THERE ONCE was an era, apparently, when Andy Reid did not coach the Eagles, when the time was not yet ours, when the phrases "running game'' or "wide receiver'' did not trigger eyeball-bulging, spittle-frothing, arm-waving diatribes from otherwise rational fans.

Immediately before Reid's arrival, the record books reveal there was a time when the Eagles made the playoffs just twice in 6 years and won a total of one postseason game. Somehow, evoking the contrast between this era and Reid's six playoff appearances in 9 years, with a postseason record of 8-6, does not elicit a similarly passionate response.

But here we are, preparing to open Reid's 10th Eagles training camp. Among current NFL coaches, only Tennessee's Jeff Fisher (14 years) and Denver's Mike Shanahan (13) have been in their jobs longer. Now 88-56 in regular-season games, Reid long ago surpassed Greasy Neale as the franchise's winningest head coach (as long as your criteria doesn't include championships). This year he matches Neale in length of tenure; by the end of the season, no one ever will have coached the Eagles longer than Andy Reid. Seventy-six Eagles seasons, nobody here longer than Andy, nobody winning more. Nobody remaining more of a mystery to fans and reporters.

And the thing is, nobody can begin to predict right now when the end will come. Reid weathered all that speculation a year ago about his family situation forcing him out. He said recently that he can't envision doing anything else, and that he doesn't blame his job or the fishbowl his family lives in here for the drug convictions of his two older sons.

There is no indication that Reid is on any sort of hot seat with owner Jeffrey Lurie. BYU, his alma mater and, some felt, his dream job, came calling years ago and was sent away. Every indication is that Eagles Nation will be gritting its teeth through painfully uninformative news conferences, punctuated by random throat-clearings, for years to come.

"When you first start off, you're just trying to make it to the next year. 'How will I make it to 3 years in this league?' - the average of a head coach. You're planning for the future,'' Reid, 50, said recently. "Then you hit this point - I don't know if it's Year 7, wherever it is - where you're going, 'Man, I love every minute of this.' You're not even thinking about when you're going to end. At least, that's not where I'm at; at my age and years here, you appreciate every day even more now than you did back then. You're still working hard. That part hasn't changed. The work level hasn't changed.''

Everybody who knows the story of how Reid became the Eagles' coach knows about the notebook that so impressed Lurie and team president Joe Banner - the notebook stuffed with plans and tips Reid accumulated toward the day when he would be a head coach. Much of it was the blueprint he copied from Mike Holmgren's Super Bowl-winning tenure with the Packers. Now, Reid says, there are three notebooks - the original, another with all the stuff he has learned since becoming a head coach, and a separate personnel binder, with the lessons from his seven seasons in charge of those decisions.

"I go back to the old one, to make sure I'm not too far away from the original [concepts]. It's a good reference,'' Reid said. He added that his methods, once nearly 100 percent copied from Holmgren, now are more 60-40 Holmgren and accumulated Reid wisdom.

No longer the apprentice, Reid has his own coaching tree now, with ex-quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Brad Childress running the Vikings and former special-teams coordinator and secondary coach John Harbaugh coaching the Ravens.

"It's a tribute to the program - the players, coaches, Mr. Lurie, Joe Banner,'' Reid said. "It's a tribute to [Childress and Harbaugh], also.''

Balancing career, family

A year ago, the talk around the coach wasn't of Reid appreciating each day more than the one before. It concerned how Garrett and Britt Reid ran afoul of the law and ended up taking handcuffed perp walks that were splashed across the TV news. Wouldn't this make a father who famously slept at the office during the week have second thoughts about his priorities? Wouldn't he wonder if the pressures of a celebrity life that his children never sought helped push them off course?

A year ago, the talk around the coach wasn't of Reid appreciating each day more than the one before. It concerned how Garrett and Britt Reid ran afoul of the law and ended up taking handcuffed perp walks that were splashed across the TV news. Wouldn't this make a father who famously slept at the office during the week have second thoughts about his priorities? Wouldn't he wonder if the pressures of a celebrity life that his children never sought helped push them off course?

"I don't blame the job,'' said Reid, who took a 5-week leave of absence in spring 2007. "Maybe because I heard from so many different people in so many different jobs. This thing is such a widespread thing, probably in the world, I only know it in the United States - it's so widespread, it touches probably everybody, in every profession. I'm sure even stay-home dads, it probably hits them, too. I don't blame the job for that.''

Reid acknowledged he'd been forced to think about what his career choices might have meant to his wife and children. He said his family never made him feel that he needed to change his path, though his media guide biography points out that each of the five Reid kids was born in a different state.

"I'm not saying that I haven't gone through that evaluation, but I don't blame the job for that. I say this after games - you go back and you evaluate everything. Well, you do the same thing in this situation,'' Reid said. "You go back and you evaluate yourself, you evaluate your job, you evaluate the house - you hit everything.

"I don't blame the job. My boys would tell you the same thing. They're the ones, if there was any doubt, [any thought] that I was going to give up the job, they were the ones sitting there going, 'Don't even think about that. Don't even go there. That's not why this happened.' ''

Last year there was speculation that his attention was divided. There has been no sign of such a thing this offseason. Reid seems especially eager to don the big, black T-shirt and shorts and take the field at Lehigh, even though you could argue that the NFC East is stronger than it ever was during the days when Reid took the Birds to four successive NFC title games, with the Giants coming back to defend their Super Bowl title and the Cowboys almost universally viewed as the conference's most talented team on paper.

"I think that's awesome. I love that,'' Reid said early in the offseason, when asked about those challenges. "That's why we do this thing. It keeps you sharp. It keeps you aggressive.''

First camp: 'Brutal'

Maybe one measure of how long Reid has been here is that Donovan McNabb reports to Lehigh next week as a battle-scarred, 31-year-old whose tenure seems to be at a crossroads, with his presumed successor, Kevin Kolb, waiting in the wings. The conventional wisdom is that McNabb needs to be healthy and productive this year, or era change will be at hand.

Maybe one measure of how long Reid has been here is that Donovan McNabb reports to Lehigh next week as a battle-scarred, 31-year-old whose tenure seems to be at a crossroads, with his presumed successor, Kevin Kolb, waiting in the wings. The conventional wisdom is that McNabb needs to be healthy and productive this year, or era change will be at hand.

Reid's first training camp, McNabb was the rookie quarterback Reid had drafted second overall that spring, the foundation of the new coach's building plans. McNabb got his start a week late because of a contract dispute. Reid, the former Packers quarterbacks coach, wasn't thinking back then about tenures or records or legacies. He had more practical concerns, taking over a 3-13 team made up of players who didn't know him and found his ways unorthodox.

"I remember a lot of players needed IVs the first day,'' Reid recalled. "I gave 'em the schedule before we left [for Lehigh]. I told 'em, 'Training camp is tough. I won't run ya after practice, that's not what I'm going to do, I'm going to run you during practice, from drill to drill and so on.' I remember 'em looking at me like, 'That doesn't sound too intimidating.' But I warned 'em that, 'Listen, you'd better come back in great shape, because this'll wear you out if you don't.' They didn't take it the way they should've . . . It wasn't any different than what we did the other years, but [subsequently] guys just prepared better in the offseason.''

Reid said he was not trying to be "the new sheriff,'' not aiming to show these guys how tough he was. Then, as now, Reid ran tightly scripted practices. No walking back to the huddle, no breaks between drills. It was a different pace.

The guys who were out there on the field remember it a little differently than the coach, 10 camps later. Yes, the pace thing was there, it was real, but that wasn't the whole deal, they say.

"It was absolutely brutal,'' recalled safety Brian Dawkins, the longest-tenured current Eagle, preparing for his 13th season. "We had a lot of contact. We were tackling to the ground, live periods all over the place. It was brutally hot. The tempo was different from what we were used to. All those live periods, back-to-back, day after day after day. It was a tough, tough camp.

"Every time a new head coach comes in, it's kind of the same thing. They're going to turn the fire up and see if they can weed out some people that don't want to be here. That's kind of what I expected going in, and that's what happened. Some guys that - I mean, none of us liked it - but some of them were very boisterous about not appreciating the tempo and how much contact we were having.''

That's how former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese remembers it, as well. Reese was a second-year player then, whose only previous camp was under Ray Rhodes, known as a players' coach.

"My first year, under Ray Rhodes, I don't want to say it was a country club, but it was more of a relaxed atmosphere. Ray was prone to give veterans days off and we didn't do as much tackling,'' Reese said. "At Andy's training camp, we tackled every day . . . that was like a shock to all of us. I thought Andy turned up the heat on us purposely, to basically see what he had, who were the guys who were going to fight through it. He didn't give us days off, like he started to do later on, to reward us for hard practices. He was going to weed out the weaklings, see who was going to fight through it, who was going to make excuses and come up with fake injuries, find their way out of practice.''

The one name nearly every fan recalls from Reid's first preseason is that of George Hegamin, the big guard who learned on a Sunday morning that he'd been demoted from a starting spot and briefly left the team, missing practice, before returning and apologizing. Before he took Hegamin back (only to cut him in the final roster trim a few weeks later), Reid did something he has never done since. The coach who has become famous (or, depending on how you look at it, infamous) for never severely criticizing or punishing his players in public view invited reporters to watch Hegamin, all by himself, push a blocking sled around the field.

Dawkins believes the Reid he knows now wouldn't do something like that. Reid said he hasn't had to, after doing it that once.

"I thought it was important to set a foundation for things. This is a business, and you just can't skip a practice and it be OK. That's just not what it is,'' Reid said, when asked to revisit the incident. "George is a great kid. I really like George. Thank goodness, he came into the locker room and said, 'Hey, I screwed up, I was wrong.' He did the right thing.

"What it did was say, 'Hey, listen, I don't have a lot of rules, just follow the ones I have.' They're all basic, common sense.''

Reid maintains that Hegamin's crime and punishment "had nothing to do with [cutting him]. We had a lot of movement on that offensive line, moving guys in and out.''

Most of the other stuff that first year is a little blurry to Reid now. He recalls losing his first four games, with McNabb watching and learning behind Doug Pederson, and more important in the long run, winning his last two, setting the tone for five straight subsequent playoff seasons. You know the story of the years since - the highlight was finally winning an NFC Championship Game, on Jan. 23, 2004, over Atlanta, and the lowlight, after coming up three points short of the Patriots in the Super Bowl, was the spirit-sapping Terrell Owens drama that unfolded the next season.

"I learned a lot of things'' from having to deal with Owens-related disruptions over and over before dismissing him from the team just before a Nov. 6, 2005, loss to the Redskins, Reid said. "[Previously] I brought guys in here that had a great respect for one another, and that threw a little wrench in there, where players were getting after players, and that's not a healthy thing . . . You're going to have arguments between players, they're like any other humans. But to take it out publicly and to make a big rift of it, that's not a healthy thing for a football team. It shows you how fragile a team is and how important it is to maintain that chemistry.''

Thoughts on McNabb

There are those who feel McNabb was permanently damaged by the fallout from that mess - that it forever changed his relationship with management, and with some of his teammates.

There are those who feel McNabb was permanently damaged by the fallout from that mess - that it forever changed his relationship with management, and with some of his teammates.

"I think for a bit there, it wasn't a healthy thing for Donovan,'' Reid said. "But I think he's come back even stronger from it. I think people now really respect his worth, as a human being and as a football player. At the same time, I think it showed T.O. something. It's helped him in this next go-round with the Cowboys.''

All summer, observers will be parsing the Reid-McNabb smoke signals, trying to get a feel for how much rope No. 5 has left, whether he is likely to play here several more years, or whether the 2009 pocket schedule will carry Kolb's photo.

"Donovan's done a heckuva job at that position, and he's conducted himself the right way, with a lot of class,'' Reid said. "This is a great sports town, but it can be a bit rough on a quarterback . . . he's handled that well. We're all pulling for that great Super Bowl win, and he can do that. He can lead this team to a Super Bowl win. He's 31 years old, and he's in a position, mentally and physically, where he can do that.''

Of course, when situations get tangled, even the most glowing words can take on a subtext. You could infer that Reid is setting the bar for McNabb at a Super Bowl win this season, that anything short of that could be trouble. Or Reid could just be saying he still has confidence in McNabb.

With some coaches, 10 seasons in, you would have a lot better idea of how to read them. But that's not the situation here. And it isn't likely to change, anytime soon. *