Azzinaro is more than just defensive line coach for Eagles

Jerry Azzinaro was one of five Ducks coaches Kelly brought to the Eagles, but the only one of the group who was full-time. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Jerry Azzinaro was one of five Ducks coaches Kelly brought to the Eagles, but the only one of the group who was full-time. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 29, 2013

Even above the din of a throbbing bass line, Jerry Azzinaro's Brooklyn bark carries its way across the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex.

The yells aren't as unrelenting as Jim Washburn's profanity-laced tirades, but the new Eagles defensive line coach is the only one of Chip Kelly's assistants who brings an old-school punch to Eagles practices.

However, Azzinaro, the lone assistant Kelly brought with him from Oregon, is not a relic. His voice extends beyond his group of defensive linemen.

The 30-year veteran will be as involved in defensive game-planning and making in-game adjustments as any position coach. As the Eagles' assistant head coach, he will often act as a conduit between Kelly and the players and coaches.

And perhaps most important, Azzinaro, as consigliere, will have Kelly's ear as the staff maps out the future of the Eagles.

"They're on the same page and they know exactly where they want to go with this," said assistant defensive backs coach Todd Lyght, who served as a defensive intern at Oregon for two years. "Their approach to the game, because they've both been around for a long time and experienced all the different places they've coached, has brought them to this point."

Kelly brought others from Oregon along for the ride, but no one with as much clout as the 55-year-old Brooklyn native who will aid Kelly as he fast-forwards his way through the day.

"It's as much that I'm familiar with the tempo of the day and just the way we operate," Azzinaro said Thursday. "It's a systems design issue. We're going to move fast, we're going to meet fast, we're going to talk fast, and hopefully we're going to give interviews fast. It's just the way we do it."

The results - a 46-7 record in four seasons at Oregon - speak for themselves. But there's a method to the madness and the maximizing of time. The Eagles, for instance, have already installed 80 percent of the defense, according to Lyght.

"The way Coach Kelly and Coach Azzinaro go about it is, we want to teach to the best and the brightest learners in our classroom," Lyght said. "So if you have trouble comprehending the information, you're going to have to play catch-up."

That doesn't mean that players will be left behind. Azzinaro will be instrumental in figuring out ways to teach those who need help, Lyght said.

"Chip leans on Jerry a lot because he has great insight," Lyght said. "He's a very personable guy and I think that one of the best qualities about him as a coach is he knows how to interact with people from different backgrounds and he knows how to bring the best out of them."

The first 17 years of Azzinaro's career were spent bouncing around New England. It's a close-knit coaching community and somewhere along the line - he said he couldn't quite remember when - he met Kelly. It was probably at a coaching clinic.

"The best way to get respect for each other is by how you perform on the football field," Azzinaro said. "I've always respected the way his guys play and I hope that he's always respected the way that my guys play."

After stints at Syracuse and Duke (as defensive coordinator), Azzinaro wound up at New Hampshire after Kelly left to become Oregon's offensive coordinator. But when Kelly was named the Ducks' head coach, he convinced Azzinaro to go west. It didn't take much to get him to crisscross back across the country for the NFL.

Azzinaro said it took "two or three minutes" for him to accept Kelly's offer.

Azzinaro is, first and foremost, a defensive line coach. He has nurtured some pretty good players - Dwight Freeney at Syracuse and Dion Jordan at Oregon - and will be charged with getting the most out of young linemen such as Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan.

Lyght and some of the other Eagles assistants marvel at the way he breaks down film. Lyght would only say that it involves deciphering into the simplest of terms where the ball may go based on an offense's formations and sets.

"It's pretty funny because they don't share all their information, even with some of the coaches," Lyght said. "Or they'll teach it to you and teach it to you real fast, but you can't comprehend all the information."

Azzinaro was also adept at making in-game adjustments at Oregon, Lyght said, adding that defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti often relied on Azzinaro's problem solving. New coordinator Bill Davis will surely take all the help he can get as he rebuilds the Eagles defense.

There are obvious obstacles facing Kelly and his staff, but having Azzinaro on board should help.

Even if he has to yell to get the point across.

"Ultimately, it's about the product," Azzinaro said. "I could be a yeller and a screamer and if my guys stink, well, that's not the way to do it."


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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