The more we are exposed to Doug Pederson, the more impressive he becomes. His trademark aggressive philosophy may lead to a shift in how football is played. He’s a leading offensive mind throughout the league, and a strongly respected leader by his players. He’s a Super Bowl champion, out-coaching the best coach of his era. And now we can add to the list: he’s a pretty good author.
Like most coaches who have won a Super Bowl, and some that haven’t, Doug Pederson has his own book out, “Fearless: How an Underdog Becomes a Champion”. However unlike most coaches books, it is a good read. The writing style by Pederson and his presumptive ghostwriter isn’t anything special, but the material, as Kevin Clark of the The Ringer has pointed out, makes it a page turner.
One of things that has always impressed me about Pederson is his openness with sharing information that his peers would guard like state secrets for absolutely no reason. For example, had the Patriots run the play known as Philly Special, we’d never know that the assistant quarterback coach got the idea from a 2016 Bears game. In no way does this information assist the Eagles future opponents, but any other coach would be upset if that came out. Pederson is no different with his book. He takes you through his interview with the Eagles, confident in admitting that he didn’t know that camp had moved from Lehigh (and, curiously, that Jeffrey Lurie’s son Julian was present), to revisiting the mock first day speech to players the Eagles had him perform. He credits 10 touchdowns to a concept that Carson Wentz brought to the coaches, detailing that the play didn’t work the first time he called it in Week 3 against the Giants, so he immediately called the same play again but put Zach Ertz in motion, and he scored.
Most coaches would never share such tidbits. Nor would they be as cutthroat as Pederson. Well, as cutthroat as a guy who considers “gosh” a swear word can be. In a somewhat passive-aggressive tone, he notes that while the Vikings offense was efficient in 2017, it wasn’t doing much with that efficiency (he’s right, they were 5th in DVOA but 10th in scoring, and then they put up a measly 7 points on his defense). He criticizes Angelo Cataldi for being a two-faced radio host, trashes Michael Lombardi for his “most unqualified coach ever” comments, and rips Jeff McLane (who he doesn’t name) for claiming that Jim Schwartz was waiting in the weeds for his job. As for Schwartz, he has nothing but praise for his defensive coordinator. Among other things he credits Schwartz for is changing the team’s 2017 practice schedule to keep players fresh. Safe to say that was good advice.
The book does have some flaws. A chapter focusing on his personal life is of interest to those who, like Pederson, put faith and family above football, but is of little interest if you’re simply looking for a football book. Despite being only 272 pages, it is a little too long, running out of steam in the second half, which isn’t surprising considering he’s only been an NFL head coach for two seasons. An entire chapter is a game by game review of the 2017 season that offers next to no value. Most games only get a couple of paragraphs that do little more than praise players for their effort and for playing well, all are scant on details or insight. There are a few decent tidbits, such as that until the playoff bye week Nick Foles never took full speed practice reps with the first team offense because by December practices are basically walkthroughs, and that the second half blowout of the Cowboys in Week 11 was entirely on the players finding another gear rather than any kind of adjustment by the coaches, but they could easily have been folded into other sections of the book and this chapter eliminated entirely.
But those are bumps in the road, like the losses in a 13-3 Super Bowl season. It has plenty of strengths, and they are all Pederson. Watching him coach, with his aggressive philosophy, it feels like he’s the closest thing to what we would do if we could run a team instead of yell at the TV. Because he is that guy. As you probably already know, like everyone else watching the Jaguars take two knees at the end of the first half of the AFC Championship Game, Pederson couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and then later that day in a similar situation he drove for, and got, a field goal. He also talks about how earlier in the year against the Panthers he had no hesitation to to go for two after a penalty on an extra point because he didn’t view it as “taking a point off the board.” He dismisses criticism by Jon Gruden (whose playbook terminology is needlessly lengthy and philosophy proudly antiquated) over Pederson’s “gimmicky” use of one word play calls, tempo, and college concepts as being advantageous for integrating young players.
“Again, it goes back to why do we have to play conventional football? I mean, yes, we have to line up legally, seven on the line of scrimmage, eleven on the field. They have to be in line with the rules. But after that, who says we have to be conventional? Why can’t I think freely in my job, within reason?”
He’s also got plenty of old school in him. He doesn’t give star players preferential treatment, has strict codes of conduct for attire, and, while being supportive of the players right to protest, forbade them from kneeling during the anthem. But he also finds ways to connect with players, such as shooting hoops with them, and didn’t care at all that some of them were hanging out with Patriots players during Super Bowl week. While they were doing that, he was staying after hours riding the roller coasters at Nickelodeon Universe.
And his background and experiences as a former player is a valuable tool for him. He understands that you have to present players and coaches with analytics (which he says are barely used by Andy Reid) in the right way to get the message across. He knows first hand what it is like to bring an idea to a coach and have it rejected. On the subject of taking in character risks, he brings up when the Packers brought in Andre Rison. At that time Rison was on his third team in as many seasons and was best known as a big free agent bust in Cleveland and for his girlfriend, Lisa Lopes of TLC, burning his house down. Rison had all the physical tools, but he was a disaster off the field. In Green Bay, he got in gear and was a valuable cog in their Super Bowl run. And of course, he’s effusive in his praise of Brett Favre, who throughout the course of the book is shown to be an enormous influence on Pederson.
For football fans, it’s a good addition to the small library of quality books by a coach. Mike Leach’s Swing Your Sword is similar, though Pederson lacks the meandering coaching career and colorful egotism that Leach has in abundance, which he substitutes with his crowing achievement of out-coaching Bill Belichick to win the Super Bowl. It’s miles better than Brian Billick’s forgettable More Than A Game.
For Eagles fans, Fearless is a must-have book. Doug Pederson is, well, fearless in everything he does, and he further cements that his exciting attacking football philosophy is his calling card. Let’s hope he can write another one about another Super Bowl win.