Fourth and Twenty-Six: Moving on from Reid

It was surreal when Jeffrey Lurie stepped to the podium last Monday to announce, or rather confirm, the firing of Andy Reid. The emotions of the city were all over the place; some were disappointed, some were relieved, and some were too busy worrying about their New Year’s Eve plans to even care.

Reid leaves with a mixed legacy. Few NFL head coaches have given as much as he did to a single franchise, or sustained a relative level of success for as long as he did. However, Big Red never really related well to the fans; he faced an extraordinary amount of criticism over the years, and in the end, failed to achieve the ultimate goal. But everyone, no matter his or her opinion of the Birds’ longtime head coach, felt the nostalgia when Lurie took the podium, recognizing what Reid had done for this team and for Philadelphia.

After letting the feeling sink in, I turned my thoughts to this column, and how I would approach the post-Andy Reid era article. The classy and obvious route to take was to glorify Reid, look back at the moments, both good and bad, that will define his tenure, and evaluate him as a head coach over the last 14 years.

But to be honest, what does it matter whether he was “great”, or just simply “good”? Why relive his time here if it always ended in disappointment? Sure, there were great moments — the name of this column brings to mind arguably the greatest — but I’m moving on, and looking forward. Five or ten years from now, we can glorify him; heck, when he comes to Lincoln Financial Field next fall as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs we can look back fondly. But there’s no time for that at the moment. The future of the franchise starts now. It’s time to choose the Eagles’ new head coach.

On Wednesday, Lurie addressed the media, covering a variety of topics, two of which were very interesting and important. Aside from his spiel about how he feels the fans’ pain, which is a total you-know-what, he was fairly sincere.

The first talking point concerned Howie Roseman. For those unfamiliar with the current General Manager of the Eagles, he’s the youngest GM in the NFL at 37 years old, and has been so since he took over the role in 2010. What bothers many people is his lack of a football background. He was originally hired as a numbers guy to deal with the salary cap and contract stuff, but rather rapidly ascended to the top of the organization. Ever since Roseman took over as GM, the product on the field has significantly worsened, and with Reid now gone and Roseman seemingly leading the charge, skepticism reigns.

On Monday however, Lurie essentially relieved Roseman of most of the blame. Lurie’s case was that he himself had looked back on every individual’s talent evaluation over the past few years — the most important individuals being Reid, Roseman, and former president Joe Banner — and found that Roseman’s was by far the most accurate. He also revealed that Roseman lacked serious control in the draft and free-agency decision making processes until the 2012 offseason, during which the Eagles finally had a halfway decent draft. Implicitly, Lurie placed the blame for the horrific drafts in previous years squarely on the shoulders of Reid and Banner, and expressed genuine confidence in his young GM.

Whether Roseman really is as intelligent as Lurie made him out to be remains to be seen, and until he proves everybody wrong, the fact that he’s not a “football guy” will still haunt him. But Lurie’s words give us hope — hope that Roseman can help turn the franchise around, and hope that he can help make the right decision on a new coach.

Over the last few days, and over the next few weeks, all kinds of names have been and will be thrown around regarding that decision. Some, like Chip Kelly (staying at Oregon), Bill O’Brien (staying at Penn State), and Doug Marrone (Bills) are now irrelevant, while others like Mike McCoy, John Gruden (very unlikely), Bruce Arians, Gus Bradley, and Jay Gruden are still in play.

But it’s Lurie’s approach to finding his new head man that is most important.

“I think the most important thing is to find the right leader,” Lurie said at a press conference. “I’m not one who wants to buy schemes, wants to buy approaches that are necessarily finite. What you’ve got to find is somebody who is strategic. Somebody who is a strong leader.”

“I’m looking for someone that’s innovative. Somebody that is not afraid to take risks. Somebody that looks [at] and studies the league and studies the college world and decides what the best inefficiencies are on offense and defense and special teams and can execute it with their coaches so that you take advantage of trends and take advantage of, again, inefficiencies in terms of where the game is at and understand where it’s going. So, a student of the game who is obsessed and who absolutely and, on his own, is completely driven to be the best, that’s what you’re looking for.”

The common misconception is that a good coordinator makes a good head coach. The most important quality in a head coach is leadership — not his offensive philosophy or defensive scheme, but the ability to get the best out of his players — and Lurie seems to understand that. That’s not to say specific ideas aren’t important, but they don’t alone make a good head coach. Lurie realizes the need to hire a good football person rather than a good football scheme, and that will be where his priorities are over the coming weeks.

Furthermore, “innovative” is the perfect word. The best coaches are able to make adjustments, and Andy Reid’s failure to do that was one of his fatal flaws. Both in the small window of a game, and throughout a season or multiple seasons, coaches like Bill Belichick understand the current game and adjust. And before the league can catch up, they adjust and re-adjust again to stay a step ahead. Clearly Belichick’s don’t grow on trees, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t qualified candidates out there.

Chip Kelly clearly exhibits these qualities, but the Oregon man is now off the board. His offensive system is no guarantee to translate well to the NFL, but his leadership and smarts are, and I would have welcomed him as the Eagles’ new leader. But that speculation is now all for naught. In fact, the Eagles’ early top three choices (Kelly, O’Brien, and Marrone) may now be unattainable.

Mike McCoy and Gus Bradley might fit the description, and maybe the other candidates do too, but I’m not the one who has to decide. I’m no expert. Fortunately though, the three men making the decision are, and based on Lurie’s words, I’ve got every confidence in their ability to find the next Mike Tomlin, Mike McCarthy, or Jim Harbaugh. Whoever it is will have a roster to reshape, a new energy to bring, and a culture to change. This organization was, once upon a time, top class, but it has lost its way in the waning years of the Reid regime. The new coach needs to come in and resurrect its reputation, and attempt to once again bring this city a winning pedigree. And whoever it is, he’ll have my endorsement 100-percent.

The last 14 years of Eagles’ football have been exciting yet disappointing, enjoyable yet excruciating, lively yet monotonous. Andy Reid leaves Philadelphia as a major figure in the city’s sports history, and the greatest coach in Eagles’ history. He will never go down as a legend, and his faults were numerous, but he gave an extraordinary amount of his time and effort to this city and to this organization. For that, he deserves our gratitude and appreciation, and I sincerely hope he will receive it in due course. But at the end of the day, there is still a gaping hole in the trophy case at the Linc, and the man that can fill that hole with a Lombardi Trophy will be immortally engrained in Philly sports folklore as a hero and a legend.

Here’s hoping that this man is the one who signs a coaching contract in South Philadelphia in January 2013.