With the Eagles on the hunt for a new head coach, I thought we’d take a look back at one of the most fascinating coaching hunts in Birds history.
On May 6th, 1994, a year after failing to buy his hometown Patriots, Jeff Lurie bought the Eagles from Norman Braman. At head coach he inherited Rich Kotite, coming off an 8-8 season. It was too close to the new season to fire him and start over, so Lurie reluctantly kept him on board. The Eagles surprisingly started the next year 7-2 under Kotite. Nonetheless, Lurie announced after the hot start that he would not be renewing Kotite’s contract, and Kotite made it clear that he was going to start looking for a new job. All momentum the team had built up was lost, as they dropped their next 7 games, and Kotite quickly got the ax. Lurie then turned his attention to a former Eagle coach in the hopes of returning the team to glory…Dick Vermeil.
Vermeil had quit coaching following the 1982 season, citing burnout. For the next 12 years he was an analyst on television. But like most coaches, he had the bug, and he almost took an offer from the Falcons in 1986 (When things fell through with Vermeil, the Falcons took former Eagle coach Marion Campbell instead).
Vermeil met with Lurie a few days before the Eagles last regular season game of 1994. By January 13th of 1995, it looked like a deal was imminent, according to the Daily News.
After weeks of anticipation, questions, delay, no comments, media speculation and a Monday breakdown at the negotiating table, a source close to the negotiations told the Daily News yesterday that, barring unforeseen complications, an agreement is “not too far away…These things just take time, and I’m confident that it will eventually happen, but at its own pace. No one is trying to force anything.”
Two days later, things completely broke down. Apparently Lurie got nervous about the fact he was hiring a guy who hadn’t coached since 1982, and who wanted to not only be coach but GM. “Understand this was a risky offer,” Lurie told the Reading Eagle after negotiations broke down, “Because it was an offer to someone who hadn’t coached in 12 years, but yet someone I had great hope and respect for.”
Lurie continues, “He’s an intense competitive guy, and I think he was bitter that we were unwilling to really meet his requirements. I just don’t think that would have been responsible for this football team to put us in the situation where we just didn’t know how well Dick would do.”
Vermeil had a different take on why things broke down. “In nine hours of meetings-three, three-hour meetings, every time I mentioned football things, he said, ‘I’d like to be collaborated with, but the final decision will be yours’. And then when it (the contract) became written, it just wasn’t that way.”
And so the coaching search continued. Later that same week, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported, “Mike Shanahan appears to be the man at the top of Lurie’s head coaching wish list now that Dick Vermeil has been erased from the picture.”
But on January 31st, 1995, Shanahan was hired by the Broncos. Eagle fans were getting restless. Lurie was flying from town to town, interviewing seemingly every coach in the country. But at this point it was down to three men: Gary Stevens, offensive coordinator for the Dolphins; Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator for the Vikings (right); and Ray Rhodes, defensive coordinator for the 49ers. Sal Pal reported that Stevens appeared to be the frontrunner.
Lurie met with them all in Miami. He had a meeting with Dungy for 6 hours. It went extremely well, but he was still a longshot. Lurie and Stevens met on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 1st, and it seemed like things were set in stone. On February 2nd, Kevin Mulligan of the Daily News reported that “sometime today – barring breakdowns in the contract-writing process – Stevens is expected to have a new title: Philadelphia Eagles head coach.”
But as Mulligan was going to press at around midnight, Lurie was having a late-night meeting with Rhodes that lasted until 2:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. After the meeting, he made his decision. Ray Rhodes would be his guy. He spoke with Rhodes’s agent on Wednesday and started hammering out a deal. By Wednesday afternoon, Ray Rhodes was the Eagles new head coach, signing a 5-year, $5 million salary. He would last 4 years in Philly, going 29-34-1. After a great start, going 10-6 and winning Coach of the Year, things went downhill rapidly, and he was fired after a disastrous 3-13 season in 1998. He is currently a defensive assistant for the Browns.
Gary Stevens would never become an NFL head coach, remaining Dolphins Offensive Coordinator until he was fired in 1998. He never coached in any capacity in the NFL again. Mike Shanahan was a long shot for the Birds, as most people figured he would take the Broncos job. He did, and led them to two Super Bowl wins. Dungy would remain Vikings coordinator for one more year before he was hired to be head coach of the Buccaneers, and after turning that franchise around, he later won a Super Bowl with the Colts. And Dick Vermeil would return to coaching with the Rams in 1997, and lead them to a Super Bowl victory in his third season as coach. Pretty amazing that Lurie interviewed three guys who would go on to win Super Bowls, and didn’t hire any of them. Doesn’t give me a ton of confidence this time around.
Andy Reid just signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s far from the first coach to leave Philly and find work elsewhere as a head coach in the NFL. So let’s see where previous Eagles coaches ended up, and how they did in a new town. (Spoiler: Other than Vermeil, the answer is “terribly”.)
Bert Bell- (Eagles coach from 1936-1940. Details on his disastrous tenure can be read here.) This one is complicated. But long story short, Bell helped Art Rooney sell the Steelers to Lex Thompson in 1940, then let Art buy half of the Eagles, but after buyers remorse Rooney and Bell traded the Eagles to Thompson for the Steelers (it was known as The Pennsylvania Polka). Anyways, Bell coached the Steelers for the first two games of the 1941 season. They lost their first two games of the 1941 season, then Rooney convinced Bell to step down. His combined coaching record with the Eagles and Steelers was 10-46-2, and for coaches with at least three years coaching experience, it’s still the worst win % ever.
Nick Skorich- (Eagles coach from 1961 to 1963. Pictured left.) He took over a team that had just won the NFL championship, and within 3 years, they were 2-10-2. He then got a job as an assistant for the Browns. He worked his way up to head coach in 1971. He had some success in Cleveland, leading them to a 10-4 mark in 1972, and nearly upsetting the undefeated Dolphins in the playoffs before falling 20-14. He would be fired after the 1974 season and then served as supervisor of officials for the NFL.
Mike McCormack- (Eagles coach from 1973-1975.) Canned by the Birds after the 1975 season, he took an assistant job with the Bengals, then got a shot with the Colts in 1980. After leading them to a 7-9 record in 1980, the bottom fell out in 1981, as two wins over the Patriots by a total of 3 points were the only thing that stopped them from going 0-16. They were really one of the worst teams in NFL history, losing 12 of their 14 games by double digits, including 8 by 20 or more points. They were 26th in the league in scoring, and 28th in points allowed. He was fired after the season, and then got a front office job with the Seahawks. When Seattle fired its head coach two games into the 1982 season, he took over and guided the Seahawks to a 4-2 record in a strike shortened season. After the year he moved back upstairs, and eventually became GM and president of the team. He was later the first ever GM and president of the Carolina Panthers.
Dick Vermeil- (Eagles coach from 1976-1982.) Interesting to think how different things might have been here. It’s well known that Vermeil took over as Rams coach 15 years after burning out with the Eagles in 1982. But he interviewed for the Eagles job again in 1995, after Rich Kotite was fired. (I was not here and did not know that, and look forward to researching it further and writing about it in the coming days.) Anyways, he did not get the job and went on to coach the Rams to a Super Bowl victory in 2000, retiring after the game. He didn’t stay retired long, as he signed with the Chiefs in 2001. By 2003 he had led them to a 13-3 record and an AFC West title, but they lost a shootout to Manning and the Colts in the playoffs, 38-31. He would coach them for two more seasons, going 10-6 in 2005 before retiring for good.
Marion Campbell- (Eagles head coach from 1983-1985.) Campbell, Vermeil’s defensive coordinator and Chester native, was brought in to coach the Birds when Vermeil stepped down. The team hovered at mediocre for his three years there. In 1985, with a game left to go in the season he was fired. In 1987, he was hired by the Falcons to be their head coach for the second time (he had coached there for a season and a half in the 70s). Things were worse in Atlanta than they had been in Philly, and 2 1/2 seasons later he was out the door with a 11-32 record. His final NFL coaching mark was 34-80-1, third lowest all-time winning percentage for coaches with more than 3 years experience (only Bert Bell and David Shula had a lower mark.)
Buddy Ryan- (Eagles head coach from 1986-1990.) I don’t need to tell you much about Buddy Ryan’s tenure here in Philly. He was one of the few coaches in Philly to end his career with a winning record, a fairly respectable 43-38-1, though to hear the locals tell it he finished up undefeated with 5 Super Bowl wins. Anyways, he was fired after 1991, spent a year as defensive coordinator with the Oilers, and then returned to coaching with the Arizona Cardinals. It did not go well. He ended his two year stint with a 12-20 mark and retired to his farm in Kentucky.
Rich Kotite- (Eagles head coach from 1991-1994.) Kotite’s career in Philly started with promise, as he led the team to 10 and 11 win seasons. But then they went 8-8, and a 7-2 start in 1994 turned into a 7-9 finish, and he was out the door. He was quickly scooped up by the Jets, and the results were beyond disastrous. In two years with the Jets, he went 4-28 (Taking into account his last Eagles season, he was 4-35 in his last 39 games coached). He stepped down after the 1996 season and never coached anywhere else again.
Ray Rhodes- (Eagles head coach from 1995-1998.) Rhodes’s career in Philly also started with some promise, but like Kotite’s it ended poorly. After back to back 10 win seasons, the team slipped to 6-9-1, and then came 1998, which I wrote about recently. He was out the door after that disaster, but landed quickly on his feet, as the Packers scooped him up. He lasted all of one season in Green Bay, going 8-8 before being shown the door. He has been a defensive coordinator and assistant ever since, and currently works in the Browns front office.