Despite disappointing season, expect Eagles to give Reid a pass
Now that the underachieving Eagles have been effectively -- if not mathematically -- eliminated from the playoff picture, the calls for Andy Reid's head are on the rise in Philadelphia.
The NFL's coach-firing season began yesterday with Jack Del Rio's ouster in Jacksonville. And considering the enormous expectations for this year's Eagles, it's certainly been a rough season for Reid, his worst since the team followed its Super Bowl season with a 6-10 record in 2005.
Reid's resume is impressive. He's the NFL's longest tenured head coach, has 122 regular season wins, six NFC East titles, 10 playoff victories and that Super Bowl appearance. He's a two-time NFL Coach of the Year. His reputation is that of a pleasant man and bright coach who players love to play for and who is well-respected within the coaching community. At 53, he has plenty of coaching years left in him.
But in our "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" world, the list of negatives has grown this year for the NFL's most scrutinized team and coach. Reid doubters point to the team's 4-7 record, the five fourth-quarter leads that were blown in losses this season, the questionable elevation of 13-year offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator and not enough touches for NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy (only 14 last Sunday, with just 10 rushes, in the 38-20 home loss to the Patriots). There's quarterback Michael Vick's fall-off from last season and all the big-headline free-agent signings that have not translated into enough wins. And there's always Reid's 1-4 record in NFC Championship Games, which has long been a touchy subject.
Still, I have to say to those Eagles fans who were chanting "Fire Andy" in the third quarter last Sunday: Not so fast. Barring an 0-5 finish to this massively disappointing season, Andy Reid is not going anywhere after this season, unless it's at his request.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is the man who will ultimately make this call. He hired a fairly anonymous Packers quarterbacks coach in 1999 and saw him turn his struggling team into a perennial contender. Lurie saw enough early success to give Reid control of the entire football operation, including personnel, after Reid's second season with the Eagles.
Lurie is the type of owner who will carefully consider all factors in weighing the coach's future. He will consult with team president Joe Banner. He will not make a knee-jerk reaction.
He surely noticed the majority of Eagles fans leaving the stadium in the second half against the Patriots. Half-full stadiums mean less concessions revenue and less Eagles merchandise being sold at holiday time. That doesn't make owners happy, and neither does a 4-7 record and a 1-5 mark before the demanding hometown fans. But owners also don't like to fire coaches with two years remaining on their guaranteed contracts, especially when its around $5 million per year.
The "Dream Team" Eagles' 2011 downfall has been stunning, even in a league in which surprise turnarounds are common -- both good (the 9-2 49ers) and bad (the 0-11 Colts, in a state of misery with the Eagles).
In happier times, Philly won the NFC East last season, then gave the Packers a tough test before falling 21-16 in the first round. Reid, as the personnel chief, convinced Lurie to open the vault post-lockout for big-bucks free agents in cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive end Jason Babin and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. Then came the $100 million deal for Vick, Reid's personal reclamation project.
Unfortunately for Reid and the Eagles, they learned what their division-rival Redskins, among others, have found out the hard way: Big free-agent signings are not a surefire ticket to the NFL promised land.
While the three major defensive signees have posted OK stats (Asomugha has three interceptions; Babin has 10 sacks while Jenkins has 5.5), they were still part of an Eagles D that was shredded for 457 yards and 38 points by Tom Brady and the Patriots. Far worse than falling to New England's prolific offense was the way they let Cardinals backup John Skelton throw three TD passes in a come-from-behind win at Philly in Week 10. Overall the Eagles' defense has fallen from No. 12 last year to No. 15 despite the high-priced additions.
Offensively, the Eagles have produced lots of yards (No. 3 in the NFL) but not enough big plays at critical times. Another signee, ex-Giant Steve Smith, has been a non-factor (11 catches; Smith had 107 for the Giants in 2009). Then there's Vick, who after an outstanding 2010 was having a very mediocre season before broken ribs sidelined him for Weeks 11 and 12 and possibly 13. He and his team have been plagued by poor second-half performances as leads and games were lost.
It hasn't helped that star wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been pouting, short-arming passes and benched far too often as he demands to be paid top wide receiver money. One of the pitfalls of paying big money to outside free agents is that your own players ask, "What about me?" Jackson's at the top of that list and McCoy may not be far behind in the near future.
Reid is a standup guy and has accepted his share of the blame for this lost season in Philadelphia. Injuries have been a problem, but he knows that every team has them. Reid was animated during the team's win over the Giants two weeks ago, but looked shellshocked like the rest of the Eagles against the Patriots. He will keep working hard to try to find a way to get to 9-7. beginning Thursday night in Seattle.
Meanwhile, Lurie will ponder his Eagles' and Andy Reid's future. What will he think about? When I evaluated head coaches during my NFL management career, I looked at four major factors:
When Lurie considers all of these factors, he will find the results mixed: some areas in which Reid is good, others in which he is shaky. Importantly, as evidenced by the Eagles' win over the Giants, Reid's team is still playing hard.
I believe Lurie will in effect put Reid on probation and tell him he stays at least one more year. Sometimes, after so many years, it's time for a change for both the team and the coach (as was the case with a fine coach in Jeff Fisher after last season in Tennessee). I don't think Lurie or Reid will feel that time is at hand in Philadelphia.
I think Lurie will keep Reid, taking into consideration the lockout that killed the offseason program, making it difficult for the team, the new additions and especially Castillo to get in sync (although other teams with lots of new faces, such as San Francisco and Cincinnati, managed this process much better).
Reid's contract will also play a part, since firing the coach means paying him for his final two years. Lurie also would have to fire and pay off the team's 16 assistant coaches if they're not retained by the next coach and don't get another NFL job (most assistants' contracts have offset language so the team does not have to pay them if they land an equal-paying NFL coaching job).
Finally, Lurie will consider Reid's entire body of work. He'll remember that after that bad 6-10 2005 season, Reid and the Eagles rebounded to go 10-6 and win the NFC East in 2006. That he led the Eagles to the playoffs nine times in 12 years before this season should clinch the decision to retain him.
The owner may demand that Castillo be made a scapegoat and a new defensive coordinator be hired. He could do what Seattle did to Mike Holmgren -- retract Reid's power over personnel decisions, making him a coach only, but I doubt that will happen.
Lurie definitely will tell his head coach to get the Eagles' house in order -- improve team chemistry (meaning no more pouting players who drop TD passes and no more on-field confrontations between coaches, such as the one that occurred between defensive line coach Jim Washburn and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg during the Patriots game). He'll want to see Vick playing at his 2010 level, thus earning his big extension. The same goes for Asomugha, who has not been the impact player this season that the Eagles anticipated, perhaps due in part to the defensive system and his unfamiliarity with it.
Above all, Lurie will make his No. 1 expectation crystal clear to Reid -- get the team back to the playoffs and Super Bowl contention in 2012. If not, it will certainly be time for a head coaching change.