The Eagles announced the hiring of assistant coach Mark Whipple in their typical understated manner. One story on the team's official site, a few hits in the local media, and that was it.
Coach Reid explained why he brought Whipple in:
“I foresee that Pat (Shurmur's) going to have an opportunity to be a coordinator in this league,” Reid said. “He's been with me nine years going on 10 and he's done a phenomenal job. He's had enough play over the last couple years that it's just going to happen...
“I think Marty (Mornhinweg's) days are numbered here, too, and I want to make sure I have somebody trained who can come in and work in that position. I think I've got a real good young guy in (offensive quality control coach) James Urban and now I have an older guy in Mark.”
Les Bowen provides a bit more color:
The story there seemed to be that the team was ready to add Whipple as Pat Shurmur's replacement, should the quarterbacks coach have gotten the offensive coordinator's job with Harbaugh in Baltimore. When that didn't happen, Reid decided he wanted Whipple on the staff anyway. Reid said he feels Shurmur will get a coordinator opportunity soon, and that he might as well prepare.
Which is all well and good, makes a lot of sense, and is typical of how the Eagles operate. But the more I read about the guy, the less I understand how a 50-year-old with 16 years of college head coaching experience could be available off the unemployment line for what's not even a real position. Here's a quick rundown of his background:
A veteran of 26 seasons as a coach on both the collegiate and professional levels, Whipple spent his last three (2004-06) as the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach... Whipple spent 16 seasons as a head coach at the collegiate level (New Haven, 1988-93; Brown, 1994-97; Massachusetts, 1998-2003), where he compiled an overall record of 121-59 (.672). His most recent college stop came at Massachusetts where he posted five winning seasons, two conference championships and led the team to a Division I-AA national championship in 1998. That year, Whipple earned the American Football Coaches Association's Division I-AA National Coach of the Year Award.
As a college coach, Whipple was known for developing and running the "whiplash" offense, a wide-open passing attack that I have seen described as a version of the West Coast offense. It's not your grandfather's offense:
"He doesn't really care where the ball is," Bagnoli said yesterday. "It could be at the 6-inch line, or fourth and 1. He's going to be unpredictable. He has no fear of throwing the ball down the field. He has that daring, going-against-the-percentages style that causes you concern. You don't ever know what's going to happen."
And from a Boston Globe story after Whipple led New Hampshire to the Division I-AA national title:
He is also an offensive nut. He instructed his team to begin the game with an outrageous five-receiver flood set called, ''Chattanooga.'' He promised the players that they would run that play to begin the game, regardless of starting position. He said he did it to ''break up the tension'' on the sideline.
Then there is Whipple's play-calling. He likes to go for it on fourth down, even if he can feel the shadow of his own end zone. Against Lehigh, the Minutemen went for it on fourth and 1 from their own 28. They made it. Yesterday, Whipple was about to go for an onside kick late in the second quarter and his team up 17 points. Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson noticed this and put his hands team on the field. Whipple was in their heads early. They couldn't make halftime adjustments because what exactly were they going to adjust to?
Whipple's teams routinely break offensive records. The fan-friendly style and proven results have put him in the mix for a wide variety of big-time jobs, from Boston College to the University of Miami:
Sometime soon, a bright AD will get it right and hire Mark Whipple this winter. If there is one sure way to capture the imagination of the press and ADs, it is turning around a losing program. UMass' Whipple has done it three times (New Haven, Brown and UMass). At each stop in his career, Whipple has taken a downtrodden program and quickly reversed its fortunes. Most recently, Whipple led UMass to the 1998 D-IAA national title in just his first year on campus. Last year his squad made the semi-finals losing to eventual national champion Georgia Southern. He is blessed with an imaginative offensive mind and his team scores lots of points (a sweet sign to ADs looking to fill seats). Let a program in a major conference fall on its face, and Whipple's name is sure to appear in the local sports headlines as the next successor. Another deep playoff run after the 2000 season and it's not "if," but "when," for Whipple.
Now Whipple is the position coach of arguably the hottest commodity in the NFL, Pittsburgh rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. With the Steelers one win away from the Super Bowl, lots more people now know about Whipple, who last spring was the person on the Steelers staff who first pushed the idea of using the No. 1 draft pick on Roethlisberger.
And according to Reid, Bill Cowher loves the guy:
Bill Cowher and I talked about him last year when I thought maybe I would lose Pat (Shurmur) about maybe coming in and working with the quarterbacks and Bill told me that, when he came back, that would be the first guy that he would hire.
"I said, 'Wow, I've got to really look at this guy.' "
The reason given for his firing by new Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin last year was that Roethlisberger had regressed and they wanted to try someone else. Fine, although how much of that regression had anything to do with the coaching rather than the motorcycle accident and appendectomy is anyone's guess. But most people assumed Whipple would just move along with Ken Whisenhunt to Arizona. Didn't happen. Nor did anything else work out.
Officially, Whipple was fine with the move:
"If I didn't have a year left on my Steelers contract, I'd be working, but I'm taking a sabbatical and getting paid for it," said Whipple, the former University of Massachusetts football coach who was let go as Pittsburgh's quarterbacks coach in January.
And he also shed some light as to what might have been the perceived problem in Pittsburgh -- he was perhaps too close to the player he was coaching:
"I still play golf with Ben Roethlisberger, once or twice a week," said Whipple, who lives in the Pittsburgh area.
And his plans for 2008 (this year):
He expects his break to last only one year. Whipple plans to be coaching in 2008, either as an NFL offensive coordinator or a college head coach.
Being simply a quarterbacks coach no longer interests him, he said.
"I had chances to stay in the NFL this year, but they didn't work for me," Whipple said. "I didn't see the point of moving around for something I didn't really want."
Didn't happen. And so we've got a coach here who has a proven record of college success, a well-respected offensive mind, and a history developing one of the best young quarterbacks in the game.
Without a job.
Sure seems strange.
- - - - - -
I wish there were some way to get Andy Reid to tell us how exactly he plans to use Whipple this year. Maybe it is all just a learning experience, like he said. After the Eagles bounce back and have a huge year in 2008, maybe Reid will lose a couple more coaches and Whipple will just make a seamless transition to offensive coordinator.
But it's certainly intriguing that a guy who has a history developing a good young quarterback is now on the Eagles staff, able to help as needed with Kevin Kolb. And it's also interesting that a guy known for unpredictability will be in the same offensive meetings as Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, helping to develop schemes to attack NFC East defenses that are all too familiar with the way the Eagles try to move the ball.