Yesterday we traveled back in time 20 years to wonder what if the Eagles never hired Andy Reid. Today we travel even further back in time for some more mind bending. What if Jeffery Lurie bought the Patriots? That too almost happened.
In 1993 the New England Patriots were put up for sale. A pair of long time Patriots fans entered the bidding process: Robert Kraft, who wound up purchasing them, and Jeffrey Lurie, who would purchase the Eagles a year later.
The history of the NFL would be massively different if Lurie had been able to purchase the Patriots. But how different? There are infinite possibilities here, but I’m going to base my alternate universes with some semblance of our universe.
Looking at how Lurie’s ownership has evolved in his 25 years of ownership, it’s not that hard to see the Patriots history from 1993 to 1996 being basically the same. When Kraft took over he hired Bill Parcells. Lurie nearly went in a similar direction when he purchased the Eagles, attempting to woo Jimmy Johnson and Dick Vermeil, both of who would return to the sideline a few years later. It is not at all hard to see 1993 Lurie going after Parcells, and getting him. While there would inevitably be some differences between the two universes, the Lurie-Parcells era wouldn’t be too different. They’d still draft Drew Bledsoe 1st overall in 1993, and it’s not a stretch to see Parcells lead them to the Super Bowl in 1996, as he did in our universe.
In the universe we live in, Parcells wanted more power and didn’t get it, and he left for the Jets following the Super Bowl. Meanwhile Lurie has given his coaches more power: Andy Reid got more power as his tenure went on, and Chip Kelly got full control with a resume far inferior to Reid’s and Parcells’. Does Lurie give Parcells even more control, especially after reaching the Super Bowl? Good chance he does. However, those increases in power came without Joe Banner, who Reid ousted and Kelly never had to deal with. In an alternate universe where Lurie owns the Pats, Banner isn’t going anywhere in 1997. And because of that, perhaps Parcells still leaves.
Bill Parcells is a great coach, but he is also a difficult person. Let’s say that Lurie lets Parcells go, just as Kraft did. Who does he turn to to replace him?
For all of Lurie’s strengths as the owner of the Eagles, one fault he’s had--though it worked out pretty well--is that like many teams the Eagles have replaced a coach with someone who was in many ways the opposite. Rich Kotite’s lameness was contrasted by Ray Rhodes fiery leadership. Andy Reid started as a gifted offensive mind who was relatively soft spoken, a 180 from Rhodes. But by the end Reid was out of ideas but was well respected. Chip Kelly contrasted late era Reid as he was seen as an innovative genius whose elusiveness was part of his charm. And Doug Pederson was hired in part for his “emotional intelligence.” They all shared a common connection though: they were all part of a very successful organization (though it should be said that not every candidate the Eagles closely considered through the years fits this description). Rhodes was part of all of the 49ers Super Bowl wins, a trusted lieutenant of George Seifert. Reid was a protege of Mike Holmgren and won a Super Bowl in Green Bay. Kelly springboarded Oregon from a good but not great program to a national championship game. Pederson’s coaching resume wasn’t as strong, but he was a part of some good Andy Reid teams and won a ring as a backup quarterback.
With that in mind, looking at the 1997 and 1998 coaching class, his candidates to take over for Parcells are probably Kevin Gilbride, the offensive coordinator for the Jaguars who had gone from expansion team to AFC Championship Game in a year; and Jon Gruden, who like Andy Reid came from the Mike Holmgren tree and elevated his profile as the offensive coordinator for… the Eagles under Ray Rhodes. Considering that Rhodes was well thought of enough to get a second head coaching job immediately after being fired by the Eagles in 1998, there’s a good chance that someone other than the Eagles hires Rhodes, and he still makes Gruden his OC and puts him on the radar for a head coaching job a couple of years later. Gilbride stunk, Gruden of course won a Super Bowl.
What doesn’t happen is what happened in our universe: the Patriots hire Pete Carroll, canned him after two decent seasons, then hired Bill Belichick, drafted Tom Brady, and well, you know the rest.
If that doesn’t happen, think about what does. Perhaps Tom Brady is drafted by the Chargers, whose head coach was Mike Reilly, who tried to recruit Brady in college and wanted San Diego to draft him. There he takes over for Ryan Leaf and who knows what happens. How many Super Bowls does Peyton Manning win with the Colts? Who wins Super Bowl LI, the Falcons or the Steelers, who were AFC runners up? Do the Seahawks win back to back Super Bowls without having to face the Patriots? Does Eli Manning win any if he has to face a different team?
Whatever the outcome, we can all rejoice in the fact that in this alternate universe, Josh McDaniels isn’t a thing and we don’t have to hear about what a great coaching candidate he is every stinking year. Along those lines, Bill O’Brien never gets anywhere above bouncing between college coaching jobs and doesn’t get the opportunity to start every crappy tall white quarterback before DeShaun Watson falls into his lap. Thankfully, we don’t get a Robert Kraft sex scandal. And thousands of sweatshirts keep their sleeves. On the flipside, we never get the schadenfreude of the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame.
If we really want to go on a trip, consider these two potential outcomes:
Lurie’s replacement for Parcells is say, Kevin Gilbride, who stinks and is fired after three or four seasons. To replace him, Lurie hires a protege of a coach with an impressive coaching tree: Andy Reid. In this alternate universe Reid has gone with Mike Holmgren to the Seahawks, where he’s offensive coordinator. Reid never finds his McNabb, instead drafting David Carr, Joey Harrington, Carson Palmer, or Byron Leftwich, depending on if he’s hired in 2002 or 2003.
Or maybe in 1997 or in the early 2000s, Lurie hires a coach who was part of a good era of the franchise, a protege of a successful coach at multiple stops, someone who the organization knew well, and someone who was considered an uninspiring hire at the time. That broadly describes Doug Pederson. It also broadly describes another pretty good coach.
Jeffrey Lurie hires Bill Belichick.