Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
If Sunday is in fact Andy Reid's final full day as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, well, I thought it best to write him a personal farewell soliloquy.
I've been told I was exposed to the Eagles in 1995, but my first vivd memories of being a fan were formed in 1996 (i.e. James Willis's interception of Troy Aikman in the endzone, which he then lateraled to Troy Vincent to take the rest of the way to pay dirt), including my first heartbreak (14-0 Wild Card Round playoff loss to the 49ers). I was a few months away from my 11th birthday when Andy Reid was hired in 1999 -- I still didn't have the capacity or understanding to know football, I was just entertained and loved watching -- and recall the universal "WHO?!" reaction when the move was announced. A mere year and a half later, that uncertainty had been replaced by jubilation. For all intents and purposes, the Eagles as constituted by Andy Reid is really all I've ever known.
I was in Veterans Stadium for that magical, initial playoff win over Tampa Bay, freezing my hands, feet and nuts off while drinking hot chocolate from a Camelbak and cheering so loud I lost my voice. I was there for Brian Dawkins' incredible, historic performance against the Texans in 2002. I was at Lincoln Financial Field, sitting two rows behind the Eagles' bench, for 4th and 26 against Green Bay in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Those experiences will stay with me forever -- I'll tell my children and grandchildren about them. The happiest and proudest moments I've had as an Eagles fan -- so far -- came with Andy Reid on the sidelines (yes, so too have the saddest and most crushing moments).
I'm sure the media and fans won't miss Andy Reid's terse, bland and repetitive press conferences, but that's how he handled tough situations and protected his players. As frustrating as it was to hear him say the same thing over and over, especially when the same mistakes were not fixed, you have to respect why he acted that way. We forget so often that a head coach's primary, paramount relationship is with his players, not the media and fans. There's a reason 99.9% of guys who have played for Andy would do anything for him. By all accounts, as a person he is warm, genuine and engaging -- so, essentially the opposite of how he presents himself to the general public. Given the nature of his job, however, rarely were we ever able to see him in that light. The only time that Andy's unvarnished human side came out was when it was impossible to hide. His two oldest sons' public episodes with drug addiction and criminal misconduct, as well as Garrett's death at training camp of a heroin overdose, resonated with the fan base. There was an outpouring of empathy and sympathy, of love and support. It reinforced the reality that Andy Reid didn't exist in a vacuum as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. He suffered through personal struggles and family problems just like everyone else. In a city whose fans yearn to emotionally connect with the leaders of their professional sports teams, it's a shame that they could only do so with Reid when he was struck by profound tragedy.
Admittedly, my adulation for Andy Reid as a coach has waned considerably over the years, and I vehemently disagree with (what I perceive to be) his obnoxious offensive philosophy. I also feel his merits as a head coach have been overstated and overrated since the zenith that was the 2004 season. His regular season record post-2004 is 66-60-1, with four playoff appearances (where he's 3-4). You know who Andy best compares to during that span? The Bengals Marvin Lewis, who is 62-64-1, also with four playoff appearances (0-3; fourth appearance coming this season). Whenever people, especially those on the outside, sing Reid's praises and start with the self-righteous "you'll be sorry when he's gone" crap, I'm compelled to remind them of said recent record, and that if not for a multi-faceted miracle on the last day of the 2008 season, he would have a grand total of one -- ONE! -- playoff win since 2004. Is that elite? Is that even good? Seems to be the embodiment of mediocre to me. If you truly want to judge Andy Reid objectively, you have to separate those two eras within the full era. Naturally, I wouldn't expect talking heads -- former coaches, too -- who are disconnected from the situation to acknowledge such facts because it doesn't fit their narrative. It's a lot easier to point to Reid's successes from nearly a decade ago and lazily paint Philly fans as stupid and myopic ingrates.
Then there is the absurd notion that Eagles fans don't appreciate what Andy Reid has accomplished and what he has meant to the franchise. That's so misguided and entrenched in stereotype, it makes my blood boil. Isn't it possible for us to acknowledge Reid's successes from 1999-2004 while decrying his failures from 2005-2012, or does the first half of his head coaching tenure somehow outweigh the second? Why is our dissatisfaction so unacceptable, and why can't we call a spade a spade? Maintaining the status quo has only proven detrimental to advancement. The Eagles need a new face, a new voice, a new philosophy, a new attitude, and a new direction. Players in the locker room might unanimously support Andy and want him to stay forever, but that's no longer a viable option. Talk is cheap, and they could have helped control their head coach's fate by performing better on the field.
The truth of the matter is that while Andy Reid may be a fine coach, he hasn't been good enough for quite some time now. Hell, given his 1-4 record in NFC Championship Games and 0-1 record in the Super Bowl, you could argue he wasn't even good enough when he was good enough (I hope that makes sense). Reid's clear expiration date was the 2008 NFC Championship Game loss, followed by Jim Johnson's death in the summer of 2009, for whom he never found a suitable replacement. Michael Vick's brief career renaissance bought Andy a few more seasons, but, as we've seen, that only delayed the inevitable and trapped the franchise in a hamster wheel of sorts.
Andy Reid has always taken responsibility for his team's failures, but it's only ever been scapegoated coaches and players who have suffered the consequences. Monday will mark the opportunity for Jeffrey Lurie to finally, once and for all, actually hold Reid responsible by relieving him of his head coaching duties. It's been real, but after 14 years he still displays the faults -- gross offensive imbalance, continuously trying to fit square pegs (personnel) into round holes (philosophies), incompetent time management, poor draft/roster decisions (and, most recently, stupefying coaching hires) -- that have precluded him from reaching the proverbial top of the mountain. Andy simply hasn't fucking learned, and he hasn't earned anymore chances to recapture past glory. What we've seen instead is stagnation and regression, so now the time has come for both sides to move on. Breakups are tough, but they are also necessary. I sincerely wish Reid the best of luck wherever he ends up (unless it's with an NFC team). It would behoove him to learn from the mistakes he made over and over again with the Eagles, but given his trademark stubbornness -- which, in addition to over-reliance on certain players, will always be his downfall -- I doubt that happens. One day we'll be able to look back upon the totality of Andy Reid's stint in Philadelphia with fondness, but right now the feelings of disappointment and ultimate unfulfillment remain raw and pervasive.
Adios, Andy. Sometimes you just have to recognize when a relationship has reached its end. We need something new, and, honestly, so does he. That said, I'm hopeful he gets the proper sendoff today in the form of one final victory. He deserves that much after 14 seasons, and, given the unfortunate circumstances, there's no better way to go out than by eliminating those hated New York Giants from playoff contention. A win would also put the Eagles at 5-11, the same record as Andy's first year on the job. It would be a cyclical, fitting conclusion to one hell of a run.