This is the fourth article in my series on The Best of the Best and the Worst of the Worst in the Andy Reid era. So far, I have presented the Rocky Balboa award, as well as the award for Worst Offensive Player, Biggest Contract Steal, and the Most Underrated Moment.
This award goes to the Worst Assistant Coach.
Although the Eagles have never had a Super Bowl champion during the Andy Reid era, they have had some pretty impressive assistant coaches.
Offensive coordinator Brad Childress later became a head coach. So did quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur, special teams coach John Harbaugh, linebackers coach Ron Rivera, defensive backs coach Steve Spagnuolo, and defensive backs coach Leslie Frazier.
Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson probably could have been a head coach. And current defensive coordinator Juan Castillo even has a chance to be a head coach one day if everything goes well for a couple of seasons in Philadelphia.
But the Eagles haven’t always had top-quality assistant coaches. Defensive line coach Rory Segrest, fired after the 2010 season, wasn’t very effective. Wide receivers coach David Culley had his down years, especially during the Todd Pinkston and James Thrash days. (Then again, he’s doing well with Jackson, Maclin, and Avant, which suggests that it’s more about the talent of the players than the coach.)
But there is one coach who experienced very limited success during his two years at his role, and that would be former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who takes home the award as the worst assistant coach during the Andy Reid era.
McDermott worked his way up in the Eagles organization from 1999 to 2007, serving as the scouting administrative coordinator, the assistant to the head coach, the defensive assistant/quality control coach, the assistant defensive backs coach, the secondary/safeties coach, the linebackers coach, and the secondary coach.
After the 2008 season, legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was forced to step down from his current position after acquiring a severe case of melanoma. At first, McDermott was selected to serve as the defensive coordinator during Johnson’s absence but he was officially named the team’s defensive coordinator on July 24th, four days before Johnson’s death.
McDermott spent two seasons as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, during which the Eagles ranked in the bottom half of the defenses in the National Football League.
In 2009, the defense allowed 337 points, an increase of 49 points from the previous season, and the second most during Reid’s 11 seasons as head coach.
To be fair, the defense did spend the entire season without star middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who was lost for the season with an ACL injury in August. The Eagles used six different middle linebackers in an attempt to replace Bradley. They even brought Jeremiah Trotter out of retirement for his third stint with the Eagles. But Trotter couldn’t help the Eagles defense any more than Omar Gaither, Will Witherspoon, or any of the other middle linebackers the team used.
It was the Eagles offense that received the majority of the criticism when the Eagles lost back-to-back games against the Dallas Cowboys to end the season. But it was the defense that was dominated, in particular the run defense, which allowed 377 yards in two games.
Heading into the 2010 season, many expected McDermott and the team’s defense to significantly improve. After all, the first year was a typical season full of growing pains for a rookie defensive coordinator, plus Bradley was returning for 2010.
But the 2010 season was worse. Much worse.
The Eagles allowed 377 points, their second highest total during the Andy Reid era. Their defense ranked 21st in points allowed per game, allowing 24 or more points 11 times.
The biggest positional weakness for the Eagles was right cornerback, where Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson were continually torched by opposing defenses. No game was more memorable than the Tennessee Titans game, in which wide receiver Kenny Britt burned Hobbs for 225 yards and three touchdowns, with most of the damage occurring in the fourth quarter. Hobbs lost his starting job after the game but Patterson wasn’t any better for the rest of the season. His low point came when he was benched against the Minnesota Vikings in a 24-14 loss on Tuesday Night Football in Week 16.
In all, the Eagles allowed 31 passing touchdowns during the 2010 season.
Yet the right cornerback position was phenomenal when compared to the red zone defense. It was the red zone defense for the 2010 Eagles that was the team’s Achilles heel.
Teams scored a touchdown on a ridiculous 78 percent of all red zone possessions against the Eagles during the regular season. In fact, their red zone defense was the worst single-season defense by an NFL team in more than two decades.
If not for an explosive offense that ranked third in the league in points scored, the Eagles’ defense in 2010 would have certainly caused the team to miss the postseason.
Following the season, the Eagles fired McDermott. The 36-year old defensive coordinator was quickly named the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, where he will work with new head coach Ron Rivera, a former Eagles assistant coach.
McDermott was a failure as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator. To be fair, he was never officially named the team’s defensive coordinator. He was handed the role when Johnson became ill.
But nobody expected McDermott’s defense to play so poorly. You can give him a break for the 2009 season, and I think many did, because he was thrust into the role in May, plus Bradley didn’t play in 2009.
It’s hard to justify the 2010 season, however. The Eagles’ defense under McDermott wasn’t expected to thrive like it did under Johnson. Nobody expected the team to allow 280 or 290 points all season. But we expected fewer than 337 and 377.
The team’s decision to promote offensive line coach Juan Castillo to the role of defensive coordinator was definitely a shocking move. It’s one that I still don’t completely understand. I’m very anxious to see what Castillo can do with the team’s defense for the 2011 season.
But even if he is a flop at defensive coordinator, it might be difficult for him to be worse than Sean McDermott, who was the Eagles’ worst assistant coach during the entire Andy Reid era.