Doug Pederson seems like a nice, smart and humble guy. But he has a really tough job this year, and he’s in a bad situation.
The hunger for a Super Bowl in Philadelphia is intense, and he has enough going for him — a talented roster, free-spending owner and a division full of patsies -- that “give me a few years figure out how to steer this thing” is not going to cut it.
Being an ex-NFL player with a gift for getting along with people is great — Chip Kelly could really have used either of those things. And the way he kept cool through the spring trauma of Sam Bradford’s trade demands, a potential Fletcher Cox holdout and now the Nelson Agholor allegations was impressive.
But none of that makes him a leader, and Pederson is surrounded by very strong personalities. Chip and Andy Reid, his predecessors, had their struggles but both were decisive, confident coaches and players will measure the new guy against them.
Already, Pederson’s press conferences have been notably awkward. It might be unfair, but a coach’s performance behind the podium sets the tone for his image as a leader. In San Francisco, Jim Tomsula’s disastrous opening press conference set him up for failure — people were laughing for the wrong reasons — and then it got worse. By the beginning of October, a controversy erupted over whether he had farted out loud at a later presser. Tomsula never really recovered.
Then there are the other team leaders around Pederson. The phrase “between a rock and a hard place” comes from the Greek classics, where Odysseus had to sail in between a rocky shoal and a whirlpool, either of which could easily destroy his ship.
In Philadelphia, Pederson’s rock is DC Jim Schwartz, the hard charging former head coach who has made no secret of his desire to get another top job. For his purposes, it doesn’t really matter if that’s in Philadelphia or another NFL city. As long as the defense has some real successes (a lot of sacks, for example), he’ll be on the short list for head coaching jobs next year.
In a weird way, it might be better for Schwartz if the offense struggles and the team loses. That way, he can blame any deficiencies in his unit on Pederson, or Sam Bradford, and the holes that the offense put his guys in.
The whirlpool is Howie Roseman, triumphant after the Carson Wentz acquisition and Fletcher Cox extension. However, the Eagles have no first round pick next year and far more guaranteed salary than any other team in the league. If the rookie QB flops, he’ll be looking for a scapegoat.
Whether it’s fair or not, there’s a long string of former Eagles coaches and executives with nothing good to say about Roseman after they were forced out while Howie remained. Chip Kelly and Andy Reid wrestled personnel control away from Roseman; it’s a safe bet that the uber-GM (or whatever his title is now) liked the idea that Pederson was in no position to challenge his authority.
The consensus has been that Howie is jealous of power and always looks to blame others for his failings. Maybe his learning sabbatical last year helped him grow out of that, but the dangers for the new coach are clear.
Schwartz and Roseman aren’t the only team leaders who’ve shown less than full respect toward the new guy. After the Wentz pick, when Pederson declared that there was no quarterback competition and Sam Bradford was “my guy” as the starter, both Schwartz and OC Frank Reich publicly contradicted him.
Reich told WIP that “to say that there’s not competition, that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.” Ouch.
Even owner Jeffrey Lurie, who had the final word on picking Pederson, has undermined his hire’s authority. According to Jenny Vrentas of the MMQB, she asked Lurie about the new coach and:
Lurie also praised Pederson for being smart, knowing the offense like the back of his hand, and assembling a good staff...
Knowing the offense like the back of his hand? He’s the head coach! He’d better damn well know the offense like the back of his hand, because he’s the one creating it.
It’s not like Pederson is some defensive genius deferring to his OC. The former QB is an offensively-minded coach who allegedly called plays in some games in Kansas City last year (though that has been disputed). This odd phrasing supports the view that Pederson was hired in a desperate attempt to undo Andy Reid’s firing and get as much of Big Red’s system back as possible.
I like Pederson, and I hope he succeeds. But players notice these gestures of disrespect, and the fans and media definitely do. Nice and smart are not enough. Pederson is going to need to assert himself more and take control of this team, or the strong personalities all around him will shove him out of the way and fight over control of this franchise.