They say a good debater can take either side of an argument and win.
I am not a good debater. But I am very interested in whether the Eagles will part ways with Andy Reid at the end of this season. And the other night, somebody accused me of having said several weeks ago that Reid would definitely be fired, and then saying more recently that he definitely wouldn't be fired. I don't think I did that - although, with newspaper stories and columns, blogging, TV and radio yakking, Twitter and whatnot, it's possible. I "say" more things in a month than I can possibly keep track of.
That accusation got me thinking - there was a kernel of truth in there, because we're all just guessing, squinting to read tea leaves, and I really do see the case for keeping Andy, along with the case for getting rid of him. So, why not set forth both lines of thinking, as I perceive them? Here goes:
Why Andy stays
He has been here 13 years, the longest and most successful tenure in franchise history, had three losing seasons, assuming this team doesn't win out to go 8-8. No back-to-back losing seasons, or even back-to-back seasons out of the playoffs. If you keep Andy, hire a proven defensive coordinator, and bring in some talent at linebacker and safety, does anybody think the Eagles shouldn't make the postseason again next season?
Also, management let Andy do a lot of stuff last offseason, like luring Howard Mudd out of retirement and bringing in Jim Washburn. What if your new coach has his own people and his own ideas there? You've sunk a year into making these lines into what Mudd and Washburn prefer (and you've also sunk some money into that, signing Washburn creation Jason Babin for 5 years and more than $27 million).
Michael Vick is a project of Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. The Birds are tied financially to Vick at least through 2012. Vick is an outspoken Reid supporter.
In fact, Reid has a lot of very vocal support in the locker room. There is no serious debate over whether the team has quit on him. It clearly has not, even if it has underachieved.
With Washburn, Mudd, the Vick contract, and several other matters, the intent clearly was to give Reid 2011 and 2012 to prove he could win a Super Bowl, given that his contract expires following the 2013 season. Cutting that plan short might create as many short-term problems as it solves; the best shot at getting Vick back on track could well be a full offseason with Reid and Mornhinweg, not a new coach and a new system.
People who want Reid gone often cite the Jon Gruden model, the Bucs knocking on the door under Tony Dungy, then winning in Gruden's first year as his successor. That has happened exactly once. And the 2011 Eagles are not a veteran team that has fallen just short and maybe needs a new voice at the helm - that was the circa 2005 Eagles. This team needs a defensive coordinator, primarily, and some high defensive draft picks who can play.
Speaking of which, we don't know exactly how the draft works in the Reid-Joe Banner-Howie Roseman regime, but the assumption, which never gets challenged very much in April, is that Banner protégé Roseman is the draft guy. If you fire Andy, does Howie go, too? Doesn't seem likely. So what kind of new coach wants to inherit a GM whose track record so far is mixed at best? Does wanting to keep Roseman limit you to "weaker" coaching candidates who will just be grateful for the job and won't be able to make demands?
The best shot at fielding a contending team in 2012 might very well be with Andy Reid, and the original 2-years-to-win plan.
Why Andy goes
Boy, people are so sick of this guy.
You have to sell tickets, and advertising, and luxury boxes, and a huge part of the fan base hates what the team has come to stand for under Reid - underachieving aloofness. Soft, coddled players with a stupefying sense of entitlement.
A new public face would do wonders with an alienated fan base. At this point, fair or unfair to Reid, nobody wants to hear another word about putting players in a better position. Ever.
All the glittery numbers are from earlier in Reid's tenure. The last playoff win came in January 2009. Vick was Reid's idea, and frankly, Year 2 with Vick as the starter has been a huge bust. No Eagles quarterback has ever had this many weapons and this good a running game behind him and achieved so little. Vick, right now, is not that different from the guy who quarterbacked the Falcons, back when Jim Johnson's defenses always handled him with ease. Again, it was Andy's idea to make him the Eagles' future.
But the main reason the 2011 Eagles failed spectacularly was Reid's decision to make his offensive line coach the defensive coordinator. Last February, we all said, "Boy, if this Juan Castillo thing turns out to be a disaster, it's going to get Andy fired."
Well . . .
What boggles the mind is that Reid did it knowing how much was riding on the hire. After everybody realized Sean McDermott was not a worthy successor to Johnson, and being terrible in the defensive red zone doomed the 2010 Eagles, hiring a defensive coordinator became the biggest move of the offseason, bigger than the draft or anything you could do in free agency. And there is no evidence that putting Castillo in charge of the defense was foisted upon Reid by upper management - in fact, Banner spoke of having to be talked into it.
Coming up that small on a huge hire might signify that Reid has emptied the tank here, that he is out of answers. If you let him stay and allow him to hire another defensive coordinator, who knows that he'll do any better?
Plus, let's say the team makes the playoffs in 2012, doesn't win the Super Bowl. What do you do then? Remember, the thinking a year ago was that he had to be holding a Lombardi Trophy to sign a new contract here. Banner pretty much said that. Are you really going to win the Super Bowl next year? If not, what are you doing? Why not just get going on the inevitable transition?
I honestly don't know for sure which path would be better for the 2012 Eagles. I think players expect Reid to be back, and that replacing him is a riskier move than some critics want to acknowledge. On the other side of the ledger, I think it's striking that amid all the hubbub, neither Banner nor Jeffrey Lurie has said a word in the coach's defense.
One of Andy's favorite catchphrases seems to apply here: "We'll see."