Doug Pederson, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, stands at the podium late on a Monday night. He just coached his team to a win—their league-leading sixth—over the division-rival Washington team, despite falling behind early after a couple of disastrous opening drives. He’s wearing athletic gear, emblazoned with the Philadelphia Eagle insignia, his salt-and-pepper hair unkempt as it pops out over his visor.
Coach Pederson fields a fair question: Do you think about what it means to be the best team in the league? Can you take any satisfaction from knowing your team is complete, balanced, and deep?
“Quite honestly, uh...” Pederson pauses—long enough to make you think the video is buffering. He’s picking his words carefully. “I don’t think necessarily of being 6-1...You know, we don’t talk about those types of things, outside of the building--everything about it is internal. Everything we talk about is winning the week, winning each day, coming to work every day. If we take care of those things, the record—all that—will handle itself.”
Hackneyed coach babble? Maybe. But also, maybe not.
When beholding Pederson, behind a microphone and before an Eagles-speckled backdrop, the mind inevitably flashes back to a different press conference, only twenty-one months earlier. The classic gameday wear is replaced by a nice suit, sharp tie, styled hair. An Eagle lapel pin sits on the breast of Doug Pederson, newly-christened head coach of the runaway train that is the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles.
The team that hired Doug Pederson was in undeniable flux. HC Chip Kelly had unceremoniously exited the premises, less than a season after wresting control of the front office from benched GM Howie Roseman. Rumors of dissension among Kelly, Roseman, and owner Jeffrey Lurie swirled; locker rooms leaks confirmed that the environment was toxic. Players—good, talented football players—that didn’t gel with the rigorous culture found themselves shipped off for questionable returns. With promising, but misused pieces on an under-achieving defense, and a divisive quarterback at the helm in Sam Bradford, the Philadelphia franchise would not be an easy ship to right.
And so, the search began. Restless, frustrated fans clamored for one of the many names of the 2016 coaching pool: Ben McAdoo, Adam Gase, and even Tom Coughlin made it into the building—but Sean McDermott, Matt Patricia, Josh McDaniels, Teryl Austin, Paul Guenther? Far hotter names than Pederson’s were either ignored by the front office, or disinterested in Philadelphia all together.
And when Pederson was hired? The selection was decried as safe, uninspiring—a tail-tucking, whimpering return to the Reid era that had treated Philly so kindly for so long.
But well-suited, sharp-tied, hair-styled Pederson stood, affable as ever, behind that podium. He fielded every question about his lack of coaching experience in the NFL; his limited play-calling opportunities in Kansas City; the fact that he didn’t seem to be Philadelphia’s first, second, or even third choice.
“A key ingredient for me,” Jeffery Lurie said, as he was selling—er, introducing Pederson to the media, “is being comfortable in your own skin. I got to spend a lot of time with our players at the beginning of this coaching search, and the message loud and clear [was]...no matter what, you've got to be comfortable in your own skin in order to be able to reach out, be genuine with those you want to get high performance from, be accountable to them and make them accountable to you.”
At the time, Lurie’s opening remarks were widely regarded as a potshot at Chip Kelly’s retreating behind—and they likely were. But, independent of Lurie’s aim, Pederson has fulfilled the objective set out before him by the owner.
When Pederson was hired, both he and Lurie stressed the collaborative effort among the front office, owner, and coaching staff, when making personnel decisions. Despotism was to be replaced by listening, careful consideration, and consensus.
The new recipe stewed for only three months before popping out a franchise-altering product: Carson Wentz.
Pederson had answered questions regarding incumbent QB Sam Bradford with aplomb on that day, insisting that he would commit to nothing until he completed a full evaluation of Bradford’s skill set and fit in his offense.
Today, we know quite clearly the result of that evaluation: Enamored with the gunslingin’ FCS product, the Philadelphia Eagles traded away Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell, wayward remnants of decision-makers past, along with significant draft capital, to select a shiny new quarterback to pair with their head coach.
GM Howie Roseman receives—and deserves—plenty of credit for the trades he made to get Carson Wentz. But it was Pederson who pushed that little snowball down the hill, unafraid to hitch his wagon to a young North Dakotan he trusted, despite more than a few reasons for concern.
Pederson’s tenure began with that marvelous bang--and from then on, he has fearlessly navigated the rough seas of a Philadelphia head coaching gig, despite all those who thought the friendly-grandpa shtick didn’t stand a chance.
He brought in Jim Schwartz, the explosive defensive coordinator with head coaching experience, who could both advise him and unlock the defense’s potential. He surrounded Wentz with OC Frank Reich and QB coach John Defilippo, despite other offers that attempted to lure those offensive minds away. He firmly declared Sam as his starting signal-caller, until Minnesota came ringing. Then, he firmly again declared Carson as the future of the franchise, unlocked the cage, and let the rookie fly.
If you want to sell Doug Pederson as the 2017 Coach of the Year, you have to start with those 2016 moves. Without making the tough choices necessary to put the franchise into the hands of a new quarterback, and without bringing in the people who would help that franchise keystone capitalize on his potential, you don’t have the best record in the NFL. Your second-year QB doesn’t lead the league in passing touchdowns, while seeing fewer passing attempts and interceptions per game. Your offense doesn’t lead the league in time of possession, third-down conversion percentage, or rank top-5 in red zone efficiency, rushing yards per game, and total yards per game.
How about leading the league in first quarter point differential, which is a direct result of the work done over the week; the pre-scripted play calls? How about third overall in fourth down conversion percentage, despite shouldering heat for making those risky decisions? A team that was 1-7 on the road last year starts this season 3-1; a team that was 1-5 in games decided by a possession last year starts this season 3-1.
Sure, Carson’s good. Maybe even MVP-level good. But you can’t tell me this is all him.
However, as admirable as these numbers are, Pederson wasn’t brought to Philadelphia because his offenses were renowned for starting the first quarter hot, or regularly converting third downs. Players viewed Doug Pederson as a coach in their corner. When Lurie consulted them, they called for a coach who would understand them, listen to them, be there for them.
It is here, that Doug Pederson has earned that estimable recognition of Coach of the Year.
In his second year, Pederson has steered the resurgence of much-maligned WR Nelson Agholor. A handpicked Chip Kelly weapon, Agholor fizzled in the system for which he was drafted; now, playing the slot instead of the boundary, he thrives.
Pederson unlocked the potential of TE Zach Ertz, perennially frozen in “breakout potential” years without tangible results. Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks, two overpaid defenders viewed by many as destined for the chopping block, are playing their best football of recent memory. Pederson has done more than bring in good coaches, or call good plays, or make good decisions—through his scheme, his flexibility, and his faith, he has maximized the talent of this team.
“Looking at the Philadelphia Eagles and what intrigued me about coming back to Philadelphia,” says Coach Pederson, “one is an opportunity to lead young men. An opportunity to be surrounded by quality individuals, top-notch individuals and a tremendous owner: an owner that gives you the fullest of support. The players that are in this room.
My challenge to them is that we are going to work every day. We are going to work hard every day. We are going to come to work every day. As coaches, it's our job to make you better: to make you better as individuals, to make you better as men and to make you better as Philadelphia Eagles. And that's my job. It starts with me.”
Hackneyed coach babble? Maybe. But it was Pederson’s message to his team on Day One, and it has been his message every day since.
And boy, has he delivered.