Duce Staley climbed up the coaching ranks in his decade with the Philadelphia Eagles, only to end up as an assistant head coach that appeared to have no real opportunity to advance within the organization. For Staley to achieve his dream of becoming an NFL head coach, he would have to leave an Eagles organization with which he spent 17 years of his professional football life (seven as a player, 10 as a coach).
Staley accepted a job with the Detroit Lions as an assistant head coach, but this role is very different than the one he had in Philadelphia. Lions head coach Dan Campbell is determined to advance Staley's career and give him the head coaching opportunity he deserves.
"I told him, 'You're not going to be a token assistant head coach,'" Campbell said in a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday. "I'm going to use him. I plan on him being a part of -- we had him in during our player evaluations on the whole offense and defense, though he wasn't able to be in there very long because he had to go back with A-Lynn (offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn) and work offensively. But I'm going to keep him abreast of the cap and things of that nature, what we're trying to do with free agency, guys that I know -- even if they are on defense I want him to have a hand in."
Staley was the Eagles' running backs coach since 2013 after being hired by Andy Reid in 2011 as a special teams quality control coach. Former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson retained Staley as running backs coach and promoted him to assistant head coach after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Staley ran the team for a brief period while Pederson was out with COVID-19 in August.
Since Staley was hired as Philadelphia's running backs coach, the Eagles have the seventh-most rushing yards in the NFL despite not having a 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy in 2014. Philadelphia had a different rushing leader in every season from 2014 to 2019, and hasn't had its rushing leader from the previous season return to the roster the following year until the streak ended with Miles Sanders in 2020. Sanders was the first Eagles player since McCoy to lead the team in rushing in consecutive seasons. The Eagles have averaged 123.2 rushing yards per game under Staley since he became running backs coach.
Staley has a generation of experience in the NFL -- especially with the Eagles. He played for the team as a running back from 1997 to 2003 before spending the final three seasons of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A former third-round pick, Staley combined for 7,305 yards from scrimmage (4,807 rushing, 2,498 receiving) and 32 touchdowns in his seven seasons with the Eagles. He had three 1,000-yard seasons with the franchise, tied for second-most on the Eagles since a 16-game season was implemented in 1978.
Staley's path from player to coach is very similar to Campbell, who learned the ins and outs of the profession from Sean Payton in New Orleans before finally landing a head coaching job with the Lions. He wants Staley to have that same opportunity.
"He's going to be primed and ready to be a head coach when it's all said and done and all his bases are going to be covered," Campbell said. "He's going to be able to check off every box and say 'All right, I've been there, I've done that. I know, I've been trained for this -- just like Sean (Payton) did for me.
"He's going to be a true assistant head coach. And if something goes down and he needs to step into my seat, he's ready to roll, so that's how I view it. I think Duce is a hell of a man and I think he's a hell of a coach. He's going to be a head coach in this league sooner than later."