PHILADELPHIA -- Good coaches get fired all the time in the NFL. For proof of that, look no further than Sunday’s game between the Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals.
Todd Bowles, fired by the Eagles for his thankless role in Andy Reid’s final season, is the defensive coordinator of the red-hot Cardinals. A year after trying to salvage the mess left when Reid fired Juan Castillo and line coach Jim Washburn in season, Bowles is the architect of a top-10 defense -- No. 1 against the run.
Bill Davis, fired by the Cardinals after two years as coordinator under Ken Whisenhunt, has the Eagles defense playing better every week. The Eagles have won three games in a row, the Cardinals have won four, and their defensive coaches have a lot to do with it.
The two men walked into very different situations. Bowles took over a very good defense from a very good coach, Ray Horton. His task was to meet relatively high expectations, and he’s done that.
“There was obviously a bulls-eye on [Bowles'] chest the minute he walked in the door,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said earlier this month in an interview on Arizona Sports 620-AM radio. “Todd has really stepped up to the plate and done a fantastic job for us.”
Davis, meanwhile, inherited a mess and was tasked with teaching an entirely different style of defense. Expectations were low, especially early, but they are rising with each solid performance of Davis’ squad.
“I like where we are in our stage,” Davis said last week. “But we are so far from the finish line, so far from being a defense we want to be.”
Davis was the linebackers coach on Whisenhunt’s staff when the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl five years ago. (You may recall they beat the Eagles in the NFC title game to get there.) Whisenhunt fired his defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergrast, after that season and promoted Davis. Two years later, Davis became the scapegoat for a 5-11 season.
“We built a team that got them to the Super Bowl, which was neat,” Davis said. “Then we took a hard dive. You kind of see how slippery the slope is in the profession of NFL coaching. Tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody. It can turn on you so quick.”
And it can turn back just as quickly. After two years on Pat Shurmur’s staff in Cleveland, Davis got fired again. This time, he got a chance to interview with Chip Kelly for a coordinator spot.
“You never really lose confidence in yourself,” Davis said. “There's so many factors. You take any team, any offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams -- you can see where is their roster as far as how far along are they in a championship team. I think there's a lot of great coaches that are struggling right now.”
He and Bowles are two coaches enjoying success at the moment after experiencing failure that wasn’t entirely of their making.
"[Bowles] was put in a tough situation,” Keim said in the radio interview. “He wasn't running his defense and didn't have time to install the defensive philosophy he had. But he's had some time here and feel we can continue to grow and get better on that side of the ball.”
The two coaches will cross paths at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday. Bowles’ top-ranked run defense will try to stop LeSean McCoy, the league’s leading rusher. Davis’ still evolving defense will have to find a way to cover Larry Fitzgerald and get pressure on veteran quarterback Carson Palmer.
It is a game with playoff implications for both teams. That wouldn’t be the case if Davis and Bowles weren’t both good NFL coaches.