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Nagy, Bieniemy and Spagnuolo downplay familiarity with Jaguars’ Doug Pederson

As Kansas City faces Jacksonville, coaches on each sideline will recognize some faces across the field.

NFL: NOV 13 Jaguars at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid’s first opportunity to run an NFL team came in 1999 with the Philadelphia Eagles. His initial staff included future head coaches like John Harbaugh and Sean McDermott — and even Kansas City’s current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Current Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach Doug Pederson was the Eagles’ primary starting quarterback that season, having come to Philadelphia after being a backup for the Green Bay Packers while Reid was the team’s quarterbacks coach. That would end up being Pederson’s last year as a player under Reid — but in 2009, Reid hired him as an offensive quality control coach. He later became the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach — and then when Reid was hired in Kansas City in 2013, Pederson joined his staff as the offensive coordinator.

It all adds up to Pederson being one of the strongest, thickest branches of Reid’s extensive coaching tree — which has become a big storyline heading into this weekend’s Divisional Round matchup with Pederson’s Jaguars. Naturally, the familiarity doesn’t stop with him and Reid; each team has multiple assistant coaches who have previously worked together.

Kansas City’s quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy held that position under Pederson — and then took over as the team’s offensive coordinator when Pederson was hired as Philadelphia’s head coach in 2016. Yet Nagy is in a unique position to understand that his old boss’ familiarity with the Chiefs organization doesn’t necessarily give him an advantage in Saturday’s matchup.

“I don’t think it matters that much,” Nagy told reporters on Wednesday. “We all — as coaches — know how different coaching staffs prepare; we all tweak different things. Without getting into detail, there are some things that are different now here that weren’t the same way when Doug was here.”

Nagy said that in his experience, having an insight into another coach’s mindset isn;t always helpful.

“If you think you know a play is coming, it’s still hard to stop it on both sides,” he smiled. “Trust me: I dealt with that in [2019] when the Chiefs came to Chicago.”

Wild Card Round - Philadelphia Eagles v Chicago Bears Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In the game to which Nagy was referring, he was in the same situation in which Pederson now finds himself: a former Reid assistant looking to defeat his former boss. The difference is that in 2019, Nagy had been away from Reid for less time than Pederson; it’s now been seven years since Pederson coached in Kansas City.

Still, that personal relationship can create another layer that wouldn’t exist in another matchup. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy worked with Pederson for three seasons.

“I think there’s a little game of chess — and cat-and-mouse — that goes on with that,” Bieniemy admitted on Wednesday. “And, [if] you think about it, Doug kind of one-upped us and got the onside kick in the first game. So there’s always a little game of that.”

Bieniemy noted that Jaguars’ defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell is a former teammate of his.

“I got a lot of good friends on that staff, and they do a great job,” he noted. “Those guys are embracing the process. They’re starting to trust exactly what their coaches are providing for them... They have belief in what they’re doing: you just don’t come back and win the game down 27-0 and find a way to win.”

While Nagy and Bieniemy’s history is more personal, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s history with Pederson is mostly as an opponent. They were coaching with division rivals when Spagnuolo was with the New York Giants in 2016 and 2017.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giant Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

That — combined with his understanding of Reid’s general offensive philosophy — gives him a sense of what to expect on Saturday.

“They do a lot,” Spagnuolo emphasized. “They’re kind of like coach Reid and the guys out here: you’re probably not going to see what they did last week [or] two weeks ago; they change it up quite a bit. They’ve gotten to the point where their players and Doug are so well connected, they can do that in a game plan and change it around.”

Spagnuolo expects it to be a bit different than it was when the teams met each other in Week 10 — when Pederson was still getting to know his players.

“I’m sure earlier with the growing pains it was a little bit different,” said Spagnuolo, “but it’s kind of like the whole playbook is there; they are wide open. We’re expecting anything: all fourth-down plays, go-for-its, [taking] chances. We have to be ready for gadgets — anything like that.”

Overall, the shared history between the opposing coaches really won’t be much of a schematic advantage for either side. But there is a lot of mutual respect — which will bring out the best from each team.

“It’s always great playing guys that you have worked with,” observed Spagnuolo. “John Harbaugh, Sean McDermott — all those guys that we compete against that we were [once] brothers in a room.”

Nagy recalled a time when Pederson pitched in to help him in Chicago.

“My last year in 2021, Doug came to training camp when he was out of football for a year,” he revealed. “We were able to talk about some things from a head-coaching perspective that he learned from his first time — and that he’s probably putting into action now. [They were] things that helped me out with how he did things.

“We have a great relationship. I spent a lot of time with him in Philadelphia and here — and [there were] a lot of great experiences.”

So while the game is underway, there may not be as much to these shared experiences as you’d think — but both before and after, it will be very clear how much these coaches know and respect each other.

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