"In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade

"And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him

" 'Til he cried out, in his anger and his shame

" 'I am leaving, I am leaving,' but the fighter still remains."

- Paul Simon, "The Boxer"

THE REALITY show that is the Philadelphia Eagles continues to center around the coach. The death of his son, the owner's offseason ultimatum and now the utter collapse of his team have altered the debate.

It's no longer about whether he should be replaced. It's about when.

Reid would like it to be now. That's what I read into Monday's comments, issued almost 20 hours after those he issued Sunday, when his team was mauled by a similarly flawed team. Immediately after the Eagles' 31-6 loss to the Washington Redskins, Reid was making about as much sense as his concussed stars, babbling some nonsense about playing to win in the last 2 minutes of that game, sounding like Ma Barker as he defended the resolve of a 3-7 team that only a few weeks ago he spoke admiringly about its "grit."

But that can be understood, coming moments after digesting such carnage. Monday, though? Reid's answers were so punch-drunk that media man Derek Boyko stopped the session, a la Richard Steele, about 10 minutes short of the length it ran for most of the Mondays this season, and a good 5 minutes earlier than even last week's, which came after a 38-23 loss to Dallas.

Andy didn't beg out Monday. He was patiently and humbly answering uncomfortable questions. He just has nothing left to give. He's brought players in and shipped players out, has fired a good friend and tried so many players on his offensive line that the remaining unemployed ones may be house hunting in the area.

He said the reason why key players were not on the field for a second-quarter, third-down play was because they were being rested. Asked if his team had enough talent to compete in the NFL, he said yes, but admitted, "We're into some positions of depth, but that's not an excuse." He implied, if not stated, that he left Shady McCoy in the game to show his players that he was "all in," and not quitting on them.

And when someone asked him whether he was still an effective leader he said, "My leadership right now isn't good enough."

He's out of answers. He's out of gas. He has tried to coach them up, and tried to break them down, and with six games remaining, many are either not listening or are not NFL players. The idea that he needs to stay around to develop young Nick Foles has turned upside down. He needs to go before the kid is added to the unable-to-perform list.

But in defending his decision to play McCoy late in Sunday's game, Reid made it clear he won't quit. Or can't. Cynics will point to the $5.5 million left on his contract as the reason, but we all know there are at least a half-dozen teams out there willing to give Reid an immediate restart next season if he so desires.

If the Jets jumped all over Rich Kotite after he was fired here, how gaga will they go over Andy?

No, Reid can't quit because of how it would look to those future suitors. And it's such an anti-football thing to do. But if the owner pushed him out? Perhaps bumped him upstairs into an evaluation role with eyes toward next season? Let the defensive coordinator who everyone had pegged as a head-coaching candidate just a few games ago finish it up? That might work.

Certainly it would be no harder to swallow than some of what's happened already, or the nonsensical explanations that have often followed.

I have been around some great fighters in my career, from Roberto Duran to Marvin Hagler to Mike Tyson. They never feel the years and the wars add up, and they will convince themselves right up to the opening bell that nothing about them has changed. But the training that once tuned them instead tires them, and that jab that always landed now gets there too late. Andy Reid again said Monday that his team can be fixed, but there's really only one way left to do that.

Jeffrey Lurie has to play Eddie Futch here. It's the decent thing to do.

Email: donnels@phillynews.com

" @samdonnellon

Columns: philly.com/