- The Super Bowl-winning coach on putting last year’s success behind him, focusing on the now and staying aggressive to keep Philly special
Fresh off a Super Bowl championship, Eagles coach Doug Pederson has written a book, “Fearless: How an Underdog Becomes a Champion,” with co-author Dan Pompei. In advance of the book’s release on August 21, Pederson sat down with The MMQB’s Mitch Goldich for a Q&A.
MITCH GOLDICH: Had you always been interested in writing a book, or was that a surprise when the opportunity came up?
DOUG PEDERSON: No, it was a little bit of a surprise. I’m not a big social media guy, I have no Twitter accounts, I don’t have Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, I don’t do any of that stuff. And I get asked all the time about my career, growing up as an athlete, as kind of an underdog type of player. I thought, what better to get your message out than to do a book? And so I agreed to put this project together. It’s a very overwhelming project. It takes time, obviously, to do it right, and I feel like we put together a good product.
MG: There’s a lot in there about the last two years, your time in Philly. Was that you figuring it’s what would resonate most with your audience?
DP: It was the way I wanted it to go. I go back and talk about my mom and dad and childhood stuff like that. But I think for the most part, I wanted it to be inspirational, motivational, and talk about my professional career as a player and now as a coach, where you kind of have that underdog mentality all the way into a Super Bowl championship team. And so that’s how I wanted this book to flow and come across.
MG: Who are you hoping is the audience for this book?
DP: It’s really open to anybody and everybody. I think faith-based groups will get something out of it. I didn’t want it to be a “sports book,” you know. So I wanted it to be a little bit of a crossover. Obviously folks in Louisiana, because that’s where we’re from. Maybe people who are struggling with something in their life, and they need a little inspiration, and hopefully through the book they can get something out of that. Through the message of the book, and some of the struggles and challenges that I was faced with, growing up or in my professional career, I think it can touch a lot of different people in that way.
MG: Sometimes people write a book and take shots at a lot of people. Your book is not that …
DP: I don’t want it to come across as a negative book. I want it to be positive, to be inspirational, motivational. And hopefully I don’t have a lot of enemies.
MG: … but Mike Lombardi’s criticism of you—which is now kind of famous—you mention that a couple times. Was that important to you to include?
DP: I think people wanted to know the story behind that. And so for me, it was a way of expressing it and documenting it accurately. And that way I don’t have to answer three million questions about it. They can read it in the book and get all the answers.
MG: So I know you’re a competitive guy. And Nick Foles’s book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. Have you talked to Nick? Is there any competition there?
DP: We ordered it. We bought his book. My wife has read it. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and go through it yet, but she loved it. And so, competitively speaking, I’m hoping mine can juuuuust go above his by a little bit.
MG: But no friendly wager?
DP: No friendly wager, no jersey colors or anything like that.
MG: The first anecdote in the book is your conversation with Bill Belichick on the field, and him telling you it’s hard to find game where the Eagles are behind. So when you watched tape from last season, did you spend more time on the good plays and the wins, or some of the mistakes and the losses?
DP: Put it this way: You watch everything as a whole. So you watch good and bad. And there’s obviously plenty of mistakes and plenty of things that didn’t go our way during the season. But we were a good enough team to overcome some of that stuff. So that dialogue before the Super Bowl was a little bit of a jab, but those are all things that coaches do, and I respect the heck out of Coach Belichick for where he’s been, what he’s done and what he’s accomplished. And hopefully one day I look back on my career and my résumé and it looks similar to his. It’s just a fascinating story, the way he’s led the Patriots, but again hopefully someday mine will look similar.
MG: You also talk about things you learned as a player in the Super Bowl with the Packers, and things you learned from other people who’ve been to the Super Bowl. So now on the other side, what did you learn from last season that will help you for the rest of your coaching career?
DP: I think staying humble, staying in the moment. Not focusing on the end result, but focusing on the now—where you are presently. It’s a long season, and anything can happen. It’s just a matter of staying committed to this week and to today. Getting better today. Staying grounded, staying humble. Remember the journey, obviously. I don’t think you ever want to forget what it took. Because, as I’ve mentioned many times, you don’t substitute for the preparation and hard work. You still have to put that stuff in, you can’t cut corners. I think for us that’s gonna be the underlying message moving forward.
MG: How much does it help keep you guys sharp that Carson Wentz is coming back, and even though he was such a big part of the team last year, he still wants to be the guy under center in the Super Bowl?
DP: I think it’s a great shot in the arm for the team. Guys like him, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos, all those guys who were injured. It’s a great motivator to the rest of the team.
MG: How do you coach some of the new guys who weren’t on the team last year and don’t have that shared experience that most guys in your locker room have?
DP: I have to rely on the veteran players from last year who are still on this football team. They’re the ones who can embrace the young players. We’ve established a certain culture here. And so they can take in a new player, I don’t care if it’s a free agent or a draft pick, and just say, “Hey, this is the way we do things around here. This is our expectation. And you need to come on board with our expectation.” And so, from that standpoint, those are ways of teaching, not only young players but any new player to our team.
MG: Are you worried at all about dealing with outside expectations?
DP: No. You get into this business for one reason, and that’s to win championships. And now that we have, you know, we have to embrace it. We understand that we’re gonna get everybody’s best every week, and we’ve got to be up to that challenge each and every Sunday. So, again, it goes back to that preparation and hard work, and doing that first.
MG: You talk a lot in the book about being aggressive, and you’re now pretty well-known for that. There are people who’ve given you the nickname Big Balls Doug, which I’m sure you’ve seen…
DP: I’ve seen the caricature, or whatever you call it.
MG: The ‘South Park’ meme?
DP: Yeah, I’ve seen that.
MG: So what are your thoughts on the nickname and the meme?
DP: Gosh. You know, it sounds a little, it sounds bad, but … I love being touted as being aggressive. Because if I only get one opportunity in this business to be a head football coach, I definitely want to do it my way and lead my way. Calculated, not a gambler by any means, or on a whim. Very calculated and thought-out and detail-oriented. But at the same time, put our team in a position to be successful, and help us win as many games as possible each season. So it’s an honor to be respected and be thought of that way. The pictures, obviously, I could do without. But it’s an honor.
MG: Only one more follow-up on this one. Howie Roseman went on TV—you probably saw the quote. He said, “He doesn’t have big balls—he has huge balls.” What is it like having that kind of backing from your general manager?
DP: They wouldn’t be saying that if it failed, you know what I mean? So I’ve got to be smart about that kind of stuff. These are not things that I don’t prepare our team for. I’m big about preparing the team for these situations, opportunities in games—whether it’s a fourth-and-goal at the 1, or a fourth-and-1 that helps us win the Super Bowl. So I think our guys feel comfortable. There was no batting of an eye, no eyebrows raised that coach was gonna make that decision and go for it. Everybody was on board. And it’s because we work on those plays and we’ve had success with them. This is a different season coming up, and it’s gonna be another set of challenges. And I’ve got to be smart with those decisions. But at the same time, I want to do what’s right for the Philadelphia Eagles.
MG: So Philly Special—do you have to retire the play now?
DP: I’m curious to see how many people are actually gonna run the play this fall. It’s retired from our playbook. It goes down in Eagles history, so we might have to have a shrine for the Philly Special around here. It’s kind of a one-and-done in Philadelphia.
MG: In the book you talk a lot about your relationship with Andy Reid and what a mentor he’s been. I’m sure you know people have also written a lot about Chip Kelly and his influence. And you mention that Nick Foles had success under Chip and that you used some of the similar kinds of concepts and plays that he was familiar with. My colleague Albert Breer spoke to Chip Kelly recently about that, and he was very deferential and reluctant to take credit for the Eagles’ success. I was curious if you had a reaction to Chip’s reaction and thoughts on the job he did as the guy before you?
DP: Coaches respect each other, and it’s a tough business. I appreciate everything he did here in Philadelphia. He brought some great players here, obviously drafted some great players that are still here. There’s a few things in our offense—the RPO world was new to me—so the coaches I have that are left over from Chip Kelly that I retained, who are excellent football coaches, were able to teach me a couple of things from the Chip Kelly offense. And we’ve been able to take that and even improve on it.
So we’re always constantly learning, and that was a way for me to learn, to get better with the offense. We’re going to continue to evolve it. But obviously some of the things that he was doing at the time were cutting-edge and out in front, and that’s where I want to be. I want to be progressive and progressive-thinking, whether that be going for it on fourth down, or in the structure of our offense.
MG: I asked about expectations, but I also want to ask you about the other distractions that come along with being Super Bowl champions. Are you worried at all about guys with new opportunities and extra marketing and all those kinds of things?
DP: This offseason was different from that standpoint, because there were a lot of people pulling at you and wanting to do lots of things like autographs and pictures and stuff like that. But I know that once football starts, it’s all about football. And I can put all that away, and that can wait until the offseason again. So I’m not concerned about it. I’m gonna make sure I keep talking to our team about that kind of stuff. Stay focused on what we’re here for, and that’s to win football games and ultimately another championship. It’s great while we have some down time. But once we’re back to work it’s back to work.
MG: One potential big distraction, not just for you guys, but for a lot of teams, is everything going on with the national anthem and the White House. I want to ask you a little about that day, when you guys became such a big story. First, not many Eagles were going to the White House, then the invitation was rescinded. Were you involved in some of those decisions about how many people would go? And what was that day like from your perspective?
DP: Well, and this is just me. I was disappointed. Personally I wanted to go. I wanted to be recognized as world champions. And we didn’t go, and that’s fine. I’m not gonna speak for other people. I think they can share their own opinions. This is just my opinion. I’m just hoping that the next time we win, we get an opportunity to go back. It’s about being a team and being represented as a team. And I just wanted to go to be recognized as world champs.
• SI’S EAGLES COMMEMORATIVE: Celebrate the Super Bowl win with Sports Illustrated’s special issue, available here.
MG: Similarly, with the anthem, there’s going to be a ton of attention on the Eagles. You open Week 1 on Thursday night at home. Is this something you’re going to talk to your team about?
DP: I’m gonna definitely talk to my team. I’ve always talked to my team about things like this. I think it’s important that we talk about these issues and bring them to the forefront. It’s sort of the elephant in the room and I want to make sure that we do address it. I can’t comment and I won’t comment on other teams and what they’re doing. I do think it’s an ongoing discussion with the league and the NFLPA. I think it’s going to continue to be an ongoing discussion. What I do know, is that in the last two years, I want to say 100% of our players have stood. And that’s a credit to our players. So I encourage that, and hopefully we can continue that.
[Editor’s note: The Eagles have some of the NFL’s most outspoken players on matters of social justice, the cause for which players have gestured during the national anthem. Members of the Eagles have raised fists while standing for the anthem.]
MG: Do you have a preference for how this situation is resolved?
DP: I don’t. I just hope and pray that it comes to an end soon and we can just get back to football.
MG: Speaking of football—a lot of teams have a “championship or bust” mentality, like if they don’t win the Super Bowl it was a wasted season. Is that the way you feel?
DP: Well, I don’t think that mentality plays any more with us. It’s not a bust, because we’ve done it. I think the challenge now is how we handle the success. And can we get back to that game? Can we have the consistency that the Patriots have had, getting themselves back eight times? That’s our challenge. I don’t want to be a one-and-done team. I feel like we’ve got good talent here, we’ve acquired good talent, Howie’s done a tremendous job of bringing the guys here. And now it’s my job and the assistant coaches’ job to coach them up and compete every week. I’m hoping we can be back in that game. But I’m not focused on the end result, as much as I am on the now.
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