BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Five days after Carson Wentz tore up his knee, Eagles coach Doug Pederson walked into one of the team meeting rooms at the NovaCare Complex and, in front of the entire offense, he kicked over a trash can.
"He was dead serious — his face, everything," offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said.
"We were like all on edge," quarterback Nate Sudfeld said. "Everybody was kind of unsettled like, 'What did we do wrong?'"
The tension didn't last long. A smile soon crept across Pederson's face.
"And then he was like, 'Ha, I'm just kidding,'" Sudfeld said.
It didn't take long to get the joke.
"After a few seconds," center Jason Kelce said, "it clicked in everybody's brain."
A day earlier during practice, Kelce had kicked a trash can in a fit. Reporters and cameras were there for his tirade and it briefly caused a stir on social media.
Did Kelce reinjure his ankle?
Was his outburst the manifestation of the Eagles' frustration over Wentz's season-ending injury?
It was neither. Kelce had accidentally been cleated by another teammate.
"It was just Doug making light of the situation," Kelce said.
The room exploded into laughter.
"It was funny," Stoutland said. "That kind of dissolved the whole thing. After that it was like, 'OK, we're all good. Let's move on. Let's get on with the game plan.'"
In the Eagles' improbable run to Super Bowl LII, Pederson has pushed and pulled, twisted and turned, struck and, yes, kicked seemingly all the right buttons. While his Kelce impersonation was just a small example, the Eagles coach has a way of smoothing a situation that might otherwise derail his team.
It is, for his players, his assistants, and the many who have worked with him, one of the secrets to his success as a coach. If Pederson seems to strike the wrong chord, or if he does not carry himself in the self-serious way old-school coaches see fit, it doesn't matter because he comes from an authentic place.
"Doug Pederson is just himself. And at times, that's very humble, and at times, it's just very real," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "At times, that's very bright. At times, it's tough. But he does it in a true genuine way, and I think players really respond to that in today's world."
Pederson, who turned 50 on Wednesday, takes his job seriously, but he doesn't take himself seriously. He delegates. He gives his players leeway to express themselves. He is a former player — as he often likes to say – who still likes to hang in the locker room with the guys.
He isn't a doormat, however. He can be demanding, not because it's his natural disposition, but because the job requires it. It's a tough love tactic he said he learned from his father, Gordon, his first coach.
But Pederson couldn't have guided the Eagles past a five-game losing streak in his first year, through countless injuries in his second — including the one to Wentz that many thought would end the team's title chances – and the typical ups and downs of a season without self-assurance.
"He's got great confidence. Doesn't get rattled. I think those are big things when you're presented so many challenges over the course of a season," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "There's going to be trying times and he's got a good personality that way, and I think the team reflects that. The team doesn't get rattled easily."
The Eagles were underestimated heading into the postseason. Pederson knows the feeling. Many questioned his hiring two years ago. Just days before the season opener in September, former NFL executive Mike Lombardi called him one of the least qualified coaches he had ever seen. If true, one of the least qualified coaches is one win from doing what no other Eagles coach, including Pederson's mentor, Andy Reid, and only 31 other coaches, have ever done.
"I'm sure there was — and there was — doubt, skepticism; call it whatever it is," Pederson said last week before the Eagles departed for Minnesota. "First-time head coach. What does he know about running a team? And hopefully, I've proven people wrong."
Pederson's father taught him and his two brothers the game of football. He forced young Doug, who wanted to be a wide receiver, to play quarterback because he was the only one who could handle the snap. He was harder on his boys than on the other kids. If they didn't do the right things, he'd let them know.
"He'd come right into my room after practice or a game and let me know about it," Pederson said. "Good or bad."
Pederson handles his team the same way. He praises the praiseworthy. But when the Eagles aren't hustling or they're sloppy, he makes it known. For instance, an early-season fumble was returned for too many yards against the Eagles because players failed to flip gears. Pederson brought the offense together and in an expletive-filled rant "nipped that whole thing in the bud," Stoutland said.
"We'll have practices where if the offense isn't functioning well, or we're doing some just stupid, dumb mistakes, he'll start [cursing out] guys, quite frankly," Kelce said. "I don't think that's what he wants to be. I think it's just something he has to do to get guys to do what they're supposed to do."
The angriest Kelce ever saw Pederson was when rookie defensive tackle Elijah Qualls parked his car along a curb rather than in one of the spaces allotted to the players at the NovaCare Complex.
"He called me out specifically like first thing in the morning during the team meeting," Qualls said. "I don't know how he knew it was mine because like 15 people on the team have Chargers. I know he stresses the details. But it wasn't even like most people would lose their temper. Doug's mad is like most people's irritated."
Pederson "never goes over the line and he never loses his cool," Sudfeld said. The same applies during the game and even in potentially stressful, late-game moments. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said that Pederson will sometimes say something into the headset that can be completely off the wall despite the circumstances.
"He's just very comfortable and confident in who he [is] and take a moment like that and even joke around even in the intensity of the moment. It's not too big for him," Reich said. "It can sometimes be a little goofy. But that didn't just happen once. That's probably happened three or four or five times this year where you're like, 'Where did that comment come from?' "
Reich said that Pederson's ease relieves the tension for the staff, and that in turn filters down to the players.
"It's been good for me," Stoutland said of Pederson's composure. "We'll have a flyover or something and he'll say something like, 'Wow, that was incredible. We're ready to start the game and it just takes your attention off the thing for a second just to break it."
When Pederson announced Dec. 11 that Wentz's season was over, he projected an assurance during the news conference that was clearly intended to send a message to his players. Internally, he did allow himself a moment of woe.
"Maybe in here somewhere [points to chest], but not out here. I would never do that out here. I would never do that in front of the team and I would never do that in front of you," Pederson said recently to a small group of reporters. "But inside you're kind of going, 'Dang, we got this thing going.'"
But it didn't take long to "fire back up," he said. Pederson has an infectious positivity fueled by a desire to win
"That's why we get in this business. That's the motivation," Pederson said. "I want to see these guys succeed on the field."
In Pederson's career as a backup quarterback, his primary job was to help prepare the starter. During his first stint with the Packers, he had two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Jim McMahon whom he deferred to, and that meant having to host an Appleton, Wis., radio show.
Yes, Pederson did radio. Every Monday night, he did an hour on the air with a guest player or coach.
"Brett and Jim were too busy," Pederson said. "But I loved it. We had a host. We had a limo that would pick my wife and I up at the house. … It was in a sports bar. You'd get a free meal out of it. For me, it was great because after the show we'd hang around, maybe have a couple of beers and sit and talk to the fans."
Even then, Pederson talked of coaching someday, according to then-Packers offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. He would play 14 seasons total, briefly with the Eagles and Browns, and back at the end with Green Bay. When he retired, he become the head coach at Calvary Baptist Academy in Louisiana.