Every barnyard needs a scapegoat or two, and it became clear as the Eagles’ season sputtered along that offensive coordinator Mike Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch were voted Most Likely to Wear Horns by everyone in the Philadelphia area, except those who actually played for the team or coached it.
It’s the easiest conclusion in the world to reach from the outside. The offense has some problems, so it must be the offensive coordinator. The receivers aren’t catching enough passes, particularly down the field, so it must be the receivers coach. Off with their heads, horns and all.
That stone rolled downhill and gained momentum to the point where head coach Doug Pederson was going out of his way every chance possible at the end of the season to defend and praise them.
“With all my staff guys, I’m in that process of evaluating and would love to have them all back, obviously,” Pederson said Wednesday during a season-ending news conference.
Just as obviously, not everyone in the organization agreed with him, and The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane reported, per an NFL source, that owner Jeffrey Lurie wanted Groh and Walch gone, and gone they were on Thursday.
We’ll get to that in a moment – because Lurie’s newfound expertise as a football coach is worth examining – but let’s stay just a bit longer with the guys who took the fall.
The Eagles finished in the top half of the NFL class in most critical offensive categories, including total yards per game, rushing yards per game, passing net yards per game, interception percentage, sacks per pass play, first downs per game, third-down efficiency, and points per game.
Their average ranking in those categories was 10th in the league. Is that great? No. Is that awful? No. But, aside from teams that are changing head coaches, any other coordinator in the NFL whose offense turned in those numbers would keep his job.
As for the receivers coach, I’m not sure anyone noticed this or not, but all the receivers got hurt. The team had zero speed at the position. Of course, there weren’t any chunk plays down the field. The receivers couldn’t get there before the quarterback got chunked.
So, all they did midseason and beyond was build an entirely new offense designed to do the most difficult thing in the NFL, and that is score points even though nearly every drive requires double-digit plays. And they did it with a rookie running back and a collection of guys off the street or the practice squad, mostly at the receiver position. And they made the playoffs.
“My hat goes off to both of those gentlemen because of the game plans that Mike and I and the offensive staff put together, first of all. Then, here toward the end of the season, Carson Walch having a big impact on getting these young players ready to go and to play at a high level. That’s not easy,” Pederson said.
Here’s what isn’t understood by people who aren’t in the coaching wing of that building every day. No one knows who does what, or who does what well, except those in there. That goes for fans and sportswriters, and it goes for owners and front office executives, too.
Fans might be throwing parties because the barnyard gate swung open and the scapegoats were shoved into the wilderness, but they have no clue if there was real cause for the dismissals. The same holds true for Lurie.
I have no idea what led the owner to step in – and make Pederson look foolish for his defense of those coaches one day earlier – and I won’t believe a word of whatever twaddle the organization comes up with to spin how everything really went down.
There are several possibilities. Maybe season-ticket holders were inundating the team with demands for action of some kind. Maybe Lurie really thought he knew more about coaching than his head coach. Maybe there was a power-play attempt within the organization and the owner felt the need to remind everyone who signs the checks.
It could be all of that, or none of it, but the owner has done Pederson no favors. It’s one thing for a coach to look weak compared with the big boss, or with his footing in relation to the front office. It’s quite another for him to be considered weak by the locker room, which misses nothing when it comes to palace intrigues.
Lurie dumped on Pederson’s wishes. There’s no other way to look at it. The head coach wasn’t allowed to decide who should be on his staff for the coming season. Perhaps he’ll be allowed to choose the replacements for Groh and Walch, but if the owner didn’t trust Pederson to keep the right people, where’s the logic in trusting him to bring in the right people?
Pederson was sure he had the staff he wanted already, and the challenging circumstances of the season, and many of the rankings it still produced, back him up.
The end result of the season was a disappointment, however, and someone had to pay for that. Two someones, in fact. Whether that was really justified, we’ll never know. And neither will Jeffrey Lurie.