PHILADELPHIA – The highlight of Jonathan Gannon’s short tenure in Philadelphia was not the No. 2 ranked defense he piloted in 2022 or even the top 10 group he cobbled together with far less talent a year earlier as a rookie defensive coordinator. It was his drive to the NFC Championship Game last January when he lowered the window on his SUV to finally connect with the city’s fanbase.
“We’re going to f@#$ing gut these guys,” Gannon boasted.
Haason Reddick made sure Gannon’s trash talk was prophecy with a game-wrecking performance that knocked both Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson out of what turned into a 31-7 rout over the San Francisco 49ers that sent the Eagles to Super Bowl LVII.
On that day Gannon truly believed he would be back for Year 3 with the Eagles and confirmed that thought with NBC10 Philadelphia’s John Clark after finishing as a runner-up for the Houston Texans’ job in a second straight hiring cycle.
Lurking were the Arizona Cardinals, however, who were very late to hire a general manager, Monti Ossenfort, on Jan. 16, an executive who just happened to have forged a relationship with Gannon while in Tennessee and had his eye on the young coach ever since.
A first-time GM Ossenfort violated one of the NFL’s arcane rules in a personal call to Gannon to congratulate the coach on his team’s NFCCG win. During the conversation, Ossenfort floated the idea of an interview with Gannon when his work with Philadelphia was done.
That was it, at least from Gannon’s perspective, but the kicker was that only prospective candidates still coaching who had a first interview could continue the process in the period between Championship Weekend and the Super Bowl, a scenario former Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen took advantage of on his way to becoming the head coach in Indianapolis.
Team sources confirmed to JAKIB Sports that Steichen spent more time with the Colts in the lead-up to the Super Bowl because the NFL’s legislation allowed it and Gannon’s dance with the Cards was the phone call and Ossenfort’s pre-conceived thoughts on the coach.
By Saturday before the big game, JAKIB Sports was made aware that Gannon would be the next head coach for the Cardinals barring any unreasonable Adam Gase-like demands, something that simply wasn’t going to happen considering the relationship between Ossenfort and Gannon.
Once the Eagles’ defense collapsed in the second half of Super Bowl LVII loss to Kansas City, however, Gannon was the low-hanging fruit for the less-evolved part of the fanbase who lives in some kind of Buddy Ryan-fueled permanent time loop when it comes to defensive football, one that avoids the context of the modern game and fails to realize the last defense that finished No. 2 or above in Philadelphia was in 1991, over three decades before Gannon’s group.
The most ludicrous of the tin foil hat brigade were those convinced the Eagles lost the Super Bowl because the insanely competitive Gannon had already moved on to worrying about the Cardinals and didn’t give his all to his still-current employer.
Anyone who has met Gannon for five minutes understands why that’s a fallacy even if you want to stipulate that Gannon knew what was coming next, he still wanted that Super Bowl ring to stay with him in Arizona.
More so, from the organization’s perspective, Gannon never hid his ambition. Eagles GM Howie Roseman noted on more than one occasion that the organization was renting Gannon.
What is correct is that the timing didn’t work out well for Philadelphia as it rarely does for Super Bowl participants. The Eagles would have preferred that Vic Fangio, who joined the Eagles for a two-week consultancy gig leading up to the Super Bowl, be Gannon’s successor but the veteran coach who is the actual architect of Nick Sirianni’s preferred defense agreed to become Miami’s DC on the day the Eagles beat the Niners and Philadelphia thought Gannon would still be in the building.
By the time all the dominoes fell, the Eagles did try to get Fangio to back out of his verbal deal with the Dolphins but the coach honored his word (along with the record-setting contract he got from Miami). They were not alerted by Gannon about the original call because it was almost flippant from the coach’s perspective.
“[Ossenfort] didn’t say, ‘This [interview] is a done deal,'” Gannon told ESPN last week. “… I really, honestly, kind of put it outta the back of my mind.”
With both Gannon and Fangio ultimately out of the picture for the Eagles, the winner of a dwindling pool of candidates turned out to be Sean Desai, a direct Fangio disciple who was recently demoted from defensive play-caller in favor of the more experienced Matt Patricia.
The Eagles entered the Week 17 matchup with the 3-12 Cardinals with the 20th-ranked defense after losing Gannon and five starters from last season.
There is little ill will from the Eagles’ payers or staff when it comes to Gannon despite some conspiracy theories. Everyone from Sirianni to star defenders like Darius Slay, Brandon Graham, and Reed Blankenship spoke glowingly of the former DC this week. Perhaps some of the higher-ups are a little miffed and certain fans, not understanding the scope of the tampering, questioned Gannon’s desire in the lead-up to the Super Bowl.
“Obviously we didn’t finish the job last year, which all of us have the taste in our mouth of, dang, wish we finished the job,” Sirianni said, “but there still were a lot of special moments last year and in 2021, and Jonathan Gannon was a big part of that.”
Gannon did need to tighten up his messaging a bit early in Arizona when he equated sports-talk radio in Philadelphia calling for his firing during a historic season with actual reporters and playing up his role in Sirianni’s lone-wolf decision to give up play-calling back in 2021.
Any angst over that had been paved over rather quickly, however.
“I value that relationship I have with him,” Sirianni said. “I’m always rooting for Coach Gannon … but this will be the week I will not be rooting for him, obviously.”