Drew Dougherty of Texans TV spoke with Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Zangaro covers the Eagles beat, and spoke with Dougherty about Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who interviewed for the Texans head coaching position.
DD: What can you tell us about Eagles Defensive Coordinator and your interactions with him?
Zangaro: He's a relatively young coach. He's only 39. They hired him when they brought in Nick Sirianni last year. When the Eagles hired Nick Sirianni, one of the big reasons and one of the things they really liked about him was the staff that he had in mind, and Gannon was really the centerpiece of that staff. I talked to a bunch of people in Minnesota where he spent a lot of time before he was in Indianapolis, and even back then they had kind of tabbed him as a future head coach type of guy. Being around him, I get it. He's a good teacher. He communicates well. He has a lot of those qualities that you want in a head coach. I don't think he had a perfect first year as a defensive coordinator, but overall, you watch what he does and there's a reason he's been a hot name. There's a reason his players really seem to like him and that goes a long way. They don't like him just because he's a nice guy. They like him because he's a very clear communicator. Just this week, I was talking with a few players, and what they really appreciate about him is he explains the 'why' of everything he does. So he gets them in the defensive meeting every week and the first thing they do is go over the game plan this week. This is how we want to attack this offense and here's why we're doing it. It's not just 'lay down the law, I'm the coach and this is what we're going to do.' He really does his due diligence and he explains these guys exactly his reasoning for why they're doing things. The players I've talked to really seem to appreciate that.
DD: Explaining the 'why' is a really important thing, especially with young men and women of this generation. Not just in football, but I think in general. How important do you think that is for a guy relating to players these days?
Zangaro: It's vital. Honestly, if I were hiring a head coach, those qualities in some ways would be placed above offensive or defensive scheme. You have to relate to your players. You have to get the most out of them. Some coaches do it different ways. Some guys are yellows and they get the most out of their players that way. Some guys are able to communicate and connect with them on other levels. No matter how you do it, you just have to be genuine in it. You can't try to be another coach. Like we've seen a coach from this coaching tree will try to act like that coach, and that never works because you're trying to be someone you're not. I can tell you, at least from my interactions with Gannon, he's a very enthusiastic, energetic young coach, and I get why the players that have been around him like him so much.
DD: With all that in mind, though, does he remind you of any coaches you've encountered over the years?
Zangaro: No, not someone I've been around. But I can tell you the comparison I've heard from other people in the league is to (Los Angeles Chargers Head Coach) Brandon Staley. They actually have a long history together. They've known each other. They played, I believe, AAU level basketball together. They grew up in the same area of Ohio. So they've known each other for a long time. One of the main reasons they're so similar, is the communication factors certainly play a role. But when Gannon got to Philly, what he said that kind of raised a lot of eyebrows, was 'I don't have a scheme.' Of course he has a scheme. Everyone has a scheme. But what he meant by that was, 'I want to change week to week. I want to do whatever I can with the players I have, to ensure that we're going to have a different game plan for whatever the offense presents.' It's ambitious. But that's what we saw with Staley in his final year with the Rams before he became a head coach. But those similarities in those comparisons have been brought to me. Staley was a kind of a quick riser too.
DD: We hear the term 'leader of men' thrown around a lot when teams are searching for a head coach. How much of that you think can mesh with who this guy is?
Zangaro: I think that's paramount, and I think he has that. You don't just go into it saying, 'Well, the players like him. He must be a good coach.' But that does matter, because you're trying to get the most out of your players. If they don't buy in, you're you're not going to be a good coach. I can kind of give you an example from something that happened this season with Fletcher Cox. He's been one of the Eagles best players, not just for the last decade, but really all time. He made six Pro Bowls in a row and he didn't have a great year this year. There was some tension between him and Gannon early in the season. But a credit to both men, they figured it out. Gannon, to his credit, didn't just say, 'Hey, Fletch, this is what I'm doing and I'm going to do this, and I don't want to listen to what you have to say.' He sat down with Fletcher Cox and said, 'Well, how do you think I should use you?' They went through it, and he took his input and they got to a place where Fletcher started playing better. That tension subsided. You don't want that tension between your defensive coordinator and one of your best players. So I gave him a ton of credit because he approached that from a really understanding level. He didn't just say, 'I'm the coach, you're going to do what I say, and that's that.' I think that would be the inclination from a lot of coaches trying to kind of throw their weight around a little bit in a new locker room. He didn't do that. He said, 'Let's figure this out like adults.' And they did and it ended up helping them turn this thing around and get into the playoffs.