This week the mothership has been contemplating some What Ifs, such as What If the Eagles had traded for Larry Fitzgerald in 2008?. Today, a 20 year old one with ramifications that are still being felt.
What if the Eagles never hired Andy Reid? It almost didn’t happen.
The 1998 Wild Card game between the 49ers and Packers was an all timer. Two Hall of Fame QBs dueled it out, with Brett Favre in the prime of his career and Steve Young playing in what unfortunately be his last great game, as he played just four more games before retiring due to concussions. Young capped it off with a tremendous throw to Terrell Owens in what was dubbed “The Catch II”. NFL Films did a “Greatest Games” on it that showed the game theory within the game, as both teams ran virtually the same offense, which the Packers used to their advantage with a fake audible to score a touchdown.
It also has Andy Reid saying that if the Packers had won that game, he probably wouldn’t have been hired by the Eagles. He’s right. Until recently, if an assistant coach was still in the playoffs, teams didn’t hire them. Had the Packers won, the Eagles most likely would not have waited for them to be eliminated from the playoffs, and they would have quickly moved on to the next coach on their list, who was Jim Haslett.
The immediate what if here is obvious: Jim Haslett is a terrible head coach, Andy Reid is a very good one, and the Eagles in the 2000s would not have been the team they were. But the what ifs go far beyond that. Reid’s coaching tree won multiple Super Bowls, altering the history of the NFL. Are you ready to go down the rabbit hole?
Would the Eagles have drafted Donovan McNabb? Five QBs were drafted in the first round of the 1999 draft. Two were good, McNabb and Daunte Culpepper. The others were enormous busts: Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Cade McNown. Andy Reid is the best QB coach of his era, without his input do they still take McNabb? Couch was off the board with the first pick, but what if they drafted Smith or McNown?
Let’s plug in Haslett’s head coach trajectory into the Eagles. Like his almost-predecessor Ray Rhodes, he got off to a good start when he took over the Saints in 2000, going 10-6 and making the playoffs and winning a playoff game. But then he went 7-9, 9-7, 8-8, 8-8, and 3-13. Haslett wasn’t going to go 10-6 in 1999, but let’s say that he had a similar run where entering his sixth season he hasn’t had a year bad enough to outright justify firing, but then is abysmal in year six. Keep in mind, this is being generous to Haslett. That puts the Eagles in the market for a new head coach in 2005, where the new head coaches were Romeo Crennel, Mike Nolan, and Nick Saban. Of that trio the Eagles might have hired Saban, who had a better resume than Chip Kelly. Which means in 2007 they probably were once again looking for a new coach.
The would be coaching carousel didn’t just effect the Eagles.
John Harbaugh was already on the Eagles staff when they changed head coaches in 1999. By 2007 he should have been a head coaching candidate, but teams are dumb and don’t hire special teams coaches as head coaches. So for the 2007 season, Andy Reid let him change roles to be a defensive backs coach, and a season later he was hired by the Ravens. The switch out of special teams coordinator is rare, would any other coach have given Harbaugh the chance? Would he even still be around with the Eagles in 2007? Would Harbaugh have been as high profile as he was if he wasn’t on a successful team? Do the Ravens win the Super Bowl without him?
If he wasn’t the understudy of the best defense in division, and one of the best in the league, is Steve Spagnuolo hired by Tom Coughlin? If not, do the Giants knock off the undefeated Patriots?
If Brad Childress isn’t hired by the Vikings, does Minnesota go to the NFC Championship Game in 2009? The Vikings losing in overtime without touching the ball was the impetus for change in overtime rules. Are we still playing sudden death if Andy Reid hadn’t hired Childress from the University of Wisconsin?
Let’s rewind to 1998 for another one: if the Packers beat the 49ers, do they beat the Falcons in the next round? If so, do the 1998 Vikings win the NFC Championship Game rather than lose a heartbreaker? If they still lose, the Packers reach the Super Bowl, and Mike Holmgren doesn’t leave for Seattle that offseason.
And finally, if Andy Reid hadn’t been hired, then Doug Pederson wouldn’t have been signed by the Eagles in 1999. He wouldn’t have then been an assistant coach a decade later. And he absolutely would not have been coaching the Eagles right now, with a Super Bowl win on his resume.
20 years ago a butterfly flapped its wings, the Eagles hired Andy Reid, and Doug Pederson won the Super Bowl. What a world we live in.