When Jeffrey Lurie brought an end to the Chip Kelly smug-a-thon with one game remaining in its third season, the Eagles owner said being a successful head coach in the NFL isn't just about "winning the press conference."
Well, boy, he better hope that's true.
Doug Pederson, who replaced Kelly and has made a few verbal missteps and miscalculations in his rookie year, had another bad week at the microphone. With the team reeling from three straight bad losses, and desperately looking for a foothold to stop the fall, Pederson said some players didn't play hard in the loss to the Bengals.
Context is everything and so it is right to point out that Pederson said immediately after the game that the effort was fine. And he said the same thing - "I didn't see any quit" - when the subject first came up in his Monday news conference. Then, for some reason, he reversed field when asked whether he could honestly say after reviewing the game film that everybody played hard.
"Not everybody, not everybody, and that's the accountability that I talk about. You know, I hold coaches accountable for that. I hold myself accountable for that because it all starts with me, and I pride myself each week to make sure the guys are ready to go," Pederson said. "But at the same time, it comes down to a mentality by each individual player. You know, this is a business where we have to be ready to go every single weekend because every team in this league - I mean, there [are] some teams that are better than others, obviously - but for the most part, anything can happen each weekend."
By comparison, here's how Kelly would have answered the question: "Yeah."
Now, it's hard to fault honesty, except for one small detail: What Pederson said is about the dumbest thing any coach can ever say. It violated a number of rules, all of which can be found on the first page of the coaching manual. Red lights should have begun to flash in the NovaCare auditorium. Buzzers should have sounded, and the doors should have swung open. Emergency! Everybody to get from street!
Never, never, never, never. Not if they fell asleep on the field. Not if they forgot to come out for the second half. Not if they were texting in the huddle. No, no, no, no.
This is particularly true if you happen to be a first-year coach whose own credentials are still in doubt, and one who has zero control over who stays and who goes. If you really want to see a team quit, say out loud that some of them already have. And, by the way, as Pederson said while digging frantically toward the escape tunnel of accountability, if a team goes south, the blame belongs to the coach.
No, that was a blunder of the highest order, and it was also wrong. The Eagles haven't stopped trying. They have merely stopped believing, and when that happens, it is very difficult to keep putting your head in front of quickly moving objects on every single play. These aren't conscious decisions, but the result of a necessary focus that has become blurry and indistinct after repeated failure. They aren't quitting. They are just worn out from the season.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, asked to react to Pederson's observation, said he would differentiate between effort and energy. It's hard to have energy when you are losing by 29-0, as the Eagles were in the third quarter against Cincinnati, but he still saw effort.
"There's human nature that goes into this game," Schwartz said.
That was a much better answer, although Schwartz did have the benefit of 24 hours to prepare. It overlooked the fact that the team didn't seem to have much collective energy when the score was 0-0, either, but these aren't Congressional hearings. You give your answer, point at the next guy, and move on.
Pederson will have to move on from his answer somehow, despite having assured himself of being asked the same one after every game. The locker room will move on, too, but it won't entirely forget, because the same question will trail the players, too.
"It puts us in a little bit of a tough position because, as players, it makes you wonder who [he] was talking about," safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
This season has put them in a tough enough position without having the coach question their professionalism. By extension, if he singled none of them out, then he left them all under suspicion. That kind of thing doesn't play well.
The best result, and perhaps the most likely, is the players will conclude that Pederson isn't a bad guy, but just a rah-rah goof who messed up. The problem arises if they decide that the same goes for his entire body of work during the season.
Losing news conferences is no crime, after all. Winning them is part of what got the last guy fired. But losing locker rooms and losing games will get you every time in this league. Pederson should have settled for just one out of two this season.