PHILADELPHIA – You have to make difficult decisions when you’re an NFL head coach and Nick Sirianni did exactly that when he went outside the organization to name Sean Desai as his new defensive coordinator to replace Jonathan Gannon.
When he did so Sirianni understood he would be bypassing well-regarded secondary coach Dennard Wilson, who was publicly endorsed by Darius Slay, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Marcus Epps shortly before the coach pulled the trigger, and what that would mean.
The other shoe dropped Sunday when Wilson and the Eagles mutually agreed to part ways, according to a league source.
“My job was to go through the process, and just like we do with everything, cast a wide net and get to know different people, get to talk to different people, and get to see who is ready for the job,” Sirianni said after hiring Desai.
Wilson was Gannon’s self-professed right-hand man in Philadelphia and the leading in-house candidate to get the job. Meanwhile, Sirianni has foreshadowed his preference for promoting from within numerous times, something he actually did on the offensive side of the football when Brian Johnson was elevated from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator to replace Shane Steichen, who left for the big chair in Indianapolis.
According to a team source, Desai and Wilson were the two finalists for the job after a search that included former NFL head coach and now-Denver DC Vance Joseph, LA Rams passing game coordinator Chris Shula as well as college candidates Glenn Schumann of Georgia, and Jesse Minter of Michigan. Also interviewed was 29-year-old linebackers coach Nick Rallis, who ultimately left to become Gannon’s DC with the Cardinals.
Second place wasn’t going to cut it for Wilson, who helped coach James Bradberry to second-team All-Pro status, as well as Gardner-Johnson and Epps to career years.
Desai, though, has experience as a DC with Chicago and was the associate head coach in Seattle under Pete Carroll. He’s also coached under Vic Fangio, the architect of the philosophy Sirianni wants on defense.
The move was no doubt a difficult one for Sirianni personally and also a risky one politically but that’s only if Desai fails and the last thing you want is a coach who doesn’t show the courage of his own convictions.
“I think we interviewed a really good group of guys and was really impressed by all of them actually,” said Sirianni. “Just at the end of the day, obviously some experience that Sean has had calling it, but also just I have to do what I feel is best for the team, and I felt like Sean was the best guy for the job.”
The trade was essentially Desai and whoever might come into to coach a secondary that could be without pending free agent Bradberry, Gardner-Johnson, and Epps vs. Wilson and assistant DBs coach DK McDonald being elevated.
Sirianni did his best to salvage things with Wilson.
“Dennard is a great football coach,” the coach said. “He’s done an outstanding job. If he is still our defensive backs coach, we’ll be lucky to have him because we know how good of a coach he is. … I think the world of Dennard and how good of a football coach he is.”
Leadership demands tough decisions.
The easiest route for Sirianni would have been to promote his own guy but he thought what he did was best for the Eagles.
It’s now up to Desai to prove he was worth the risk.