extra hundred grand.

So, who then, you ask. Who will be the Eagles' next defensive coordinator? Is he born yet? Well, here's five from the staffs of the Steelers and Packers to keep an eye on:

Keith Butler, Steelers

Linebackers

The 54-year-old Butler almost certainly is on the Eagles' radar. He's already turned down defensive coordinator opportunities twice previously - with the Cardinals and his good friend Ken Whisenhunt a couple of years ago, and last year with the Dolphins.

He signed a contract extension with the Steelers last year after the Dolphins courted him that includes a clause making him the Steelers' defensive coordinator-in-waiting whenever LeBeau opts to retire. That doesn't mean he wouldn't leave, but it does mean the Steelers could prevent other teams from talking to him if they were inclined.

Also, the Cardinals still haven't filled their defensive coordinator vacancy, and Whisenhunt, a former Steelers assistant, appears to be waiting to take another run at his friend. If Butler goes anywhere, Arizona would seem to be the clear front-runner.

Ray Horton, Steelers

Secondary

Horton, 50, has an Eagles connection, which could come into play. He was on Marty Mornhinweg's staff in Detroit in '02.

Horton, who spent 10 years as an NFL defensive back with the Bengals and Cowboys, played and coached for LeBeau. Horton spent 5 years under him when LeBeau was defensive coordinator then head coach of the Bengals and rejoined him in Pittsburgh when LeBeau returned there in '04.

Horton isn't as highly regarded around the league as some of the others on this list, though. In a strange career twist, he went after the defensive coordinator's job at the University of Houston last year. And didn't get it.

Mike Trgovac, Packers

Defensive line

Trgovac, 51, a former Eagles assistant under Ray Rhodes, has the most impressive resumé of the people listed here. He spent 6 years as the defensive coordinator in Carolina from 2002 to '08, running a 4-3 scheme for coach John Fox, though Fox handled the playcalling.

Trgovac, once one of the most media-unfriendly assistants in the league, has softened quite a bit over the last couple of years and has lost some of his arrogance.

The reason he reportedly left Carolina for Green Bay was because of irreconcilable differences with then-Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.

While Trgovac would like the opportunity to be an NFL coordinator again, the timing might not be right. He has a daughter who will be a senior in high school next fall, and he's told friends he's extremely reluctant to move her for the second time in 4 years.

That doesn't mean she couldn't stay in Green Bay and finish school while he coached somewhere else. But he would prefer not to do that.

Darren Perry, Packers

Secondary/safeties

Perry, 42, a former safety at Penn State, is one of the league's up-and-coming defensive coaches. He spent 4 years coaching under the Steelers' LeBeau in both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

He joined the Packers last year when Dom Capers became the defensive coordinator. He is viewed around the league as definite defensive coordinator material, if not now, then very, very soon.

He's an outstanding teacher. The only negative with respect to the Eagles' job is the same one with Butler and Horton. The defensive system he is most familiar with is the Steeler 3-4, and if there's a lockout, it's going to be awfully tough to switch to it.

Winston Moss, Packers

Assistant head coach/

inside linebackers

The 45-year-old Moss spent 10 years as a linebacker with the Bucs, Raiders and Seahawks. He's been an NFL coach since '98 and has been with the Packers since '06, but isn't rated as highly as Perry by NFL coaches and executives I spoke with.

With the exception of Trgovac, though, he's got the most extensive 4-3 coaching background. It's what the Packers ran his first 3 years in Green Bay under then defensive boss Bob Sanders.

Send e-mail to pdomo@aol.com.

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