At the end of the 2013 season, when Phil Emery was looking for Lovie Smith’s successor, I wrote a column endorsing Kyle Shanahan for the job. That column was met with across-the-board rejection from not only readers but friends in the media and around the league. My argument was simple. I thought Shanahan was going to be a great head coach soon enough, knew he had a terrific relationship with Jay Cutler and wanted the Bears to grab him before he became a hot commodity. Sure enough, a few years later, Shanny went on to create explosive offenses in Atlanta and become the hottest coach on the market in 2017.
John Eugene DeFilippo is that guy right now.
Let’s just go through Flip’s career and see what he’s accomplished because it’s rather remarkable for someone who is only thirty-nine years old.
- He began his NFL coaching career on Tom Coughlin’s staff with the New York Giants. Never a bad thing to get your first exposure to the league under one of its greatest coaches.
- After two traumatic seasons in Oakland (‘The Kiffin/Cable Years’) he was the rookie year QB coach for Mark Sanchez in Jersey. Sanchez, coming off one year starting in college, struggled through that season but then turned everything around in the postseason. With Trubisky trusting and relying on Sanchez, Flip could probably convince him to stay on as QB coach and now the Bears would be building a similar coaching coalition to what exists in Philly.
- Flip left the Jets, where he was splitting duties with former Bears OC Matt Cavanaugh, and returned to the college ranks. His work at San Jose State was apparently pretty damn good but who is really doing a deep dive into what’s good and not good at San Jose State?
- He returned to the pro ranks, coaching both Derek Carr as a rookie and coordinating the Browns for a year with a quarterbacking trio of Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel and Austin Davis. That trio completed 60% of their passes for 4,156 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. That trio. Did that.
- He’s been the QB coach for Carson Wentz and been primarily responsible for the Wentz transition from lost rookie fading down the stretch to MVP candidate. And let me tell you this. If Nick Foles takes this team deep into the playoffs, Flip will have the suitors stacking up.
Listen, is the jump from position coach to head coach a big one? Yes. But two things. (1) Andy Reid did it once. (2) Flip has already been a coordinator, even if only for one year, even if only for the Browns. And Flip also sounds an awful lot like a head coach. His players agree. From current Eagles backup Nate Sudfeld:
“I think the sky is the limit for him,” Sudfeld said. “I think the world of him. I don’t know how much my word means, but he has a very bright future and he’ll be around the game for a long time.”
“He is awesome,” Sudfeld said of DeFilippo. “He’s exactly what I was hoping to have in a quarterback coach. His attention to detail has been awesome. obviously he has three quarterbacks, but he treats us all like we’re the most important guy in the room. That’s been really, really awesome.”
Is this the safe choice? By no means. If David Shaw or Jim Harbaugh would leave their current college gigs, and I don’t think either would, they’d be home runs. Dennis Allen, Pat Shurmur and Jim Schwartz are coordinators with previous head coaching experience who frankly deserve a second look in the league. The hot coordinators (McDaniels, Patricia, Wilks) and McVay clones (LaFleur, Nagy) will be easy sells to fan bases.
Flip takes a bit more guts to hire.
The Argument Against.
I understand the argument against Flip. Why not hire a defensive-minded head man and bring him as the offensive coordinator? Hell, his contract runs out in Philly at the end of the season. My answer is simple. Bringing Flip in as OC means the Bears could be one good Trubisky season away from losing the team’s best offensive mind. Look at how the Falcons offense has tanked in the transition from Shanahan to Sarkisian. Yes, the great offenses have great quarterbacks for the most part. But they are also led by men like Payton, Reid and McCarthy – guys who set the tone and approach for the offense every single week, even if they give up play-calling every once and a while.
And I would add this: I’m way more interested in Flip as head coach than I am as OC. Some guys just profile as a leader. Flip is one of them.
The number one priority for the Bears when making this hire is raising Mitch Trubisky’s game to the level of the game’s elite and there’s no other current NFL assistant with Flip’s track record of doing just that. He has gotten the absolute most out of the most important position in sports at every stop in his career.
The Larger Questions.
Two big ones.
- Is he ready? This, more than anything else, is what Ryan Pace would have to determine during the interview process. Is Flip ready to lead an entire franchise? There’s no way of knowing the answer until the Bears kickoff the 2018 season and we may not know until 2019 or beyond.
- What is his defensive approach? Someone with Flip’s background is likely going to want to turn the defense over to someone and give them autonomy. This is a model that’s proving successful across the sport. But who would that person be? Vic Fangio? Chuck Pagano? Rex Ryan is terrible on television…just saying.
NFC Personnel Man: “He’s a head coach. Some guys are just head coaches. He’s one.”
AFC Personnel Man: “Always judge an assistant coach by how afraid their current team is of losing them. The Eagles are terrified of losing Flip.”
Flip’s my guy. He brings experience, expertise and fire. He’s the kind of energy this locker room needs right now. And I think he’d make Mitch Trubisky one of the best quarterbacks in the league in the next two years. If the Bears bring him to Halas Hall for an interview, they may not let him leave.