This was the moment I truly fell in love with Doug Pederson.
It happened the week after the Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52. NFL Films released one of their always-excellent “Turning Point” videos in which they chronicled the Birds’ historic win, and there was a scene that crystallized why Pederson beat the greatest head coach in football history, Bill Belichick, on the game’s biggest stage (start at 0:38 mark).
It was a simple moment between two head coaches. Belichick came up to Pederson and shook his hand. Belichick mentioned that he “tried to find a game this season where you behind and couldn’t find one!” Pederson responds, “There were plenty!” (There weren’t). Then Doug just spitballs and talks to Belichick like they’re old war buddies. He talked about how long Super Bowl week was and how desperate he was to just play the game.
Doug Pederson didn’t come across as some football savant, but it was clear he was not frightened of Belichick or the moment. He wasn’t scared of fighting Tom Brady and the then-five-time Super Bowl champions. Pederson went on to call one of the greatest games a play caller has ever had, outsmarted the Pats at every turn and, in the end, won the Lombardi Trophy.
Pederson Was a Magician
Pederson won a Super Bowl in one of the most difficult ways possible. He lost his MVP QB three-quarters of the way through the season and had to create a whole new offense from scratch with a completely different type of player in Nick Foles. Frank Reich was a terrific running mate, of that there is no doubt, but this was Doug’s offense. In 2018 and ‘19, the Eagles were one of the most banged-up teams in the NFL and yet he guided the franchise to back-to-back 9-7 records and three more playoff games.
He is one of seven head head coaches in NFL history to have three playoff appearances and a Super Bowl in his first four seasons. His 35-28-1 record since 2017 is 6th-best in the NFC, and he made the playoffs in three of the last four years. Only the Rams, Seahawks and Saints have matched that feat in the conference.
Per Andrew Siciliano of the NFL Network, he is the first head coach fired within three years of winning a title since 1973. So on the surface this doesn’t make sense.
The Last Choice
It became clear over the last 12 months owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman never fully embraced Pederson as their head coach. In a long list of coaching candidates following the removal of Chip Kelly, Pederson was near the bottom. Names like Ben McAdoo, Adam Gase, Hue Jackson, Dirk Koetter and Mike Mularkey were all ahead of him on the Eagles’ head coaching candidate shopping list.
Here are the records of those head coaches at the stops where they were hired in 2016.
- Eagles. Doug Pederson: 42-37-1
- Dolphins. Adam Gase: 23-25
- Browns. Hue Jackson: 3-36-1
- 49ers. Chip Kelly: 2-14
- Buccaneers. Dirk Koetter: 19-29
- Giants. Ben McAdoo: 13-15
- Titans. Mike Mularkey: 20-21
The Eagles got lucky, but it doesn’t appear as if Lurie and Roseman ever recognized that.
Doug Pederson was the most disrespected Super Bowl winning coach in NFL history. The Eagles’ brass acted as if they won the title in spite of Pederson. They didn’t trust his judgment with regards to the coaching staff, which is why the team insisted he fire Mike Groh as offensive coordinator following the 2019 season, one day after Pederson told the press Groh would be back.
Right or wrong (and it probably was the right call), Pederson’s legs were chopped out from under him. He was emasculated, and he probably should have quit on the spot.
The Eagles tried to do it again this off-season, as Pederson reportedly wanted to promote Press Taylor to offensive coordinator and elevate other coaches as a way to fix the offense. Again, one can question the wisdom of making those moves, but a Super Bowl winning coach should be allowed to control his own staff.
Lurie and Roseman didn’t see it that way. They were going to force him to make different changes. Pederson said, “enough is enough,” and the two sides parted ways.
As I wrote last week, Pederson should have been allowed to sink or swim in 2021. If his decisions were to result in another lackluster season (and let’s face it, everyone acknowledges the team won’t be very good the next couple years), Lurie and Roseman would have been justified in moving on to someone else.
The offensive failures of 2020 certainly factored into the decision to remove Pederson. The decline of Carson Wentz staggered the mind and Pederson’s inability to right the ship was alarming. Lurie did not indicate in his news conference Monday that the reported rift between Pederson and Wentz had anything to do with Doug’s firing, but one would imagine Wentz’ return is more likely with Pederson out.
(By the way, if someone can explain to me why there was a rift between Wentz and Pederson in the first place, I’d love to hear it. From the outside, Pederson appeared to coddle Wentz, gave his quarterback a lot of freedom to design the offense as he saw fit, and waited longer to bench him than most head coaches would have.)
If the Eagles are going with a full rebuild here, which it sounds like they are, blowing everything up made sense. Firing Doug Pederson under that scenario would have been justified, but not without also firing the architect of this crumbling roster.
It’s clear Jeffrey Lurie has Roseman Derangement Syndrome, an inability to see the mistakes his consigliere has made over the last five years, despite his one glorious off-season where every free agent move and trade worked out. Lurie’s inability to see Roseman’s draft history, or to at least excuse it, mystifies everyone.
Jeffrey Lurie chose Howie Roseman and Carson Wentz over Doug Pederson, and at the end of the day, it makes a lot of disappointing sense. Jeffrey Lurie has an emotional attachment to Howie Roseman. Jeffrey Lurie has a monetary attachment to Carson Wentz.
Jeffrey Lurie apparently had no real connection to Doug Pederson and lost confidence in the Super Bowl winning coach’s ability to turn the franchise around.
Doug Pederson will land a good job someplace else and likely experience success with a front office that properly supports him. This is good news for him. It’s bad news for Eagles fans who are left to deal with an owner and general manager who will conduct yet another head coaching search and conduct yet another series of NFL drafts for a team that desperately needs good, cheap talent.
It’s also a cautionary tale for whoever takes the Eagles’ gig. It’s not going to be your team. It’s Howie’s team. It’s Jeffrey’s team.
And they won’t let your forget it.