Among many questions surrounding the present and future of the Philadelphia Eagles, this one looms literally and figuratively large.
Although I'm degenerate into angry rants and bitterness -- yea, my fellow fans, I always do -- I am going to try reasonably examine this from both sides.
First of all, you guys don't know me. All or most of what you've seen of me on this website is that I've been critical of Andy Reid. But I want to assure you that I am not some Andy Reid hater who hates Andy Reid. Instead, I think he's the best Eagles coach of the Super Bowl Era. Faint praise, perhaps, given his competition, but sincerely meant. I did not know who Andy Reid was in 1999. Ergo, I would have preferred anyone -- even Jim Haslett -- over him then. To say he's been a pleasant surprise would be the understatement of the century. He brought organization, discipline, and a winning, tough attitude to a team that had become sloppy and almost unwatchable
His Coach of the Year Awards, won in 2002, when the team went 6-1 without Donovan McNabb to preserve home field advantage and the NFC East tile, were well-earned, and I think he did a great job in 2003 as well, righting the ship after a disastrous start. It's those years that enabled me to have a shred of optimism after the Jacksonville game two weeks ago. His teams' accomplishments are many: 5 playoff appearances, 4 division titles, 4 Conference Championship appearances, 1 NFC Title, and the implied Superbowl Appearance. No Eagles coach has accomplished as much -- not even close.
I remember the Rhodes era and the Kotite era very well, and I still have nightmares. While I look back fondly on the Buddy Ryan days, for all their talent, and with all due respect to that defense on the day of Andre Waters' sad death, those teams didn't win squat. 1 playoff victory to their record. Based on what else we've had, I am scared of my present Anti-Reid feelings, and being that it was only two short seasons ago that this team was in a Superbowl, I feel like an ingrate, and perhaps like I'm being unfair, for what I'm about to say.
For all his past accomplishments with this team, I am increasingly unable to defend Andy Reid. It is patently false to say that the Eagles don't win big games. The 7 playoff games Reid's Eagles have won were just as "must win" as the 5 they've lost. But still, what we remember is not the great win over the Bears at Soldier Field, or even the close-but-no cigar loss to the Rams (I think despite the loss, no one should hold that game against Reid), or the divisional playoff win vs. the Falcons, but Ronde Barber running down the field with our collective heads in his hands the following week. We remember 4th and 26, but the way the team lay down against the Panthers the following week makes it a curiosity, not the signature moment of the Andy Reid era. Getting over the hump with the win over the Falcons was tremendous, the "8 minute drill" in the Superbowl was embarrasing.
But getting to the big games and losing them seems like paradise compared to the Kotitian Swamp the Eagles are mired in now. A single-minded focus on the pass results in an inneffective offense any time McNabb is anything short of spectacular, a defense that shows none of the toughness or killer instinct of the 2002 version -- let alone Andre Waters. Stupid penalties, poor clock management (by which I mean wasting timeouts because plays don't get in fast enough), a defense that can't get itself off the field, and what seems to be a lack of interest or heart among many of the players, losses to inferior opponents, while others still suffer delusions that they're a good team.
We can chalk last year up to McNabb's injuries and TO, but we can't ignore that the Eagles were on the road to mediocrity with a healthy McNabb and no Cancer Man this season. Through it all, Reid says they need to run more. But, they continue to chuck it, over and over again. McNabb's gotta sports hernia? Doesn't matter. We're playing a team vulnerable to the run? Doesn't matter. We've got a huge offensive line that by its own reports prefers to run-block and our receivers are inexperienced and/or mediocre? Doesn't matter. Pass, pass, pass.
I have a huge man-crush on Donovan McNabb. I have nothing but respect for his toughness. But the offense is built around him to a degree that's unhealthy. When he comes out and has a bad day due to weather, or maybe just like pitcher "not having his best stuff", the Eagles look very, very bad, and have no backup plan. Building around McNabb is fine. It's great to have a guy who can erase a huge deficit very quickly, as he did against Tampa. It's great to have a guy who can scramble for 14 seconds and fire a missle 60 yards down the field. But the Eagles don't have that guy any more. And they're screwed because of it. While other teams can succeed with a Dilfer or Johnson or Rothlisberger, as long as he's put in a situation not to lose, McNabb is constantly put in a situation where he must be perfect for the Eagles to have a chance, because Reid will not allow him help from the running game, and the defense appears unreliable. Oh, and McNabb's receivers have hands of stone. But they're going to pass 70 percent of the time, anyway. No matter how much he says he'll change, Reid just won't committ to running the ball. We'll see if that'll change now that (I think) their only chance is to shorten games by running the ball. The play action pass on third and goal from the half yard line did it for me. It firmly pushed me into the Reid-must-go camp. Merrill Reese wanted a QB sneak. Mike Quick wanted Nick Cole to get the ball. I didn't care, I just wanted a running play. If Reid doesn't trust these guys to get half a yard, why are they on the team? Since, you know, he is the general manager and all.
Whoever is calling the plays, and I agree with what BGN or Dire Radiant posted earlier, that we can't tell if it's Reid or Morninwheg because Reid will never blame anyone, is either doing a terrible job, or a serviceable gameplan has been horribly executed. At some point, after this many sloppy games, it comes back to coaching either way.
The attitude on this team is terrible. I'm glad they don't hate each other like last year, but Dawkins' recent comments make me sick. Stop pretending you're a good team, Eagles. It's ok for fans to blame McNabb's injuries and TO for 2005 -- but it looks like that is not the case. Reid's refusal to panic turned out to be a great thing in 2002 and 2003. But there is a time to panic, and it is now. We're now well into the second straight year of submediocrity. I think teams know what the Eagles will do on both sides of the ball, and they haven't made enough adjustments.
I don't think Tom Coughlin is a better head coach than Andy Reid. I think Jeff Fisher and Bill Cowher are, but only incrementally. But I think a more "tough-guy" coach is what this team needs now. A shake-up at the top. Reid is a great coach, but sometimes change is necessary. I think Jim Fassel was a good coach, too, and this seems to be similar to how the Giants quickly feel from Superbowl to super-bad during his last years. I think Reid could come back somewhere else and have great success, and it wouldn't necessarily mean he should have continued to coach the Eagles.
Firing Reid's a risky move. Will they get someone better? Is this a solid foundation that a new coach can have success with, or are the personnel issues the main problem (and if so, to what degree is Reid to blame?). If a tear-down and rebuild is necessary, or we're already in that stage, is Reid the guy we want to lead it? His track record for rebuilding a near-dead team, after all, is pretty good.
I'm basically rambling now, but I guess in conclusion, I think that while I would prefer to make a change at the head coaching spot and bring in more of a disciplinarian (If Jeff Fisher is fired, move quickly Joe Banner!), I do think that Reid's track record has probably earned him the chance to try again in 2007, and Luriebanner will undoubtedly give him that chance.
In a way, it doesn't matter, though. The days of the Donovan McNabb who can evade defenders with ease and effortlessly whip the ball downfield are probably gone. He can still make a very successful comeback , and I pray that he does, but I'm guessing the 5 we see in mid 2007 will be more limited than the 5 we saw up until this point.
The changes the Eagles will need to be competitive in the upcoming Feely or Garcia era will be the same changes they need to make in the era of the post-ACL surgery McNabb era, or, god forbid, a post-McNabb era that looks much more iminent than it did 3 days ago.
Balance the offense, rebuild the defense. Don't rely on the QB to be the sole playmaker. Can Andy Reid make those changes, or have things fallen too far, too fast?