Phil Sheridan: Eagles limited by in-house approach

Posted: January 16, 2012

When the Indianapolis Colts lured Ryan Grigson away from the Eagles to be their new general manager, it brought to mind the last time Grigson's name was uttered publicly in the NovaCare Complex.

It was two years ago this month. In announcing the promotion of Howie Roseman to general manager of the Eagles, Andy Reid mentioned Grigson as one of the other candidates in the exhaustive, NovaCare-wide search process. Louis Riddick, who was also already on staff, was the other man Reid interviewed for the job everyone knew was being handed to Roseman.

"Obviously, we took our time here," Reid said. "These were lengthy interviews."

As Reid returns from a week's vacation, it seems reasonable to remind him what at least one sharp-minded (ahem) columnist wrote two years ago. The Eagles organization had become so insular and closed-off from the rest of the football world, merely talking to someone other than the predetermined candidate constitutes a "search." It is in this absence of fresh air and varied perspective that Juan Castillo was promoted to defensive coordinator last year.

In fairness, Reid did reach outside his comfort zone to hire Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn to reshape the Eagles' offensive and defensive line schemes. But that was a little different from what we're talking about. Reid has always stressed the importance of the two lines, and this was an effort to correct their course after a couple of subpar seasons.

Mudd and Washburn focused on their self-contained units. They did not challenge the set-in-granite approach to building the roster.

Grigson's departure provides another opportunity for Reid to open the windows and let a little light and oxygen into the complex. Beyond that, Grigson's hiring in Indianapolis provides a sharp contrast to Jeff Lurie's coach-for-life approach to his franchise.

Colts owner Robert Irsay hired Grigson to replace Bill Polian, the architect of a longer and more successful run than Reid has created in Philadelphia. The Colts were in the Super Bowl just two years ago and won it five years ago. Their horrendous 2011 was an obvious and direct result of the neck injury that cost Peyton Manning the entire season.

The Eagles are not going to hire Bill or Chris Polian, the son he was grooming to replace him in Indianapolis. But why not interview one or both of them for Grigson's personnel position? Why not identify and interview talented young scouts and personnel guys from other successful organizations?

The same logic applies to the defensive coaching staff. Whether Reid can convince Steve Spagnuolo to forego a paid year off or a better situation in New Orleans, or he feels an obligation to give Castillo another chance, there is no down side to interviewing a few outside candidates. The opening created by the beside-the-point dismissal of cornerbacks coach Johnnie Lynn provides perfect cover.

These interviews aren't just reviews of the resume over lunch in the NovaCare cafeteria. Candidates for personnel and coaching jobs offer critiques and analysis of the Eagles' current players and schemes. They reveal their own ideas to take advantage of players' strengths and make improvements to the roster. While Reid always talks about self-scouting after another Lombardi-less season, there is real value in getting fresh eyes and fresh perspectives in the mix.

Unless, of course, you are absolutely certain that your way is the only way, and that no one else's ideas could possibly improve upon your approach.

Since the Eagles didn't bother soliciting outside viewpoints and handed the GM job to Roseman, they have conducted two underwhelming drafts and spent an awful lot of cash in free-agency without getting much value in return.

The similarly insular Castillo decision was the single biggest reason for the disastrous 2011 season. It will be telling whether Reid sees that as reason to make a major change at this critical position or he chooses to dig in and prove that the rest of the world was wrong.

Just as Lurie allowed the team's 4-0 finish against less-than-impressive opponents to persuade him that Reid deserves another year, so might Reid decide the defensive improvement validates Castillo. There's no doubt the defense was better. Castillo made strides in his first season on that side of the ball. The question should be how many strides he needs to make to become a championship-caliber coordinator?

The NFL isn't going to offer a diet of Matt Moore and Stephen McGee in 2012. The Eagles are going to see Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, among others. The challenge of overtaking the Packers and Saints and 49ers in the NFC is going to be greater in 2012 than it was in 2011.

Can Reid make the minor adjustments needed to get there? Can he venture outside the NovaCare bubble for some fresh thinking?

We shall see. And hey, there's always 2013. And 2014. And 2015.


Contact Phil Sheridan

at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com,

or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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