“All right, so, I’m working on Stout,” I tell Cam Jurgens, the rookie center for the Philadelphia Eagles. “I’m basically trying to figure out how the heck this guy does all the stuff that he does.”
Jurgens chuckles. “Good luck.”
Jeff Stoutland—Stout, as everyone tends to call him—is the offensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Has been for a long time. Originally hired by Chip Kelly in 2013, Stoutland has done what is almost unthinkable among NFL position coaches: He has survived not one, but two head-coaching changes and still held on to his job. First, when Doug Pederson replaced Kelly in 2016, and again in 2021, when Nick Sirianni replaced Pederson. Stoutland has been the Eagles offensive line coach for longer than all but five current NFL head coaches have held their jobs; he’s had a longer tenure than every offensive and defensive coordinator except one (the Saints’ Pete Carmichael).
Stoutland’s longevity is both a testament to the quality of his coaching and a contributing factor to it. For a decade, the Eagles offensive line has heard one voice—one harsh, barking voice—setting a standard and demanding it be achieved. With that consistency has come unimaginable development. Jason Kelce, drafted in 2011, is the only offensive lineman that Stoutland inherited from a different regime—no matter. Kelce’s been a first-team All-Pro in five of his last six seasons under Stout. Lane Johnson was the first pick of the Kelly era in Philadelphia, selected fourth overall in 2013 behind other offensive tackles in Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. Kelly told me this week that Johnson was first on Stoutland’s board for the entire process—now, he’s a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.
How about guard Brandon Brooks? No Pro Bowls in four seasons before Stout, three in four healthy seasons with Stout. Evan Mathis, a 32-year-old veteran in 2013, made his first All-Pro list in his first season with Stoutland in Philadelphia. Stoutland is one of five offensive line coaches since the merger to coach a Pro Bowl offensive lineman in nine consecutive seasons. And this doesn’t even get into Jordan Mailata, the rugby star who had never played a down of football in his life and now proudly announces his alma mater as “Jeff Stoutland University” on Sunday Night Football.
Jordan Mailata: Jeff Stoutland University pic.twitter.com/8hMRxyYuee— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) November 28, 2022
But the question isn’t what’s happening. The proof of the development is right there in front of us, in Mailata and Kelce and Johnson, in an NFL-record 39 rushing touchdowns this season, in the second Eagles Super Bowl appearance in six years, led by a dominant offensive line. The question is how. How does Stoutland cycle in all these different players and get the best out of them? What secret techniques does he have as a teacher, a leader, a motivator?
I got the chance to talk with Stout at media night on the opening Monday of Super Bowl week. There’s a bigger crowd for him than for either of the Eagles coordinators or any of the other positional coaches. Stout growls out answer after answer on his stool, detailed and thoughtful in each one. I ask him point-blank why he’s so good at this, and after thinking for an uncomfortable while (I tell him, “It’s a tough question,” and he barks back, “Not really”), he finally answers: “I’m relentless. I’m relentless. I do not stop, and I will not stop until I feel like the player has got it. Until he understands it.”
Stoutland’s coaching method uses something called cold-calling. Used often in law schools, cold-calling is based on the Socratic method of asking and answering impromptu questions to improve critical thinking. In Stoutland’s offensive line offices, it’s all about install and recall. Stoutland will go over an entire game plan’s worth of information: what fronts the Eagles’ opponent will run this week, how they’ll check different runs against different fronts, how they’ll adjust each blocking scheme within each run to the different fronts. And once he’s done and moved on to the next thing for a while, he’ll call on anyone in the room—starter or backup—and ask them about their responsibility on a certain play. The players have a split second to respond.
I ask Johnson what happens if you get a cold call wrong. “You get looked a fool,” Johnson says. “And if you keep answering questions wrong, you won’t be around.”
Cold-calling is the method, and it works—but the repetition is really where the magic is. Eagles swing tackle Jack Driscoll tells me that his favorite Stout saying—there are quite a few, including the famous “Hungry dogs run faster” from the 2017 Super Bowl–winning season—is “10,000 kicks.” It’s a distortion of a Bruce Lee quote: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
This mindset applies to both how the Eagles offensive line practices—repetition until mastery—and how they execute their running game. They take the one thing they do well, their one kick, and run it 10,000 times. From week to week, the one kick varies. Take the regular-season game against the Giants in which the Eagles ran counter three plays in a row. Kick, kick, kick.
Or take the win over the 49ers in the NFC championship game, in which the Eagles dominated with zone runs to the weak side of the formation (away from the tight end), again and again and again.
That last run doesn’t look like all the others—and that’s the point. The Eagles’ zone runs have adjustments built into them based on the alignment of the defensive tackle. When the defensive tackle is on the outside shoulder of the guard, Isaac Seumalo and Kelce double-team him into the next zip code, leaving a large interior gap for the running back, but when the defensive tackle aligns inside the guard, the Eagles make a “wipe” call and allow Seumalo to pin the tackle inside so that Kelce can lead block up into the second level.
That little adjustment, right in the moment, to get the ideal angles to spring a big run? That’s the sort of thing you get cold-called about during a Tuesday afternoon install, just to make sure you know what to do when that tackle aligns differently. Kick, kick, kick.
Seumalo tells me that the Eagles do so much work installing their running game throughout the week that, on Saturday, the ship largely sails itself. “We’ll pore through every look and every detail and every tendency and how guys line up, and we really try to exhaust the process so that come game day, [Stout’s] actually very hands off. … Obviously, adjustments and corrections can be made, but for the most part he just wants us to go out there and play fast and have a good time while we’re doing it.”
“Good time” is another Stoutism. He tells his offensive line that “execution fuels emotion.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because Jalen Hurts dropped it in a presser earlier this season.
Mailata tells me it’s his favorite line from Stoutland because Mailata has lived it. Those three words describe the entirety of Mailata’s career. For a while, he couldn’t execute. He knew what it was supposed to look like and how it was supposed to work, but he was inexperienced and lacked the requisite technique, the tools. And only when he was given those tools by Stoutland—when everything coalesced—did the emotion really grow. It was the sense of a job well done, the sense of reaping the benefits of seeds long ago planted, cultivated, and cared for. Stoutland built Mailata from the ground up on that very principle—that there would be great joy in him learning to execute, and doing it the right way. It is no surprise that when Mailata talks about Stoutland, he doesn’t just make jokes about Jeff Stoutland University. “He’s like my dad,” he said in June 2021.
But if execution fuels emotion, there is nobody more obsessed with execution—and thus nobody more emotive—than Stoutland himself. Stoutland loves doing things right, and that’s why his train keeps on chugging, day in and day out. “Sometimes you’re in awe of how much energy he brings every single day,” Kelce said earlier this year, marveling at how often the backup offensive linemen perform well when tossed into the fire. “He just never stops coaching. Guys will joke about it, other coaches will joke about it, because it’s just so jaw-dropping, the amount of endurance he has to coach people. I think that’s why you see backups go in the game and play well. He just can’t help himself. He was made to be an offensive line coach.”
“I’m relentless.” Stoutland said to my not-so-tough question. “I’m relentless.”
I’ve talked with the majority of the Eagles offensive line, Stoutland himself, and Stoutland’s assistant offensive line coach, Roy Istvan, who played for Stoutland in the 1980s and has known him for 35 years. I have some pieces of an answer for my question—What is this guy doing? How is he this good?—but the picture isn’t complete. Relentless. Detailed. Emotional. Aren’t most football coaches, though? I still don’t know what the secret sauce is here, what makes Stoutland different.
The person who finally gives me the answer is Kelly—the guy who brought Stoutland into the pros and set him on this course of eternal dominance. When Kelly arrived in Philly, he’d never coached with Stoutland—just bumped shoulders with him in the Northeast and at clinics. But Kelly knew what he was getting in Stoutland, his first choice for offensive line coach as he assembled a staff in Philadelphia. “Some guys, their strength is this. I think Stout is strong in everything,” he tells me. “He’s great in scheme, he’s great in technique, he’s great in relationships. He’s a great evaluator. He checks every box that you’re looking for in a coach. I think he’s outstanding. As good as it gets in every aspect.”
This is why Mailata talks about him like he’s his dad, jokes about him, and puts him in a Stoutland University T-shirt. Why Kelce talks about his energy with reverence. Why Seumalo talks about how free he feels on the field. Why Johnson talks about looking like a fool if he gets something wrong. And why Jurgens wishes me good luck on my fool’s errand of figuring Stoutland out. Because there isn’t much to figure out, really. There is no secret sauce. There’s just a very good coach who loves what he does, has been doing it for a long time, and knows what each unique situation and player demands. Scheme, technique, relationships, evaluation. Relentless, detailed, emotional. Stoutland told me my question wasn’t that tough, but it really was—because he does it all so well.
Kelly tells me one final Stoutism that I’ve never heard before: “the big sombrero.” Stout uses the big sombrero to identify the offensive lineman with a particularly big responsibility on any given play. The isolated tackle in pass protection when the rest of the line slides the other way, the single block on a running scheme full of double-teams—that guy is wearing “the big sombrero.”
A lot of stars will take the field for the Eagles on Sunday. Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, Darius Slay, Haason Reddick. But in the story of how the Eagles got here, don’t forget about Stoutland and the moments when he wore the big sombrero. The responsibility he’s had, day in and day out, to build the league’s most dominant offensive line, to power yet another Philadelphia Super Bowl run through the trenches. Don’t forget that we’re watching one of the greats.