In 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles had to find a defensive coordinator whose intelligence and philosophy would be sufficient to take the field with the innovative and fast paced offense of head coach Chip Kelly. Surprisingly, their answer was a seasoned veteran of some 21 years of coaching experience Bill Davis.
The reason fans and some sports writers were surprised was simply the mix. An innovative coach whose offensive schemes and philosophy were designed to maximize effort, and place the odds in favor of the offense. Pairing this innovative newcomer with a coach who had spent over 20 years of learning the status quo of the NFL seemed like a mismatch. But by the time the season ended, nobody questioned the pairing. Much like a fine wine with prime steak, both coaches complimented each others styles: both made full use of the talented roster, both had an attacking philosophy, and both took responsibility to learn and improve.
The task facing any defensive coordinator signing on to the team was both challenging and fluid. The team was converting from a 4-3 to a 3-4 on the fly. Due to the changes to the offense, the team was not able to focus exclusively on retooling the defense – it would need to make do with as many existing players as they could. But the biggest challenge would be instilling a sense of pride, a standard of play, that would serve as notice to the NFL that the Philadelphia Eagles defense was no longer the joke at the Monday morning water cooler.
Much has been said about the late Jimmy Johnson, and the defense which served to keep the Eagles in the playoff mix each year. Upon Jimmy’s death in 2009, the Birds have tried Sean McDermott, Juan Castillo, and Todd Bowles, but none seemed able to reverse the erosion that hit rock bottom in 2012. The Eagles defense found it’s back against the wall. The players had few answers, and the offensive mastermind from Oregon had to find someone who did.
Bill Davis’ name surfaced early in the discussions. His experience was extensive: with experience from eight NFL teams. In his career, Davis had yet to find that point of success, that one career moment that sets his defense in the upper echelons of the NFL. In fact, the only person more desperate for success on the defense than the players, may be the coordinator himself.
“I’m determined to prove my worth as a coordinator in this league, determined to be. I feel like I’ve done that as a linebackers coach and now I’ve got to get to where I’m mentioned in the top part of the coordinators. That’s my personal goal. I’ve got to get to that point, and in the process bring a great defense to Philadelphia.”
Bill Davis is one of the “Cowher” tree – with names including Dom Capers, Chan Gailey, Dick Lebeau, Ken Wisenhunt. Bill Davis success has not yet approached the success of others in the coaching tree. But his plan is similar to that of others: put the offense out of their rhythm.
“I know this: to take an offense out of their rhythm is probably the No. 1 thing that the great defensive coordinators that I’ve studied under and talked with [do]. Taking away what they do best and getting them out of what they do best on offense, because offense is really rhythm.”
The Eagles had some connection for Davis, as he was the linebacker coach for the Cleveland Browns while Pat Shurmer was the head coach. But it wasn’t Shurmer who opened the door for Davis, it was Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer who called Chip Kelly and put in a good word for Davis. In the interview, it was clear that Bill Davis was the right guy at the right time for these Eagles. He was not the least intimidated by the scope of the work that lay before him:
“There’s not stability anywhere. So am I confident? Absolutely. I’ve got everything down to where I know all the mistakes I’ve made and how to overcome them this time around.”