Cards' Gannon turns to 29-year-old Rallis to lead defense
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The NFL is a place where 20-somethings are usually playing on the field or just breaking into the coaching profession, with titles such as “quality control” as they try to slowly rise through the ranks of a professional staff.
It's safe to say Nick Rallis was a fast learner.
New Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon has added the 29-year-old Rallis as the team's defensive coordinator, betting that his energy, talent and vision can negate any lack of experience.
“Experience is not synonymous with knowledge,” Rallis said.
“Correct,” Gannon answered, grinning. “It's like he knows me.”
Gannon and Rallis do know each other well, working together on the Philadelphia Eagles' staff over the past two seasons. Gannon was the defensive coordinator while Rallis was the linebackers coach.
Together, they helped craft an Eagles defense that was among the best in the NFL as the team reached the Super Bowl.
Gannon and Rallis share the same philosophy in that their defense doesn't necessarily have a set formation or scheme. The head coach said the plan is that Rallis will call the defensive plays during games.
“It's about being adaptable to the players that you have,” Rallis said. “Being able to utilize our guys’ skillsets, putting them in the best position to win games. Ultimately, what do we have to do on a week-to-week basis to beat the opponent?”
The 40-year-old Gannon — fairly young by NFL head coaching standards —has not been afraid to surround himself with younger coaches on his first staff. The Cardinals have also hired 35-year old Drew Petzing as offensive coordinator.
Petzing was the quarterbacks coach of the Cleveland Browns last season.
“In Philly, we were part of I think the youngest staff in the NFL, but that's not why I'm hiring the people I'm hiring,” Gannon said. “It's more of what I'm looking for in the hiring process.”
Rallis, who will turn 30 this summer before the Cardinals first game, helped lead an Eagles defense that easily led the NFL with a franchise single-season record of 70 sacks. No other team in the NFL had more than 55.
Now the new defensive coordinator inherits a Cardinals defense that has some good young players, including safeties Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson, along with linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins.
Rallis had particularly high praise for Baker, a two-time All-Pro who has anchored Arizona's defense over the past six seasons.
“Budda sets the standard for how you play this game,” Rallis said. “It is violent, it's high motor, 24/7.
"I'm just picking out one guy, there's all kinds of guys on this defense who play to that standard. And we're going to push to demand to push that even further, for everyone to be at that standard.”
The Cardinals are in the midst of a franchise makeover after a dreadful 4-13 season. The team fired fourth-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury and parted ways with GM Steve Keim, replacing the pair with Gannon and Monti Ossenfort.
Rallis still might not be the biggest star in his family.
His older brother Mike is better known these days as WWE star “Madcap Moss”, who was among the wrestlers in the mix for WWE’s recent Royal Rumble event. Rallis and his brother played college football together at Minnesota.
“I get to flip on the TV every Friday night and watch a little ‘Smackdown,'” Rallis said.
Then Gannon turned to his new defensive coordinator with a grin: “He should be watching (football) tape on Friday night.”
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed to this report.
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David Brandt, The Associated Press