Flying Machine Unfazed by the loss of two quarterbacks, coach Andy Reid kept his Eagles on course and now has them closing in on the NFC's top seed

December 23, 2002

Andy Reid has a rule about problem solving. "If you're going to
come forward with a problem, you'd better come with a solution
too," Tammy Reid, the wife of the Eagles' coach, said on Sunday,
moments after Philadelphia had clinched its second straight NFC
East title. "He believes in studying things before acting."

When the Eagles' franchise quarterback, Donovan McNabb, went down
with a broken right fibula on Nov. 17, Reid had a problem. The
leaguewide perception of Reid's other quarterbacks, Koy Detmer and
A.J. Feeley, was that they were about as weak a backup tandem as
there was in the NFL. A Philadelphia Daily News headline implored
the city, let us pray.

Reid's solution? Remain calm and proceed as if nothing had
happened. The next time he addressed his team, three days after
McNabb went down, Reid didn't even mention McNabb's name, let
alone the injury, nor did he bring up what a big spot this was
for Detmer, who would be making his first start since 1999,
against the San Francisco 49ers. "Why draw attention to it," Reid
explained last Friday, "and give the players a chance to think,
Woe is me?" Other than to tell Detmer "Have fun," Reid had no
words of wisdom for him or for Feeley, who was pressed into
service after Detmer dislocated his left elbow in the third
quarter of the Niners game. That's because the game plans that
Reid has scripted for Detmer and Feeley on Friday nights are no
different from the ones he would have scripted for McNabb.

And those game plans are working at least as well as they did
when McNabb was under center: The Eagles not only defeated the
49ers 38-17, but with Sunday's 34-21 win over the Washington
Redskins they also ran their record to 4-0 since McNabb's
injury. Completing 16 of 28 passes for 220 yards and two
touchdowns in the final regular-season game ever at Veterans
Stadium, Feeley, a 2001 fifth-round draft pick and Tom Cruise
look-alike who barely got off the bench during his last two years
at Oregon, became the unlikeliest star this city has seen in
years. The victory solidified Philadelphia's hold on the top seed
in the NFC. Though tied with the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Green Bay
Packers at 11-3, the Eagles hold the tiebreaker edge over both
and can lock up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs
with wins over the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants in the
last two weeks.

Suddenly Reid, the chunky, stone-faced 44-year-old who leads the
league in boring press conferences, is the front-runner for NFL
Coach of the Year. None of his peers can match what Reid has done
without McNabb. In their four starts Detmer and Feeley have
combined for a higher completion percentage (.590 to .584) and a
better passer rating (91.2 to 86.0) than McNabb had in his 10
starts. Nor can any coach surpass Reid's 33-13 record since the
start of the 2000 season.

That's not bad for a guy who's not even the most popular football
coach in his own town. As he drives to work every day and pulls
off the highway near the Vet, he can see a billboard with the
smiling face of former coach Dick Vermeil--beloved for having
taken the Eagles to their only Super Bowl, in January
1981--endorsing an insurance company. Since being hired in early
1999, Reid has been panned more than praised in the City of
Brotherly Love. Owner Jeff Lurie was lambasted for giving the top
job to a position coach with no head coaching experience at any
level, a guy who had been a coordinator only once, from 1983
through 1985 at Division II San Francisco State. During his
seven-year stint as a Packers assistant, Reid was known for being
bright, tireless and extremely patient. "Andy was the one we
always bounced things off," says 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, who
worked with Reid in Green Bay.

Even Reid's close friends in the business worried that such a
mild-mannered bear of a man might get eaten alive by the fickle
Philadelphia fans and media. As he relaxed in his office on
Sunday night, Reid had to laugh. "I know people thought that," he
said. "Instead, I'm eating the city alive."

Says Lurie, "When we interviewed Andy, one of the things I liked
about him was I thought he'd never cave to public opinion. I
think if you're an emotional volcano in this business, it won't
work. Your way of coaching has to be sustainable."

Reid was tested early. Introduced at a Flyers game shortly after
he was hired, he was booed. As he prepared for his first draft,
Eagles fans said the team would be foolish to bypass running back
Ricky Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner, with the second
overall pick. Reid used the selection on McNabb, the mobile
Syracuse quarterback. Reid was booed mercilessly throughout his
first season, but the tide turned in 2000 as McNabb led the
Eagles to an 11-5 finish. Behind Reid's desk is a framed
quotation from Charles Lindbergh: "The important thing is to
start, to lay a plan and then follow it step-by-step no matter
how small or large each step by itself may seem." That's how Reid
has lived his coaching life.

"I knew the day I was hired I was coming into a passionate city,"
Reid says. "Passion means opinions. That's good--at least I think
it is. Don't you want to be doing something people care about?
Anyway, you have to trust your instincts. I don't want to toot my
own horn, but I do trust my instincts."

Before the 2001 draft Reid had dispatched offensive coordinator
Brad Childress to look for a young backup for McNabb. Reid
doesn't believe an NFL quarterback needs a big arm to be
successful. "A quarterback, I think, needs good feet and accuracy
and has to be sharp because we've got a ton of verbiage in our
offense," Reid says. Childress whittled his list to about 15
candidates. "On film of a game against Michigan State from
[Feeley's] junior year, I saw him make all the throws, including
movement throws, and I told Andy, 'I think this is our guy,'"
Childress recalls. At Oregon, Feeley played behind a pair of
passers who were picked third in the NFL draft--Akili Smith
(1999) and Joey Harrington (2002). Plagued by bursitis in his
throwing elbow and an abdominal tear, Feeley made only eight
college starts. In training camp this year he barely beat out Tim
Hasselbeck for the No. 3 job.

But there was Feeley on Dec. 1, starting against the St. Louis
Rams, who had beaten the Eagles twice in 2001 en route to the
Super Bowl. "The amazing thing before that game," says Feeley's
roommate, defensive end Brandon Whiting, "is that he wasn't
nervous at all. In fact, he told me, 'I'm a little nervous that
I'm not nervous.'" Confidently mixing an occasional deep throw
with a steady diet of short crossing routes and out patterns, the
6'3", 217-pound Feeley has guided the Eagles to wins over the
Rams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Redskins. But Detmer could be
ready to play as soon as this Saturday at Dallas, and Reid says
he'll get his job back when healthy. The same goes for McNabb.
The Eagles are cautiously optimistic he'll return for the first
playoff game, probably on Jan. 11 or 12.

But Feeley has earned his keep. He has the same persona as the
Cruise character in Risky Business, the story of a high school
senior whose cockiness and guile get him the girl of his dreams
and admission to Princeton. "You think so?" Feeley says, smiling
at the Cruise comparison. "Interesting. Everything was against
him, but he handled it."

Just as Feeley has done for the past three weeks.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS (EAGLES) [COVER FLAP] THOSE AMAZING EAGLES PHILADELPHIA'S DUCE STALEY 11-3 AND FLYING TO THE FINISH COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS PARTY TIME After Carlos Emmons returned a fumble for a touchdown against Washington on Sunday, the Eagles could start celebrating their second straight NFC East title. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS IN THE SPOTLIGHT A Tom Cruise look-alike, Feeley has emerged as Philadelphia's most unlikely sports star in years. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS BIRDS IN HAND The Eagles and their frosty fans warmed to the low-key Reid.

"You have to trust your instincts," says Reid. "I don't want to
toot my own horn, but I do trust my instincts."