PHILADELPHIA – Eagles quarterbacks coach Alex Tanney made the most of his physical gifts.
The 6-foot-4 former signal caller broke just about every record there was at Monmouth College in his native Illinois, culminating with a staggering 132 touchdown passes over his final three college seasons and earning the Melberger Award winner as NCAA D-III’s top player as a junior.
Winning three Midwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year Awards doesn’t carry quite the same cachet as being a star in the SEC or the PAC-12 like the top of his current depth chart can boast but it was good enough to get Tanney noticed as an undrafted free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 where the rookie caught the eye of then-Chiefs receivers coach Nick Sirianni.
Tanney ultimately cashed in on his NFL opportunity for nearly a decade as a backup to a host of quarterbacks, while learning from a wide array of coaches, and coordinators. He learned just about every scheme there is and always had an eye on his next step.
“I knew early on,” Tanney said when asked when coaching hit his radar. “When I was finishing college, I thought, hey, this is probably something I want to do then probably by year 2 or 3 in the NFL, it kind of hit home like, hey, I know this is what I’m going to do.
“So, at that point, I didn’t play much, but I played for a lot of different teams, so I got to build relationships with a lot of different coaches and started kind of putting feelers out at that time. When I was playing for somebody, I’d always bring up, ‘hey, I want to get into coaching’ because I knew eventually that could help me down the line to break through and get on a staff.”
The minute Tanney was done playing in 2020 with the New York Giants he was offered a quality control job on Sirianni’s first staff with the Eagles in 2021 at the tender age of 33.
The lengthy right-hander would often throw to the receivers in drills and had as much snap at the active quarterbacks for Sirianni. The real advantage, though, was just how much Tanney brought to the table for players that were essentially his peers.
“I was with eight teams in nine years,” said Tanney. “I think it was 12 head coaches, 12 offensive coordinators, so just a little bit different perspective. Some coaches just so many different philosophies, and I think just seeing things maybe in a different lens than others then trying to share that experience that I have with the guys I have in our room.”
Those guys are MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts, veteran backup Marcus Mariota, who broke in with Tennessee when Tanney was there as a player, third-year prospect Ian Book, and rookie Tanner McKee.
Tanney was one of the young coaches Sirianni tabbed early for ascension. By last season he was the assistant QB coach to Brian Johnson and when Johnson was promoted to replace Shane Steichen as offensive coordinator, the natural progression was to bump Tanney up to the full-time position coach.
While coaches are taught not to look ahead, Johnson is already on a lot of radars around the league as a future head coach and things tend to move quickly for coaches spearheading explosive offenses with dominant quarterbacks. Tanney would also get a similar reputation bump in such a circumstance in an industry that values the experience of backup QBs who managed to hang around.
“Playing the quarterback position you have to know what’s going on everywhere, so you have to understand where the point is in protection or the run game, the route concepts, the route discipline that Nick’s always talking about. Then you have to worry about the things on your plate with your footwork, your mechanics, how you’re reading certain progressions,” Tanney said. “I think there’s so much on your plate playing that position that it just gives you a little jumpstart when you get into coaching because you’re somewhat familiar of having to understand all the things that are going on with a certain play.”
Tanney gained wisdom from many on and off the field over the past decade.
“Coach [Mike] Shula and Coach [Pat] Shurmur in New York. I was really close with coach Shula. He left a really good impression on me,” Tanney said when discussing his influences. “Played with Eli [Manning], played with Andrew Luck, played with [Matt] Hasselback, played with [Josh] McCown, really fortunate to play with so many good coaches but also so many good players that when I was a young player.
“I always said I want to pick his brain and take something from his game and apply it to mine. Or I’m going to study the best player, whoever it was. If I was playing for this team I would’ve studied what [Jason] Kelce does. Those guys are playing at a high level for so long for a reason, so. Let’s study them and try to figure out why and apply that to my routine or my game. I think that helped me once I transitioned.”
Since he got to Philadelphia, Tanney has been interning under shooting stars in the profession with Steichen already being promoted to the nig chair in Indianapolis.
“It’s awesome. Part of it is I had previous relationships with those guys, played for Nick in 2012, played for Shane in Cleveland, [tight ends coach] J-Mike (Jason Michael), [passing game coordinator] Kevin [Patullo], so just really fortunate to be around those guys the last few years and learn from them and just kind of soak up as much knowledge as I could,” said Tanney.
The next step is having Hurts, Mariota, and Co. soaking up all of Tanney’s accumulated knowledge.
“The first year I was here wasn’t permanently in that [quarterback] room, but was able to establish a relationship with [Hurts] last year, being in there getting to know him better and better, so that’s certainly a positive headed into this year,” Tanney assessed. “It’s not like I’m stepping into a room not knowing the guy at all. But just seeing how he works, the time he puts in, his routine, his process is certainly going to be valuable for me just not trying to change too much, just putting my spin on it but also staying true to what’s been working for him.”
As for Mariota, it’s seamless. When the former No. 2 overall pick signed with the Eagles he joked that he’d have to get used to calling his former teammate coach.
“Obviously I have a great relationship with him. Spent three years with him in Tennessee when he got drafted there. He still calls me “Sticks” half the time,” Tanney smiled. “I was No. 11 and that was always my nickname. I’m fine with that.”