PHILADELPHIA -- After an extensive search for a new defensive coordinator which included Michigan’s Jesse Minter, Georgia’s Glenn Schumann and NFL coaches Vance Joseph, Chris Shula and Vic Fangio, the Philadelphia Eagles landed with Sean Desai, a 39-year-old Fangio pupil and the first Indian American coordinator in NFL history.
Desai has strong ties to the Philadelphia area and has built a strong reputation over his coaching career -- most recently with the Chicago Bears (2021), where he served as defensive coordinator, and the Seattle Seahawks (2022), where he was associate head coach and defensive assistant.
"His football IQ is extremely high," coach Nick Sirianni said, explaining why he went with Desai to replace Jonathan Gannon, now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. "Great detail. Just a really sharp coach."
Here are three things to know about Desai and the unsettled situation he steps into as the Eagles retool their defense.
Desai started his pro coaching career with the Bears in 2013 where he served as the defensive quality control coach and remained with the organization through 2021, eventually ascending to the position of defensive coordinator. From 2015 -18 he studied under Fangio, the Bears’ defensive coordinator and adopted many of his principles.
Fangio is known for two-high safety looks and pre and post-snap disguises that muddy the picture for opposing quarterbacks, a system designed to limit explosive plays.
There will be plenty of carry-over from Gannon's system, which was built on similar principles -- tenets that align with both Sirianni's and the organization's overarching defensive philosophies.
While Desai may want to separate himself from Gannon, whose defense was perceived to lack aggressiveness, it likely won't be by way of blitzing heavily: Fangio tied for the fewest blitzes called in the NFL during his stint in Chicago, while Desai's Bears had the sixth-fewest blitzes in 2021. The approach was effective for Desai overall, as Chicago ranked third in passing defense (191.6 yards per game) despite a number of injuries.
Leaving a mark in Seattle
After the Bears fired head coach Matt Nagy following the 2021 season the organization cleaned house and Desai landed with the Seahawks as associate head coach and defensive assistant.
He assisted in Seattle's transition to a Fangio-style defense with a primary focus on the secondary. The Seahawks ranked 13th in pass defense (211.5 yards per game) and were tied for the third-most takeaways (25) even with two rookies (Tariq Woolen, Coby Bryant) and a first-time starter (Mike Jackson) in the defensive backfield.
"He's really a brilliant football guy," coach Pete Carroll said at the combine in Indianapolis last week. "The information that he holds, his access to information, is really special."
Tricky waters to navigate
The defense Desai is inheriting is likely to be a shell of its former self, with three starting members of the secondary (James Bradberry, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Epps), both starting linebackers (T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White) and a host of defensive line contributors (Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Linval Joseph, Ndamukong Suh) all slated to become unrestricted free agents.
While general manager Howie Roseman will likely find a way to keep a couple of these players, there's no denying big change is coming.
"Usually, we like to sign guys early and sign guys during the season, and because of how hot we started, how well we did, and how many free agents we had, we thought it would create a different dynamic if we started to pick one guy and not another guy," Roseman said. "We understood that could cost us in the end, but we felt like it was worthwhile because of the opportunity to potentially win a championship. Unfortunately, we came up short."
Desai not only will have to win over the city, but he will also have to win over what's left of the veteran defensive secondary. On social media, Darius Slay and Gardner-Johnson were among those advocating for in-house candidate Dennard Wilson, who served as the team's defensive backs coach and defensive passing game coordinator, to get the defensive coordinator position during the Eagles' interview process.
There will be high expectations in Philly despite changes to the roster and coaching staff this offseason, as the city looks to rid itself of the bad taste the Super Bowl loss left behind.
But Desai is familiar with the city: he went to school at Temple and got his coaching break there, serving as defensive and special teams coach for the Owls from 2006-10. That experience should help him as he navigates what could be some rocky waters ahead.