Biggest mistake by Reid, Eagles? Sticking together too long
He is the NFL's longest-tenured head coach and easily the most successful in Eagles franchise history, and yet, as we have seen happen in other football-crazed towns, it's the weight of all that history that seems to be bearing down on Andy Reid in Philadelphia these days.
As we watch things go from bad to worse for Reid and his underachieving Eagles this season, it's not difficult to identify yet another case of a veteran coach who has stayed too long in the same place, with time conspiring to turn his strength of continuity and consistency into something closer to utter contempt for the familiar. After Reid's 14 mostly winning seasons, the Philadelphia fan base is suffering from full-blown Andy Fatigue, and for that there's really only one known cure.
It's not quite midseason, but it's easy to see where this story is headed regarding Reid and the team he has led since 1999. Be it the beaten-down Michael Vick or the fresh-faced Nick Foles at quarterback for the Eagles over the next nine games, the bigger picture is that the winds of change have started blowing in Philadelphia, and they're not likely to stop at the recent firing of a defensive coordinator.
The tea leaves might not be in full bloom as October comes to a close, but they're already plenty readable, and they say it's over for the coach who took the Eagles to nine playoff berths, six division titles, five conference title games and one Super Bowl.
But then, we knew how high the stakes were in Philadelphia when the season started, with team owner Jeffrey Lurie making it clear that Reid had finally arrived at the win-or-else stage. But alas, the 3-4 Eagles aren't winning much, so we all understand what likely happens next.
Even for the best NFL head coaches, the ones like Reid who have served long and well and defied the odds by surviving in the same market for year after year, the end of their era almost always comes in less than victory-parade formation. Eventually, every coach this side of Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh seems to wear out his welcome, grow stale in the job, or realize his message no longer resonates with the people he's paid to motivate. Stay long enough and some of the magic inevitably disappears.
Just in the past several years alone, we've seen it happen to a few of Reid's contemporaries. It happened to Mike Shanahan in Denver, despite two Super Bowl rings, with the end of his lengthy Broncos tenure featuring just one playoff win his last 10 seasons on the job.
It happened much the same way for Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, who parted ways with the Titans after the 2010 season, exiting with no playoff victories and five non-winning seasons in his last seven years in Nashville.
To a degree, Mike Holmgren in Seattle fit the mold of a shelf life expired, too. Holmgren walked away after the 2008 season, his 10th with the Seahawks, with a 4-12 record being the final chapter in a story that included the franchise's only Super Bowl run. It was his call, but Holmgren sensed his time had come and his impact had waned.
And if it can happen to Hall of Fame legends like Tom Landry in Dallas, Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh and Don Shula in Miami -- none of whom went out in anything resembling the glow of their championship years -- who could possibly be immune from that coaching dynamic? Certainly not Reid, whose 139-94-1 career record in Philadelphia has set a new standard for Eagles coaches, but includes only a 10-9 mark in the playoffs and, to the great frustration of Philly fans everywhere, no Super Bowl titles.
"Sometimes teams just get to a certain point where they want a fresh look, a fresh face,'' one former NFL general manager told me last week. "The window for coaches in the NFL used to be about 10 years in the same job, before people got tired of you. Now it's less. Now it's six, seven, eight years, maybe. It's tougher all the time to fight your way past that point.''
By that measure, Reid has roughly doubled the norm in today's NFL, and managed to extend his successful Eagles run far longer than he probably had a right to expect. But it is tougher all the time for him to be heard and trusted in Philadelphia, and to be given the benefit of the doubt when his football judgments are questioned. There are too many recent examples of calls that went wrong and plans that never worked out.
Given the Eagles' galling recent bookend home losses to Detroit and Atlanta -- sandwiched around the team's bye -- Reid's time in Philadelphia now feels like a countdown. The dispiriting 30-17 loss to the Falcons on Sunday, played amid the backdrop of a must-win setting, served as a sober realization that Reid is nearly out of answers and motivational methods to inspire and jump-start his puzzling team.
He'll no doubt keep fighting this season, because that's what coaches do, desperate or otherwise. But the flow of the battle seems to have finally and definitively turned against him in Philly, and his players aren't responding to the sense of urgency he undoubtedly feels. It's new ground for him to have his back to the wall to this degree, but a second consecutive non-playoff season would be unprecedented in his Eagles tenure, and Lurie has unequivocally deemed that unacceptable.
Unlike Pat Bowlen in Shanahan's later years in Denver, or Bud Adams in Fisher's case in Tennessee, Lurie's patience and loyalty seemingly won't extend indefinitely. There never was a return to greatness for the Broncos in the post-John Elway quarterbacking era, and Fisher never got the Titans back to the Super Bowl after their narrow loss to St. Louis in January 2000. In retrospect, both owners likely would have been better off to follow the rest of the league's what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mantra and move on from Shanahan and Fisher sooner than they did. Ultimately, neither franchise was rewarded for its patience.
In Reid's case, as this painful season in Philadelphia continues to unfold, his cause is hurt rather than helped by all the history he and the Eagles share. It's a relationship in which both sides know each other too well, and it shows signs of strain. Sometimes enough is just enough, and time makes that plain.
Reid's league-leading seniority and near-perennial playoff status earned him plenty of well-deserved slack in Philadelphia over the years. But it looks like his long run is headed for the finish, and it will feature a familiar downward spiral in its closing stretch. On a three-game losing streak, the Eagles' situation is precarious. There's still time to mount a comeback, but time and tenure are no longer on Reid's side. His track record is working against him now, and his chances to remain in the only NFL head coaching job he has ever known are dwindling.
Even with those nine games left, including Monday night at New Orleans, the outcome in Philadelphia this season already seems clear. The more you see, the more you get the feeling this isn't going to end well for Reid. But in the NFL, even for long-tenured coaches who thrive and survive and create an era for themselves, it rarely does.