By Jeff McLane The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — And we wait.
As of late Tuesday night, the Eagles did not have a new head coach. They met with Gus Bradley for an extended interview that ended in the evening, but initial indications were that a deal had not been struck with the man many considered the leading candidate to become the team’s 21st coach.
Bradley’s second interview with the Eagles — he is the only contender to have reached that phase — placed the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator as a front-runner on a short list that was thought to include former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and former Ravens coach Brian Billick.
Only Jeffrey Lurie truly knows whom he wants to succeed Andy Reid. The Eagles owner has said that the final decision will be his and his alone. But the scuttlebutt around the NFL over the last several days had the 46-year-old Bradley ticketed to Philadelphia.
Eagles fans have been caught up in the “Gus the Bus” fervor — a remarkably high percentage based on perception alone — taking to Twitter, Internet message boards, and talk radio to voice their support for Bradley.
Many tracked Bradley’s flight from Seattle online at the FlightAware website. He landed at Northeast Philadelphia Airport around 2:30 p.m. He stepped off a chartered plane, alone, wearing a dark suit and tie. He then hopped into a black SUV, far from a media horde, and left with an Eagles employee.
News helicopters tracked the vehicle as it wheeled its way to Lurie’s home, the former Annenberg estate in Wynnewood. Bradley arrived about an hour later to meet with Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman, and team president Don Smolenski.
The meeting lasted several hours. Head coaching interviews can vary in length. The Eagles met with Oregon coach Chip Kelly for eight hours in their only interview. They sat down with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for two hours.
Despite reports late Monday night indicating that Bradley was just a few minor details and a signature away from becoming the next head coach, a source close to the situation said Tuesday morning that a deal was not imminent.
The Eagles considered Tuesday’s meeting an extension of Saturday’s initial interview, which lasted only around two hours. The Eagles flew to Atlanta knowing that Bradley would have only so much time to talk on the eve of the Seahawks’ divisional playoff game.
But when the Falcons knocked out Seattle, the Eagles were free to schedule Bradley for a follow-up interview and booked him as soon as both sides were available. The fact that Lurie chartered a plane suggested at least that there was mutual interest.
Bradley interviewed with the Chargers on Thursday, but he was eliminated from that job when San Diego hired McCoy on Tuesday. The Jaguars were the only other team that is looking for a head coach that had Bradley in its sights.
He was scheduled to fly to Jacksonville on Wednesday to meet with the Jaguars, who fired coach Mike Mularkey last week. The Jaguars had been linked more prominently to 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
It wouldn’t make much sense if Bradley had thoughts about leveraging the Jaguars against the Eagles. On the surface alone, the Eagles would seem to be a more attractive spot for a new head coach, although succeeding Reid and coaching in football-crazed Philadelphia could be daunting.
That is, assuming Bradley is “the guy. The NFL rumor mill can be a vacuum, but the overwhelming feeling among many associated with the league was that Bradley had become the top choice, with Whisenhunt and Billick a distant second and third.
If Lurie wanted Bradley, it would make little sense to let him leave Philadelphia. The process could take longer if there was a snag in negotiations or if Bradley wanted to go through all of his options.
And for the Eagles, who turned over a number of stones in their two-week search for a replacement, what’s another day or two?
They had already interviewed Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and Falcons special- teams coordinator Keith Armstrong on Jan. 2; Penn State coach Bill O’Brien on Jan. 3; Chip Kelly on Jan. 5; McCoy on Jan. 6; Billick on Jan. 7; Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly on Jan. 8; former Bears coach Lovie Smith on Jan. 10; Bradley on Saturday; and Whisenhunt and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on Monday.
And those were just the confirmed interviews. The Eagles were granted permission to meet with Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, but that interview had yet to be scheduled and he was reportedly a finalist for the Bears job.
The Eagles began their search intent on snaring an innovative college coach like Chip Kelly or O’Brien. When both elected to stay at their schools, Lurie and company moved onto the next phase. Brian Kelly was in the mix, but he, too, chose to stay at his university.
Even before the Eagles met with Bradley, though, he was considered a serious contender. Tuesday’s meeting did nothing to suggest otherwise.