On Banner, And Lessons Learned

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If you’re like me, you find Joe Banner to be an oddly fascinating study. If so, you’ll especially enjoy the anecdotes that Peter King unearthed about Banner’s final days as boss in Cleveland.

The scene is set around the interview Banner and the rest of the Browns’ brass held with head coaching candidate Ken Whisenhunt this offseason. Whisenhunt interviewed for the same position last year but the gig instead went to Rob Chudzinski, who was promptly fired after a 4-12 campaign. He wanted to know why he didn’t get the job the first time around. Read more »

Banner Out In Cleveland

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp

Sixteen months after taking over as the CEO of the Cleveland Browns, former Eagles president Joe Banner is stepping down, the team announced.

Michael Lombardi is out as GM and will be replaced by Ray Farmer. Read more »

Roseman Reflects On What Went Wrong With Watkins

Danny WatkinsHowie Roseman had a few different options in attempting to answer a question he clearly knew was coming.

Hours after the Eagles decided to release 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins, Roseman sat at the head of a conference room table at the NovaCare Complex and was asked to set the record straight on what his role was in selecting the offensive lineman.

“As you’ve seen here, a lot of the leadership positions and the responsibilities have changed in our organization,” Roseman said. “So when you have changes that are so drastic in an organization, there’s also going to be drastic changes on the field and the way you do things. We’ve obviously changed a lot of people in our personnel department. We’ve changed the way that we look at things because we have new people in place. I think that’s gonna be different just because the nature of personalities and people trying to do their own things and whether that’s me and our personnel staff or Chip [Kelly] and his coaching staff or Don [Smolenski] as the president of the team, it’s gonna be different.”

The message was clear: No trip down memory lane, but we’re not going to make the same mistakes again.

As Tim pointed out last week, Andy Reid gave Roseman credit for the Watkins pick shortly after the draft.

“Howie had this guy, right from the get-go, at the top,” Reid said at the time. “This was a guy that he really wanted and liked.”

But when owner Jeffrey Lurie addressed reporters earlier this year, he absolved Roseman of blame for the 2011 draft.

“I keep voluminous notes on talent evaluation on not just who we draft, but who is valued in each draft by each person that is in the organization that’s working here,” Lurie said in January. “I came to the conclusion that the person that was providing by far the best talent evaluation in the building was Howie Roseman. I decided to streamline the whole decision-making process for the 2012 draft and offseason and that’s the first draft and offseason I hold Howie completely accountable for. The mistakes that were made in the 2011 draft have little or nothing to do with Howie’s evaluations and I think it was important for me to own up to the mistakes that were made and understand where they were coming from, and it was awfully clear.”

Lurie had the scorecard. He sent Reid and Joe Banner packing. And he decided to keep Roseman as he ushered in a new era with Kelly.

As for Watkins, we pointed out earlier that many scouts, analysts and personnel people thought he was a good prospect coming out of school. The issue for the Eagles was more about deciding to take a 26-year-old guard in the first round than mis-evaluating a prospect.

Asked what he remembers about his personal evaluation of Watkins, Roseman said: “When you watched Danny play, the toughness, the hockey-playing aspect of him never translated to Philadelphia. And that’s one of the things I told him today, was that when you watched him at Baylor and when you watched him at the Senior Bowl and when you met him, he had this innate toughness about him. You felt like you were getting an enforcer. And he never let himself go here on that. And I don’t know why that was. I told him that was part of the thing that I was the most confused by because that was something that everyone at Baylor told you about and you saw in his play on the field. And I think it all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here.

“Part of his personality, and you talk about him being a firefighter, is that he feels like he has to help save people, and he put a lot of pressure on himself and he couldn’t just go out and play. I think getting away from Danny Watkins the first-round pick and just being Danny Watkins will really help him.”

As for the need to take age into account during the draft, Roseman made it sound like the Eagles learned multiple lessons from the Watkins pick and looking back, probably should have seen some of the warning signs.

“There have been some guys in the last couple of drafts who have been over-age, and we’ve spent a lot of time just looking at that,” he said. “And I think I’d answer it this way: When you’re successful in anything, especially in football, a lot of times coaches are selfish, they want to win games. So they’re going to put you out there really early. You’re gonna play at a really young age. And you’re gonna play a lot at a young age. So when you look around the NFL at the successful players, there’s not a lot of guys that are one-year starters and are seniors or playing at a later age. And it makes sense because if you’re really that talented, people find you.”

The Eagles’ expectations when they selected Watkins were for him to step in and play right away at a high level. But that didn’t happen. He did not play well in 12 starts as a rookie. Going into his second season, he didn’t take well to the coaching of Howard Mudd and struggled again through six starts. He suffered through what Reid called a “chronic” ankle injury and then was benched for journeyman Jake Scott.

Now, Watkins, who turns 29 in November, is left to figure out what’s next for him. The Eagles, meanwhile, will move forward with hopes of not repeating similar mistakes in the future.

“You’re disappointed,” Roseman said. “You’re disappointed when any of your players don’t work out obviously. And when they’re first-round picks, it’s more of a disappointment. I think if there’s a positive to it, in the last couple of years, we were able to really evaluate ourselves and make some substantial changes in how we do things. Going forward, I think that’s really gonna benefit us. And I think it’s benefited us already.”

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Five Observations: An Eagles Slant To the Playoffs

Tim and I landed in Mobile Sunday afternoon. We missed the first half of the Falcons-49ers game, but after taking a ride on Bass Pro Drive, we found a spot the locals affectionately refer to as Beef’s.

That’s where we took in the second half of the NFC title game, along with the Ravens’ win over the Patriots.

Good service, good food – even for a vegetarian like myself.

Here’s the weekly playoff post – five observations on the postseason, with an Eagles slant.

1. Put this one in the ”What was Tom Brady thinking?” category. The Patriots had a 1st-and-10 from the Baltimore 10 with 26 seconds left in the first half. Brady took the snap, couldn’t find a receiver and scrambled for 3 yards. When the whistle blew, there were still 19 seconds left on the clock, and New England had one timeout remaining. If the Patriots had called it right away, they would have had one or two shots to throw to the end zone. If the passes are incomplete, the clock stops anyway. But instead, they tried to get another play off. By the time they got to the line of scrimmage, there were only four seconds left. The Patriots finally called timeout and kicked the field goal. Huge mistake there. How does this relate to the Eagles? Well, c’mon. You all watched this team for the past 14 years. Andy Reid had plenty of good qualities. Clock management was not one of them. We’ll see how much that improves under Chip Kelly.

2. Speaking of Kelly, we saw the Patriots push tempo to the tune of 82 plays. But I wonder what the new Eagles coach thought about Bill Belichick’s decision to punt three times in plus territory. New England punted on 4th-and-9 from the Ravens’ 35; 4th-and-2 from the Ravens’ 45; and 4th-and-8 from the Ravens’ 34. As Tim Livingston of Yahoo Sports wrote about back in November, Kelly often went for it on fourth down in college:

Those fourth down calls epitomize Kelly’s aggressiveness but what the average football fan doesn’t realize is that Chip’s play-calls (the fourth down tries, fake punts, two-point conversions, etc.) are almost always the correct mathematical decision. Like Paul DePodesta and Billy Beane did in baseball, Kelly’s genius comes from exploiting arithmetic that other coaches are too naïve to acknowledge.

Howie Roseman was asked last week whether Kelly’s aggressiveness on fourth down is coming to the NFL.

“We’re ready to embrace anything that helps us score more points and win more games,” he said.

3. We’ve made this point before, but Eagles fans should be encouraged that the Ravens and 49ers are playing in the Super Bowl. Why? Look at their quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco are playing extremely well and are huge reasons why those two teams are still standing. But would you consider either a top-five QB? Football Outsiders had Flacco ranked 17th in the regular season; he was 25th in QBR. Kaepernick ranked 13th and third, respectively, but he only started seven regular-season games. Kaepernick was selected with the 36th pick (second round) in the 2011 draft. Flacco was selected 18th in 2008. Don’t get me wrong. The easiest way to win in the NFL is with someone like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. But none of those four is playing for the Lombardi Trophy this year. There are other ways to compete. And there’s no set formula. Elite special teams, great defense, a strong running game, exceptional coaching. Those are all factors at play here also.

4. I’m interested to see what the Eagles do at the wide receiver position this offseason. The five primary receivers from last year’s squad – DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson – are all under contract. Maclin is a free agent after 2013. We’ll see what Kelly is looking for, but ideally, I think the offense could greatly benefit from a wide receiver who’s capable of making contested catches and coming down with balls in traffic. Anquan Boldin did that time and again yesterday (and throughout the playoffs). Right now, I’d say the two Eagles capable of making those grabs are Brent Celek and Jason Avant. Celek doesn’t have great hands, and Avant doesn’t have great athleticism. Someone in the Boldin mold, who is a factor in the red zone and can come down with the ball even when he’s not really open, would work well with Jackson. Then again, if Kelly’s focus is speed, speed and more speed, maybe he’ll just roll with the Jackson/Maclin combo.

5. And some leftovers… When Tim and I got on the road in Mobile, we noticed a car with a decal on the back that was simply Bear Bryant’s hat. A classic image, and quite the contrast from the cut-off hoodie of Belichick. Here’s what I don’t get about the cut-off hoodie. Why cut the sleeves off? You’re obviously cold. It’s like the puffy vest. Never understood it. If it’s cold enough where you need the puffy material, don’t you want your arms to be warm too? Again, these are the things that keep me up at night. …Brian Dawkins, like many others watching, sure felt like Brady kicked Ed Reed on purpose. …Did Asante Samuel play a role in David Akers missing the 38-yard field goal? …As one Twitter follower pointed out, the last four teams that the Eagles have hosted in their home opener have gone on to play in the Super Bowl: the Saints (2009), Packers (2010), Giants (2011) and Ravens (2012). The first three ended up winning the championship.

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Banner: We Felt Kelly Was Too Big Of a Gamble

The Cleveland Browns were the first team to get to Chip Kelly.

Joe Banner and company met with Kelly in Arizona on the Friday after the Fiesta Bowl. Reports surfaced that night that the two sides were close to a deal. But on Saturday, the Eagles got their shot and made the most of it. It seemed that Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman had one-upped Banner for the guy both sides viewed as the top option on the market.

But that’s not exactly how Banner sees it.

Speaking to SI.com’s Peter King, Banner commented on the Kelly hiring for the first time since the news was announced last week.

“We removed ourselves from the process. We really liked Chip. He’s intriguing, a very different thinker, and very smart. But you could see he was uncertain what he wanted to do. He may be in Philadelphia 10 years or longer and have a terrific career. But the fact he committed to Tampa Bay last year, backed out, then seemed all year to be leaning toward going to the NFL, then being so uncertain with us, we just felt it was too big a gamble. If there was no ambivalence, we may have offered him the job.”

Last week, Lurie and Banner traded barbs through the media. Lurie accused his old pal of spreading negative stories about Roseman. Banner, meanwhile, said the claims bordered on being “libelous.”

Kelly and Lurie have emphasized multiple times that the coach was deciding between the Eagles and Oregon. The way they told it, Cleveland was never really in the mix.

“The other thing that was really clear after we interviewed Chip, we got a call from his agent, and we also found out via Chip that it was just a question of if he was going to come back to the NFL, it was only with the Eagles,” Lurie said. “That was obvious. And it was obvious in the interview as well. That was the question, was he going to stay at Oregon or come to the Eagles? That was the basic dilemma he had.”

“I was always going to visit with all three teams that expressed interest in talking to me,” Kelly added. “I said I would always sit down, and when I did listen, it was evident to me that I was either going to go to Philadelphia or stay in Oregon.”

Unfortunately, the Eagles and Browns don’t play each other in 2013. But this likely is not the end of the back-and-forth between the two childhood friends.

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Lurie Defends Roseman, Takes Jabs At Banner

Thursday’s proceedings at the NovaCare Complex were about more than just Chip Kelly.

Sure, the afternoon started with the Eagles introducing their new head coach, but owner Jeffrey Lurie took the opportunity to voice his opinion on a couple other issues.

One, he offered an aggressive defense of general manager Howie Roseman. And two, he made sure to point out that his old buddy Joe Banner was never in the mix for Kelly’s services.

During the search process, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com wrote that Roseman was “drunk with power” and said the GM’s presence was turning candidates off. A Harrisburg Patriot-News report suggested that Patriots coach Bill Belichick held Roseman in “low regard.” The article made the point that Belichick’s opinion would hold weight with Eagles target Bill O’Brien, who served previously on the Patriots’ staff.

Lurie indicated that perhaps there were some in the league who stood to benefit from making the Eagles’ job out to be undesirable.

“We knew strategically what was going on with ‘league sources’ and stuff like that,” Lurie said, speaking to a group of writers after the initial press conference. “This was such erroneous reporting it was insane. The reputation, in terms of the people we interviewed and the people who called the people we interviewed, was so positive that I think it dwarfed any of the individual agendas of anybody that was quoted as league sources. It was a joke to us, really.”

Back when the search process first began, Lurie said the Eagles’ job was the best in the NFL. As the team appeared to get turned down by Kelly, O’Brien and Brian Kelly, some mocked Lurie’s proclamation. But the owner defended his initial stance and praised Roseman for his role in the process.

“One of the things I learned – as an owner you learn as you go – was the really great respect that Howie had across the league,” Lurie said. “People were calling our candidates to say, ‘This is a young GM. But he is a very, very sharp guy.’ Andy [Reid] also called some of the candidates and told them what he’s like to work with.

“The benefit we had here, and I can’t underestimate it, and it wasn’t even our doing, but some of the real iconic names in the sport were telling our candidates before they came in that this was by far the best organization to come in and work for – as an organization and a great city. That was all work we didn’t have to do. …They did their research too. It was incredibly positive. I didn’t have to convince anyone of anything.”

Lurie was hesitant to name names, but Kelly mentioned that he talked to Reid, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Dick Vermeil during the process.

Banner and the Browns met with Kelly the day after the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. An NFL Network report said the two sides were close to a deal. They were scheduled to meet again Saturday evening, but the Eagles got their shot at Kelly earlier. The meeting lasted nine hours, the session with the Browns was pushed back, and Lurie knew then that the Eagles didn’t have any competition.

“The other thing that was really clear after we interviewed Chip, we got a call from his agent, and we also found out via Chip that it was just a question of if he was going to come back to the NFL, it was only with the Eagles,” Lurie said. “That was obvious. And it was obvious in the interview as well. That was the question, was he going to stay at Oregon or come to the Eagles? That was the basic dilemma he had.”

Kelly backed up the owner’s story. Asked about the report that said he was close to a deal with the Browns, Kelly responded, “No, that wasn’t accurate. And I don’t know if it’s a shock to you, but sometimes things that are printed aren’t always true. I met with the Browns, and I was scheduled to meet with the Bills, and I was scheduled to meet with the Eagles. So at the end of the day, meeting with the Browns, they asked kind of where we are. I said my whole approach was that like a recruit. I was going to take my three official visits and then make a determination on what the best spot for me was, and that was always my plan.

“It wasn’t who gets to go first, who gets to go last. I understand how some of that stuff works, but there was never any commitment one way or the other. I was always going to visit with all three teams that expressed interest in talking to me. I said I would always sit down, and when I did listen, it was evident to me that I was either going to go to Philadelphia or stay in Oregon.”

During his time here, Reid often talked about Lurie’s competitive nature. On Thursday, after the owner introduced the coach he coveted, that was on full display.

Update: The Browns released a statement to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com in which Banner fired back:

“It is always difficult to comment on a quote that may or may not be accurate or in context. In this case, from the comments which Jeffrey made that were communicated to me, it is necessary for me to make this clear, unambiguous statement. Any implication that I had anything to do with Jason La Canfora’s story is completely false, outrageous and borders on being libelous.

“I had absolutely no conversation with Jason La Canfora. Having demonstrated my character over the last 44 years to Jeffrey and the last 14 to Howie, it is beyond disappointing that they would suggest such a thing. As tempting as it is to go further, other than defending myself, I will continue to take the high road on all such matters as I have since the day I left the Eagles.”

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Ripple Effect? Browns Hire Rob Chudzinski

The Cleveland Browns’ coaching search has led them to Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

Joe Banner has chosen Chudzinski as the team’s new head coach, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Banner and the Browns heavily pursued Chip Kelly, but when it became clear that the Oregon coach wasn’t going to Cleveland, they focused their efforts elsewhere. The Browns interviewed several candidates, including Ken Whisenhunt, Bill O’Brien and Ray Horton.

Chudzinski spent the past two seasons as the Panthers offensive coordinator. He previously worked as an assistant with the Chargers and the Browns.

So, what does this mean for the Eagles? At the beginning of the process, it appeared Banner and Jeffrey Lurie would be battling for the same candidates: Chip Kelly, O’Brien, Doug Marrone. But after Kelly decided he was staying put, the two franchises went their separate ways. The Eagles have shown interest in Brian Kelly, Lovie Smith and Gus Bradley, among others.

The Browns are the third team to fill their head-coaching vacancy. The Chiefs hired Andy Reid. And the Bills hired Marrone.

After the Jaguars fired Mike Mularkey Thursday, that leaves five positions open: Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Chicago, Arizona and San Diego.

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Coaching Buzz: Moves That Impact the Eagles

Things have been relatively quiet with the Eagles today, but there has been plenty of movement around the league that could impact the Birds.

Here’s a roundup of what’s going on:

* Let’s start in Cleveland where Joe Banner and the Browns are interviewing Ken Whisenhunt for a second time, according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain-Dealer. The Bills expressed some interest in Whisenhunt before hiring Doug Marrone, but no other teams have interviewed the former Cardinals coach.

* The Jaguars joined the party late, firing Mike Mularkey today after one season. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, they’ll take a look at 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Surprisingly, Roman has not had a single interview up to this point.

* Jay Gruden is currently interviewing with the Cardinals, and he told reporters the plan is to meet with the Eagles next week.

* League sources tell ESPN’s Ed Werder that the Cowboys, who fired Rob Ryan this week, have focused their defensive coordinator search on 72-year-old Monte Kiffin. Kiffin’s age apparently is not scaring teams off. SI.com’s Peter King reported earlier this week that Kiffin could be on Andy Reid’s radar in Kansas City. As for an Eagles slant, the team is expected to interview Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley coached under Kiffin for three seasons with the Bucs, and Kiffin apparently thought Bradley was a “once-in-a-lifetime” coach. Perhaps the mentor wouldn’t mind running the protege’s defense if he gets back in the league? Just a thought.

* Multiple reports indicate that Doug Pederson will be Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City. The former Eagles QB coach drew some pretty high praise from former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah:

* There was a report Wednesday night that the Bears were also interested in Brian Kelly, but Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times says that’s not the case.

* Bruce Arians told a San Diego radio station that his interest in the Chargers job has increased now that they hired Tom Telesco as their GM:

“I think so much of [the] success that teams have are great relationships between general manager and head coach,” Arians said, per SportsRadioInterviews.com. “And it’s not who has control of the roster, it’s how do we get the best players? … I had the opportunity to work for 12 weeks as a head coach this year with Ryan Grigson and Tommy Telesco, and it was a fantastic relationship. And I wouldn’t want to work in any other situation as a head coach, unless it’s that type of relationship where nobody’s got a power player [and] we’re all in this together trying to win.”

Arians is expected to interview with the Eagles.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Courting Chip Kelly

The Eagles’ lunch with Chip Kelly lasted a bit longer than your usual meet and greet at Chipotle.

On Friday evening, the Browns and Kelly were said to be close to a deal, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. But as we’ve discussed in this space, “close” and “done” are two different things – especially when it comes to the hiring of coaches.

So Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman and Don Smolenski took their best shot at Kelly in Arizona on Saturday, trying to lure him in as the next head coach. From Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer:

The Eagles’ had a lunch meeting with Kelly in Arizona that’s stretched into the dinner hour. The Browns were set to meet with Kelly over dinner, and hoped to hammer out a deal, but he’s been tied up with Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, president Don Smolenski and general manager Howie Roseman.

The meeting finally ended after midnight (EST), and this was not expected to be the end of the communication between the two sides, according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today.

The Eagles are clearly in a battle with Joe Banner and are putting on the hard sell. They have other interviews lined up, but are apparently targeting Kelly as their No. 1 option.

Who will the Oregon coach choose? We’re still waiting for an answer. But we do know that sources told Rapoport the Browns are trying to decide between Kelly and Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. You could take that at face value. Or you could take it to mean Banner has an inkling that he might lose out on Kelly and is trying to save face with the old We didn’t want him [Kelly] anyway strategy.

There’s also the possibility that Kelly decides to stay put and coach Oregon.

As for the Eagles, they are scheduled to meet with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Sunday. They’re also expected to interview Marrone, Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

Will all of those interviews end up taking place? Or will we be preparing for Kelly’s introductory press conference this week? We should find out shortly.

WHAT YOU MISSED

If you missed our most recent Birds 24/7 Radio show, here are the podcast links.

The Eagles are expected to interview Jay Gruden. Would he be a good candidate?

The Eagles are also taking a look at Doug Marrone.

Our coaching tracker has every interview for every team listed.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Jason Whitlock of FoxSports.com doesn’t know why Andy Reid was considered a hot commodity on the open market:

A high percentage of Eagles fans believes Reid hasn’t been right since his defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died of cancer in 2009. Reid hasn’t won a playoff game since Johnson passed.

My issue is the last two years. The Eagles were the “dream team” in 2011 and Super Bowl favorite. They went 8-8. They had to win their final four games to reach 8-8. To the utter shock and surprise of no one not named Andy Reid, the decision to promote longtime offensive-line coach Juan Castillo to DEFENSIVE coordinator blew up in Reid’s face. In their eight losses, the Eagles surrendered an average of 29.8 points.

The Eagles spent millions of dollars building a dream team, and Reid turned his defense over to an offensive-line coach on a whim. This is like getting a date with Beyonce and consulting with Ike Turner on how to romance her.

History says Reid might not win big in Kansas City, writes SI.com’s Don Banks:

But historically speaking, the Chiefs probably aren’t buying themselves a great shot to scale the NFL mountaintop and win a Super Bowl with Reid. While seven “re-tread” coaches have won Super Bowls in their second NFL gig after not doing so in their first job — including another former Eagles coach, Dick Vermeil — none have done it while staying in their first job for anywhere remotely as long as Reid’s 14 seasons in Philadelphia.

COMING UP

Think it’ll be quiet today? Yeah, neither do we.

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