Doug Pederson was dismissed as coach of the Eagles last week, a move that I took a personal interest for several reasons: 1) I live in the Philadelphia area; 2) I was a consultant for the Eagles several years ago; and 3) I have known Doug for over 20 years (more on that below). Doug had great success with the Eagles and I took special satisfaction with it, remembering how the hire was panned by so many who preferred that the Eagles hire names such as Ben McAdoo (I know and like Ben as well, but he didn’t have much success as head coach of the Giants). I feel for Doug, but as readers of this space know, I saw this coming. The business of quarterback won over the business of the coach.
I detailed the massive organizational investment in Wentz and the dire salary cap consequences of trading him in late December. I realize it’s a better story to play fantasy football GM, and the trade of Wentz to his former mentor Frank Reich in Indianapolis makes for good copy. But as I have said for months: The investment is too large and too fresh; it is not happening. And, more simply: The Eagles chose Wentz over Pederson, as I sensed they would.
On a side note, there are now all kinds of rumors and stories about Deshaun Watson wanting out of Houston and the dysfunction of the Texans’ leadership. Is Watson unhappy and wanting out? Sure. Will he be traded? Please. If the new general manager traded Watson, he would very soon be the old general manager. I know Watson is allegedly livid now, but it’s January. Let’s check on his mood in a couple months.
Spinning back to the Eagles, Wentz’s performance was not only a problem for him, but a bigger problem for Pederson and the coaching staff. Wentz was a player who had previous success, performing at nearly an MVP-level play just a couple years ago. And with Pederson’s insertion of second-round pick Jalen Hurts late in the season, the “Wentz question” became front and center. Due to the investment, his past performance and the cap-killing ramifications of him not being there, Wentz needed to be fixed, not traded. And if there became a choice between Wentz and Pederson, I certainly knew who was winning that battle.
Many have asked why Pederson was removed in Philadelphia, while longtime general manager Howie Roseman—the person most responsible for the composition of both the aging roster and the albatross of the Wentz contract—got to stay.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie has developed unconditional trust in Roseman, irrespective of a year-by-year scorecard. Beyond Lurie's personal affection toward Roseman, the owner has great faith in Roseman’s institutional knowledge of the inner workings of the NFL: its systems, its rules and regulations and its cap intricacies. Roseman has a wide network of coaches, scouts and front-office contacts. Lurie can change coaches (and has) much more easily than he can change his point person for the sausage-making of the NFL.
Thus Pederson was sacrificed as the person most susceptible in this equation. The Eagles chose Wentz, and to a lesser extent, Roseman, over Pederson. As Doug exits, although certain to return to the NFL, I thought I would share a couple personal anecdotes.
All roads to Doug
Regular readers know plenty about my time working for the Packers. Here’s another story: In the years before we drafted Aaron Rodgers, around 2001 to 2004, I used to futilely chase veteran backup quarterbacks every offseason, hoping to get an experienced player to come in and serve as Brett Favre’s backup, but none were interested. I was always disheartened but understood the reasons, which were always the same. No experienced veteran who had any options wanted move to a tiny burgh in Wisconsin to not play. Favre never missed a snap; he played through everything. Thus, I went through the drill every winter, striking out with the preferred targets. All roads led me back to Doug.
I would eventually call Doug sometime in April or May and he would say the same thing: “Andrew, how many guys turned you down this year before you called me?” I laughed, told him the number, and said: “Well, can you come back?” Doug was thinking of getting into full-time high school coaching, so he had some reluctance, but eventually would say yes. We then would spend two or three minutes negotiating his contract, no agent involved. I would give him a million dollars or perhaps a bit more and a slew of playing incentives that he and I both knew he would never earn. Easy, simple and a pleasurable negotiation.
Doug was a joy to have on the team with his folksy, Louisiana drawl and easy way of communicating and connecting. And he had the both enviable and unenviable job of being the backup to the truly indestructible Favre.
More than a backup quarterback
It was clear that coaching was in Doug’s future, as he was more than our backup quarterback. He was as much a quarterback coach as a backup QB. And he was Brett’s confidante off the field as well, his best friend and golf partner (he was the only one who could match Brett’s expert handicap). I especially remember Doug being an integral part of what would become one of the saddest yet most inspiring days in Packer history.
We were set to play the Raiders on a Monday night game and arrived in Oakland a couple days early. On that Sunday afternoon, I got a call from Brett’s agent, Bus Cook, who frantically asked “Where’s Brett?” I said I didn’t know. Now he was crying. “Irv died. I need to find Brett.” Irv, of course, was Brett’s father and closest friend, a fixture around the team for many years. I had to find Brett, who did not answer his phone. But we knew how to reach him.
We called Doug, who was playing golf with our kicker Ryan Longwell and Brett. We talked to Doug and told him to hand the phone to Brett; Deanna (Brett’s wife) then gave him the news.
Brett and Doug soon returned to the hotel and Brett was adamant that he wanted to address the team, and he wanted to play. When Brett talked to the team that night, with Doug by his side, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. And as everyone now knows, there was something bigger going on. The next night in Oakland was magical, with passes dropping out of the sky into the arms of our receivers. I don’t think that game would’ve happened, however, without Doug’s comfort and support of Brett through that weekend.
Doug played a crucial role with the Packers in my time there and never played a meaningful snap. Now he is flushed out of coaching the Eagles in favor of a player in whom the team invested far more in than they did in him and his coaching staff. The business of sports always wins.
Finally, speaking of the Packers, it is déjà vu all over again for me. My last game with the team, which was also Brett’s last game with the team, was the NFC championship game at Lambeau Field. It was the coldest game I have ever been at; I will never forget the color of Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s face. Unfortunately, we lost to the Giants in overtime; that was as close as I got to the Super Bowl and I know how hard it is for teams to do so. As an unabashed, biased Packers fan still, I hope for a different result this weekend. And have predicted such for the past several months. As I heard a thousand times in my decade there: Go Pack Go.