“I’m out. I’m out.”
Doug Pederson walked off the podium exasperated. The then-Eagles coach had come to the NovaCare Complex auditorium prepared to be pressed about quarterback Carson Wentz’s back injury, but as was often the case, he struggled to toe the line between placating the media and protecting team interests when pressed.
Pederson became so frustrated with the repeated questioning that he ended his news conference early and stormed out of the room. The Friday off-the-record session with reporters that often followed, and was a more effective setting for the coach to explain himself, would be nixed.
Aided by winning a Super Bowl, Pederson had mostly navigated the large and intense Philadelphia media through his first two seasons with the Eagles. But he was never fully comfortable in the team spokesman role, and that December 2018 presser seemed to mark a turning point in his relationship with the fourth estate.
Pederson won’t have to worry about that kind of probing in his new job. Named the Jaguars’ next head coach late Thursday night, when he’s introduced to Jacksonville sometime over the next few days, he’ll be greeted by less than a handful of beat reporters.
The small media contingent represents a smaller market, milder interest, and the perennial losing of the Jaguars — often cited as detriments to attracting top coaches — but Pederson could flourish in such an environment.
He had been beaten down by the time owner Jeffrey Lurie fired him last January, not only by the acute glare and the dismal 2020 season that intensified the scrutiny, but also by a construct that often placed him in the awkward position of having to answer for organizational decisions in which he had little input.
There were other reasons Pederson almost seemed to welcome the axing. Lurie’s increased involvement, general manager Howie Roseman’s entrenched standing, and the Eagles’ multilayered football operations could overpower the most resolute of coaches.
But Pederson’s agreeable nature, which made him seemingly the perfect complement to Lurie-Roseman, was a double-edged sword in that it allowed for harmony when there was winning, but an entryway for the front office to meddle when there was losing.
Lurie felt compelled to step in, uninspired by Pederson’s coaching staff suggestions and his inability to juggle all the many facets of being a head coach. But he also cut his coach off at the knees, and eventually at the neck, even though it meant parting with one of the NFL’s best offensive play-callers and the man who helped win him his first Lombardi Trophy.
The Eagles, of course, are the Patriots compared to the Jaguars. And Lurie is an exemplary owner compared to Shad Khan, whose Jaguars have won more than six games in only one season since he purchased the franchise in 2011.
In most other cities, especially, that would be enough reason for fan revolt. It could be argued that the lack of public accountability almost allowed for it. But a low bar and the utter failure of his predecessor, Urban Meyer, should give Pederson more than two years to deliver dividends.
There are ample reasons to believe it can work, starting with the pairing of Pederson and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick was underwhelming in his rookie season, but it’s not as if the Jaguars surrounded him with talent or Meyer coached to his strengths.
Pederson helped Wentz peak at an MVP level in his second year and backup Nick Foles to play at an elite level in the two most important games of his career. There were regressions and he will have to prove that the Eagles’ three-year offensive slide was unrelated to the departures of Frank Reich and John DeFilippo.
But Pederson’s scheme, game-planning, and play-calling were often built around player strengths and exploiting defensive tendencies. His pass-first philosophy and aggressiveness, at least in the general sense and when effectively implemented, are formulas for winning in the modern NFL.
So is having a coach with enough emotional intelligence to relate to players 20-30 years younger and establish a locker room culture that can sustain bumps in the road. Pederson, by most accounts, had both with the Eagles, but the 2020 season suggested that his relationships, especially with Wentz, had frayed.
The Jaguars are young. They currently have approximately $57 million in salary cap space. And they have 11 draft picks. There is an opportunity to rebuild from the bottom up and to recast the roster in a short time.
But Pederson, like many of the Jaguars’ coaching candidates, had trepidation about existing GM Trent Baalke, who flamed out with the 49ers and spent four seasons out of the league. There were reports that Jacksonville preferred Nathaniel Hackett, Matt Eberflus, and Byron Leftwich, only to lose out to the Broncos, Bears, and a return to the Buccaneers.
Pederson’s demands, though, may have been met, specifically the expected hiring of former Vikings GM Rick Spielman. The Eagles similarly accepted such a contrivance when Chip Kelly brought Tom Gamble along with him in 2013. The end result there may deter the Jaguars.
In 2016, Pederson had no such sway. The Eagles were his only interview, and several of the eventual hires made on his staff were spurred by Roseman. Pederson’s assistants were often a bone of contention with team brass, particularly after Reich and DeFilippo left.
There’s loyalty and then there’s idleness. Press Taylor and Mike Caldwell may prove to be successful coordinators, if Pederson is to hire both as reports indicated, but it was veterans in Reich and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz who supplemented some of his weaknesses.
Last season, the Eagles were supposed to benefit from pandemic restrictions with all three of their NFC East rivals having new coaches and schemes. But it ended up being the opposite as Pederson struggled to regain his footing after he tested positive for COVID-19 and missed part of training camp.
There were plenty of other reasons for the 2020 collapse, from Roseman’s roster and cap mistakes to how the drafting of Jalen Hurts affected Wentz, from injuries to the mounting pressures for a once-championship-caliber squad.
But the collective effect it had on Pederson was significant. And the intensity of Philly never allowed for him to catch his breath, even though he must have thought a title afforded him more equity.
A year off may have recharged the batteries. And if they aren’t sufficiently ignited, at least to start, Jacksonville may be the most patient of markets. When a tree falls there — good or bad — it never really makes a sound.
But Pederson will likely be reminded of what he meant to the Eagles and the city when the Jaguars travel to Lincoln Financial Field this coming season. The ovation could be deafening. He may have tired of the second-guessing, but he’ll always get to hear what he meant to Philly.