Skip to content

Richie Gray: Meet Jason Kelce and the Philadelphia Eagles' Scottish tush push guru

Former Scottish rugby coach Richie Gray speaks to Sky Sports about his involvement with the Philadelphia Eagles' 'tush push', his route into the NFL - and going viral on Jason and Travis Kelce's podcast.

A Philadelphia Eagles fan holds up a sign for a play during the first half of an NFL football game between the Eagles and the Washington Commanders on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

From NFL anonymity to lock-and-key secret-keeper. Earlier this season Jason Kelce was telling brother Travis Kelce about the "Scottish guy" with whom the Philadelphia Eagles had consulted in order to gain a rugby outlook on the team's 'brotherly shove/tush push' play. 

That 'Scottish guy' was Richie Gray, who for years has gone largely undetected as a contributing voice to tackling technique across the league. That was until a few weeks ago, when Jason imitated Gray on his New Heights podcast as he and Travis discussed the Eagles' renowned quarterback sneak.

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland wanted Gray's opinion on how a defense might seek to blunt one of the league's gimme' short-yardage formations, during which Jalen Hurts is bulldozed forward by his supporting cast for a touchdown or new set of downs. Over to Jason Kelce and his best worst Scottish impression.

"He says 'Coach, there is nothing you can do to stop it, it's organised mass!'" recalled the Eagles center.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts scores on a Tush Push against the Miami Dolphins
Image: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts scores on a Tush Push against the Miami Dolphins

That Scottish guy had quickly debunked any suggestion that the play holds similarities to rugby's scrum, echoed by rugby-convert and now-Eagles cornerstone left tackle Jordan Mailata during a recent appearance on the podcast. Cue new-found fame.

"I was in my town of Galashiels, which has about 10,000 people in it, there was a couple who came up to me and said 'we're Eagles fans, tell us about it!' Gray tells Sky Sports NFL. "Nobody would have known because I don't speak about it, but all of a sudden it came out on the podcast which has about two million people listening so it all went a bit crazy!"

Gray, who now works with Toulon, previously served as a member of Vern Cotter's staff with the Scottish national rugby team and also spent time with the Springboks, after which he began lending his expertise to NFL coaches.

Also See:

Such are the copy-cat ways of football, Gray's lips are sealed on the intricacies behind the play, which has been subject to suggestions it should be banned. With that said, he suggests there are four reasons the Eagles are superior at it.

"Number one, they have the world's best o-line coach in Jeff Stoutland," he explains. "Number two, they've got some of the world's best personnel within the o-line and quarterback.

"Three, and this is great because I've been reading people in the US say a rugby play shouldn't be anywhere near football, but it is nowhere near a rugby play. A scrum is two teams and is dictated by an official when those two teams come together, they are also pre-bound. The maul is also a formation that takes time to build. The brotherly shove/tush push is literally over in two to five seconds and action will always beat reaction.

"In football, it all goes on the snap. The offense always has that advantage of a millisecond, action will always beat reaction.

"And finally, the Eagles train it and have tactically and technically perfected it, and they put a lot of time into making it better. Any team can do it. The Giants tried it a couple of weeks ago and a couple of guys got injured, but I heard through the grape-vine they would only ever run it during walk-throughs."

Richie Gray during his time working with the Miami Dolphins
Image: Richie Gray during his time working with the Miami Dolphins

The Eagles capitalised on their own predictability against the Washington Commanders in Week Eight, lining up in tush push formation on third-and-two in at the eight-yard line before instead faking and handing off to D'Andre Swift, who skipped to the outside for a touchdown.

"Football to me, is human chess played 100 miles an hour. By the biggest, the strongest humans on the planet, it is totally different to rugby," says Gray.

Gray had been drafted in to dissect the play with Eagles coaches by Vice President of Player Performance Ted Rath, with whom he had worked at the Miami Dolphins back in 2016.

"These performance guys are always looking for one per cent differences and will leave no stone unturned," he adds.

"I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the best thing for me is I can say it how it is, I'm just going to say exactly what I see. Jeff Stoutland is like a father figure to that o-line, they have a huge amount of respect and huge amount of trust for him."

One day Gray had been sitting in Coach Stoutland's office when there was a knock at the door.

"In comes this six-foot-nine monster," Gray remembers.

It was Australian offensive tackle Mailata, who was desperate to chat to the rugby coach he had heard was in the building.

"I had a great half an hour with him, very sharp, very clever and learns very quickly. He's obviously had some outstanding mentors around him. First and foremost, he has size, shape and power and he's had to technically make it accurate.

"I get asked whether other rugby players could go and play in the NFL. To be honest, offensive line and defensive line I think they would struggle, but the study they would have to do before a single snap would be unbelievable.

"I always thought (Fiji international) Josua Tuisova might make a great running back, but it's incredibly difficult to transfer skills. I've always said the one thing that can transfer is tackling. But I was down in Miami this offseason and Tyreek Hill is there, when you see that player live, it's a different level, I've coached some of the world's best in rugby like Bryan Habana and these elite guys, but Hill is on another level of movement and speed."

Gray's relationship with Rath had come at the beginning of his NFL journey when he received a call from former Dolphins Performance Director Wayne Diesel at the time the Springboks were due to face New Zealand in the semi-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

He had met Diesel 15 years earlier when he was a physiotherapist for The Stormers rugby team in Cape Town.

"Americans love stats and percentages, and the Springboks had really good stats in contact and collision so they must have been looking at that," said Gray.

"Wayne must have said 'I know that guy!', so I got a phone call after the World Cup asking if I fancied coming out to the Miami Dolphins for a week. And it was crazy because I had just developed a number of training aids to develop tackling and keeping players from going bone-on-bone, so I said I would go if they could ship out all my training aids.

"I did a week in Miami and then they rang me and asked if I wanted to do something with them once a month in the offseason."

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys against the Philadelphia Eagles from Week 9 of the NFL.

Gray's contract with the Springboks was up and so he took Miami up on the offer, working with the team's linebackers for a year, meeting Rath in the process.

"It was more for developing my training equipment which is now used in pretty much every NFL franchise, and most colleges will have some GSI equipment which is linked to equipment company Riddell."

His time in Miami entailed working with Super Bowl-winning defensive tackle and friend of Sky Sports Ndamukong Suh, while Gray has since also teamed up with Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins over the last two summers.

"It's maybe good for the sport and football that somebody from overseas can put their ideas in place," he explains. "I've written all the tackle methodology already for high school football, the National Federation of High Schools use my tackle methodology, so just about every youngster in the US getting taught talking comes through by the programme.

"A lot of them are using my equipment which you can get through Riddell, so you're kind of intrinsically linked in the US through tackle technique. It's been quite funny over the last couple of weeks. It's just gone nuts."

His stint in Miami had coincided with that of now-Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and now-Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, making for some useful contacts across the league. Gray jokes he has received some light-hearted texts from coaching friends asking whether he would be open to coming and working with them.

The Eagles continue to flirt with a 90 per cent success rate in the tush push since the beginning of 2022.

The approach to bridging inches is nothing new to the NFL. Yet teams continue to fall short of efforts to replicate the efficiency of Kelce and co. How 90 per cent of the league would love to know what Gray knows.

Stream the 2023 NFL season and more with NOW

Around Sky