After the 2011 season, Jeffrey Lurie called it his most disappointing as the Eagles’ owner. He used adjectives like “unacceptable,” “ludicrous,” and “unfathomable” to describe the team’s 4-8 start.
And this went on for nearly 13 minutes.
There had been reports at the time that Andy Reid’s job was safe, but Lurie’s assessment of the then-coach’s performance was so condemnatory that it almost felt as if he had reversed course and would fire Reid there on the spot.
Even after the tone had shifted, and Lurie listed the reasons for retaining his coach of 13 years, one of which was winning the final four games of the season, he downplayed its significance because of the level of competition.
“There’s a lot to be said for the players coming together and the coaching staff holding this group together in a way that was impressive,” Lurie said, but “to hold onto that as the reason to be completely optimistic is, I think, fool’s gold.”
Lurie took into account Reid’s overall record to help offset 2011, but it’s a decision he would come to regret as 2012 proved to be even more dismal. But will it be one he revisits eight years later should Doug Pederson salvage this season with a four-game winning streak?
Pederson is only one-fourth of the way there, but the first victory was an impressive one over the 10-3 Saints. The next three games are against the 7-6 Cardinals, the 4-8 Cowboys, and 6-7 Washington, and triumphs over each could be enough to win the hapless NFC East.
But a 7-8-1 record, even with a division crown, could be viewed by Lurie as a false dawn.
He is unlikely to have come to any conclusion on Pederson. But there have already been signs of discontent. Lurie has uncharacteristically left practices early out of frustration, and in November, for possibly the first time ever, didn’t travel to the Eagles’ game in Cleveland for the same reason.
But the win over the Saints, with rookie Jalen Hurts making his first start at quarterback, was easily the finest performance of the season. And Pederson’s 14-8 record in December, and the previous two seasons when strong finishes procured playoff spots, have shown that players and coaches, if anything, give maximum effort for the guy.
“We’re 3-8-1 and guys are still going out there and giving him everything they got,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said Wednesday. “I think a great head coach is a guy that is a great motivator. I mean, is it important to be a genius? It helps, I guess. Is it important to be a big rah-rah guy? It helps.
“But the most important thing is, does this guy relate to people and does he motivate people? And does he get the most out of people, players, the coaches under him, everybody?”
Lurie likely doesn’t want to fall into the same trap again. The circumstances between 2020 and 2011 are different, of course. Reid’s tenure was longer and he had not won a title. Pederson has won a Super Bowl and is riding a three-season postseason streak.
Lurie was patient with Reid and previously with Ray Rhodes, his first coaching hire, but he did pull an early plug on Chip Kelly. Two 10-6 seasons weren’t enough to save the former Eagles coach in 2015, when he was fired with a 6-9 record and a week left in the season.
Kelly’s relationship with the front office at that point had become tense. Lurie might be perturbed by the current state of his team, but he has too much respect for Pederson to fire him in-season, and will consider all variables when doing his full evaluation.
How much will he factor in personnel and the suspect job Howie Roseman has done? Lurie hasn’t even contemplated the idea of firing his longtime general manager, according to an Inquirer report, which suggests he sees other intangibles as the primary problems.
It’s hard to see the owner giving much credence to the Eagles’ having disadvantages because of the coronavirus pandemic. Each of their three division rivals had new coaching staffs and schemes, while the Eagles made only minor changes.
Injuries have been an obvious problem. Only the Jaguars (79) and 49ers (78) have used more players than the Eagles (77). No team has gone through as many players on offense (35) or had as many different offensive line combinations (13).
But Washington, Dallas, and the New York Giants have had more turnover at quarterback. The Eagles have yet to have one of their starters miss a game to injury.
An injury to Carson Wentz, oddly enough, may have turned the season around earlier. He was playing arguably worse than any other quarterback in the NFL. Pederson, of course, had a hand in his struggles.
But Lurie will likely ask himself if more of the fault falls on the player or the coach. Wentz’s binding contract may force the Eagles to retain him, but Hurts’ relative success last week showed that Pederson still knew how to coach up a quarterback and script a winning game plan.
Four in a row could be enough for Lurie to keep Pederson and allow him to continue to call plays on offense.
“Doug can do it all. Doug can call plays, and [I understand] what you’re saying about giving up that role,” Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley said when asked about Pederson’s possibly becoming more of a CEO-type head coach. “But I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t want him to give it up, because he’s real good at it.”
Pederson has given up some aspects of play-calling. Senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello has called the two-minute offense all season. Pass-game coordinator Press Taylor has recently been given series to direct.
But Pederson likes calling plays. He likes to be in charge of his coaching staff. Lurie and Roseman, though, have been involved in coaching changes. Lurie persuaded Pederson to fire offensive coordinator Mike Groh last offseason and hire an outside perspective (Scangarello), which some inside the NovaCare Complex came to see as undermining the coach.
Can Lurie insist on further changes to the offensive staff, and if so, would Pederson finally draw a line that would force his removal? One thing seems certain: Pederson’s assistants remain loyal.
Two weeks ago, it was defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz who voiced his support. On Friday, Staley, who is the Eagles’ longest-tenured coach, and survived the Reid and Kelly departures, went to bat for Pederson.
“I don’t want him to leave,” Staley said. “I don’t want him to go anywhere, and all the assistant coaches, they feel the same, but I’m speaking for them right now. The things as far as what he’s done for us ... giving us the opportunity to have a voice, giving us the opportunity to do certain things. It’s been awesome.
“And every coach would tell you that.”
Pederson has long insisted on collaboration. He empowers coaches and players, and that is the best trait, Kelce said, that a leader of a football team can possess.
“It’s a lot harder to find,” the center said, “than I think is often credited.”
Winning out would be the best way for Kelce, Staley, and the rest of the Eagles to show that they want to continue working for Pederson.
But will that be enough in Lurie’s eyes?