Eagles' Davis right man to lead the defense

Coordinator Bill Davis wasn't Chip Kelly's first choice.
Coordinator Bill Davis wasn't Chip Kelly's first choice. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff)
Posted: September 03, 2014

Bill Davis might have been Chip Kelly's second choice as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. Might have even been his third. It really does not matter now because Davis is the defensive coordinator and has gained the trust of his offensive-minded boss.

How often does Kelly interfere with Davis' defensive game plan?

"Chip lets us go," Davis said after a recent practice at the NovaCare Complex. "He's not in any of our meetings. He's in the offensive meetings. It's ours defensively to do what we want."

When Kelly hired Davis, it was not the most popular among his early decisions. Some people thought Kelly would wait to see if he could lure either San Francisco defensive backs coach Ed Donatell or Baltimore linebacker coach Ted Monachino away after the teams played in the Super Bowl. Kelly later said he sought permission to talk to one of the assistants involved in that year's Super Bowl, but the target was neither Donatell nor Monachino.

Regardless, before the NFL played its big game, Kelly circled back to one of the first candidates he interviewed and made his biggest coaching decision. Because he is an offensive coach, Kelly needed an accomplished NFL mind to run his defense. Davis did not come out of the womb in an NFL helmet, but Billy the kid carried Eagles helmets around the Widener University campus in the late 1970s while his dad Bill Sr. served as an assistant to Dick Vermeil.

Father Davis had a long NFL career and his son is in the middle of one. Despite the fact that Davis' defenses never ranked higher than 20th in his four seasons as a coordinator with San Francisco and Arizona, Kelly wanted a man well versed in a 3-4 scheme. Davis cut his teeth working with Bill Cowher, Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers in Pittsburgh, so that's the epitome of being versed.

After two seasons as Pat Shurmur's linebacker coach in Cleveland, Davis was happy to return to the role of coordinator, but also eager to see what it would be like to work with Kelly on game day.

"I didn't know Chip coming in, so I didn't know how he'd be on game day," Davis said. "I found out as I went along and I'm happy he is the way he is. It's great. He really just lets you go call your game and work things out defensively. He's not going to be screaming and yelling. He solves the problems on offense and if we need him he'll be there."

Davis, 48, may have an ego, but it is not big enough to let him call the Eagles' defense his own.

"I will say it is ours," Davis said. "I'm always very uncomfortable saying it's my defense. Me, in this sport, it's crazy to utter those words. There are so many people who work on filling the personnel roles, picking the players and we have to develop the scheme based on what we think the talent levels are."

Not much was thought of the Eagles' talent level on defense a year ago and the only major personnel change from last season is the addition of free-agent safety Malcolm Jenkins. But the teachings of Davis and the Eagles' other defensive assistants and the emergence of young players such as linebacker Mychal Kendricks should make the entire unit better in 2014.

Though Kelly lets Davis run the defense, the coordinator said his boss does have input and influence.

"Chip is always involved," Davis said. "He'll say, 'Hey, I like this guy and I like that guy.' He likes the 3-4 and that's why I'm here. Then the position coaches, we're all idea guys. I have the final say to say, 'OK, that's the final decision,' but that's after listening to some great football minds. It is ours."

Davis did not know Kelly before he sat down for his interview with the Eagles late in January 2013, but he knows him now and he believes his entire view of coaching has changed because of it.

"Absolutely different," is how Davis described Kelly's system. "Every bit of it is different. It's so refreshing. I tell everybody that for 20 years I've been in this one NFL box of how to schedule things. The practice format, meeting times – one box, 20 years – and now I'm with Chip and it's another world. It's not even a square box."

His football friends, of course, want to know about this box that defies the rules of geometry.

"Everybody wants to know what we're doing," Davis said. "It's, 'Hey, hello, how's the family?' And then, 'Hey, you guys have this Tuesday practice and what about the sports science that Chip is running?' "

Davis' response: "The family is doing great, the football stuff I'm not talking about."

All they want to know in Philadelphia is if the defense is good enough to take the Eagles to that one elusive victory at the end of the season. Time will tell, but it sure seems as if Chip Kelly picked the right man for the job even if Bill Davis was not his first choice.



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