February 12, 2021   5 MIN READ

Hardly Knew Va: Birds Lose Assistant Coach


On Thursday, the Eagles announced their entire new coaching staff, everyone who’ll serve under first-year coach Nick Sirianni and prepare for the team’s new era.

By Friday, the team had already lost a coach.

Jay Valai, who was hired as assistant defensive backs coach, left to become the cornerbacks coach at the University of Alabama, per ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg:

This story will sound familiar to anyone who remember when Frank Gore was – but then wasn’t – an Eagle.

Jay Valai left the Eagles for Alabama.

But Valai’s version is even more unique than Gore’s. The Eagles had hired Valai away from the University of Houston, where he served as cornerbacks coach for all of 12 days before bolting to the Eagles. Valai had coached at the University of Texas last season before moving onto Houston.

The Alabama job, which presumably pays better than an assistant position coaching job with the Eagles, will be Valai’s fourth job since the end of the 2020 college football season.

Two thoughts here: First, Valai must be a pretty good coach to have been hired by this many teams, especially to be wanted by Nick Saban. Sounds like Sirianni was fortunate to have landed him. Also, the Eagles have a main defensive backs coach, Dennard Wilson, who had the same role last year with the Jets. The Eagles will be OK.

Here are some other observations about the staff:

Catching On

There’s no reason that wide receiver play should be inconsistent this year, unless the front office did a terrible job acquiring NFL-caliber receivers.

Sirianni, pass-game specialist Kevin Patullo, and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead were all wide receivers during their playing days and have focused on that area during their coaching careers. Sirianni played wide receiver in college and coached receivers in both college and the NFL. Patullo moved from quarterback to receiver in college and coached receivers with three different NFL clubs before coming over with Sirianni from the Colts. Moorehead, of course, played receiver for the Colts and coached receivers in college.

These three coaches should provide a comfortable, relatable environment for receivers similar to the quarterback cocoon of Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo that helped nurture Carson Wentz into an MVP-level quarterback earlier in his career.

On The Flip Side…

Is it too soon to panic about youth and inexperience at linebackers coach?

At 27 years old, new linebackers coach Nick Rallis is younger than several Eagles players and the same age as Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton. Rallis spent the past three years with the Vikings as an assistant linebackers coach and defensive quality control coach.

This will be the first time he’s commanding a room, and he’s the same age as his best player. This should be interesting.

Fun fact: Rallis’ brother is WWE superstar Mike Rallis, who goes by the name Riddick Moss.

Junior Moment

It’s apparent the Eagles are going forward with a younger staff, which can have benefits, but the lack of a senior assistant on either side is glaring.

First-time head coaches and play callers typically surround themselves with an experienced veteran who has either served as a head coach, play-calling coordinator or both. Doug Pederson paired with Jim Schwartz, who had been a head coach and defensive coordinator. Among Sean McVay’s first staff was defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who had been a head coach and coordinator. Kliff Kingsbury brought in Vance Joseph. And so on. And so on.

Last year, Browns first-time head coach Kevin Stefanski hired Kevin Rogers, who had been a college offensive coordinator, as his senior assistant and hired defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who had been a defensive coordinator.

Sirianni’s offensive coordinator, Shane Steichen, just completed his first full year as an offensive coordinator for the Chargers. His defensive coordinator, former Colts defensive backs coach Jonathan Gannon, will call defenses for the first time. None of Siriann’s most veteran assistants – Jeff Stoutland, Jemal Singleton, Tracy Rocker – have held an NFL position higher than position coach. Even senior defensive assistant Jeremiah Washburn’s coaching experience is limited to the offensive line.

Analyze This

Gone is assistant linebackers coach Ryan Paganetti, the Dartmouth grad who most importantly served as Doug Pederson’s in-game voice for analytically based decisions, such as going for two or keeping the offense on the field in certain fourth-down situations.

The Eagles under Pederson led the NFL in fourth-down offensive play calls by a mile and also in two-point conversions, two stats that illustrate Paganetti’s importance to Pederson’s decision-making. Paganetti was actually hired by Chip Kelly but survived the coaching change and became an obscure but significant piece of Pederson’s staff.

According to sources, Paganetti wasn’t given much of an opportunity to impress himself on the new head coach and didn’t have his first conversation with Sirianni until late in the coach’s hiring process. Even more odd, the team didn’t announce any coaches who would naturally fill Paganetti’s void, which leads to question about Sirianni’s opinion on analytics, especially for in-game decisions.

Paganetti’s brother, T.J., – also a Kelly holdover – moved from assistant running backs coach to offensive quality control coach, but don’t expect big bro to fill little bro’s cleats. I’m told that T.J. isn’t as well-versed in the analytics realm as his brother is.

– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.

Listen to the latest “Inside The Birds” podcast from Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan here:

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