Allen Park — Duce Staley was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. He played his first seven seasons with the franchise, and five years after he concluded his playing career in 2006, he returned to the organization, where he served as a coach for the next decade.
Leaving wasn’t easy, but after being passed over for the team’s head coaching vacancy a second time this offseason, he decided the best way to advance his career was to spread his wings and explore a new opportunity with the Detroit Lions.
This weekend, Staley will coach against his former longtime employer for the first time, although he believes he’s beyond the emotions that came with severing the long-term relationship earlier this year.
Instead, when talking to local media on Thursday, Staley focused on the memories, mostly good memories, from his time with the Eagles.
He mused about his draft day experience and being a little overwhelmed when he got around to actually surveying the team’s loaded backfield depth chart. And he got some laughs when he talked about showing up to the team’s facility for the first time, where he was congratulated by quarterback Rodney Peete.
“I remember walking in and I got a chance to see him and I remember him saying, ‘All right, young buck, congratulations. Tuesday, we gonna need that food,'” Staley said. “At the time, I didn’t even understand what he was a saying because I was a rookie. I didn’t understand the rookie responsibilities at the time, but I found out rather quickly through (running back) Ricky Watters.”
Fortunately, the demand wasn’t too rich for the rookie. His teammates wanted McDonald’s, which he went on to supply regularly throughout that season.
“I learned rather quickly you’ve gotta go get a friend at McDonald’s,” Staley said. “So I got a friend at McDonald’s and (I told them), ‘We can never be late when it comes to this food.'”
Of all the relationships Staley cultivated in Philadelphia, few compared to the one he had with team owner Jeff Lurie. After Staley left this offseason, Laurie was effusive in his praise for the departing coach, who he said was like a son to him.
“He and I talked well into the night,” Lurie said in January. “I love the man. I just believe — and I think he believes — that it’s best for his goal of being a head coach in the league to work for another organization for a while and set himself up the way many of the candidates have, and it’ll help him and I just want the best for him. I think he’ll be an excellent leader wherever he is in the future and I just want to share that love for Duce. He’s very special.”
Staley said he used to talk to Lurie weekly after each game and the owner would frequently test him during those meetings.
“He’s definitely into the game,” Staley said. “He watched a lot of film, believe that. He’ll tell you what’s going on and you better remember and better make sure you watch the film, because he’s going to bring up something you should know.”
But while Staley is approaching this week like any other game, he understands it might be a little different for one of his current pupils, D’Andre Swift, a Philadelphia native who is playing the team he grew up cheering for the first time.
“I was a really big Eagles fan,” Swift said. “That’s where I’m from, so I always wanted to root them on coming from the city of Philadelphia, but not this week. … Just living out my dream, being able to play the NFL team I grew up watching, having an opportunity to play against them, that’s a blessing.”
Swift noted that coming out of Georgia, he talked to Staley more than any other person ahead of the draft.
“It’s crazy how he ended up being my coach,” Swift said. “Definitely was a big fan of him when he played for the Eagles.”