Reid Between the Lines

The disappointing end of an era

The disappointing end of an era

As the sun sets on Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, we’re starting to see the national media come to Big Red’s aid. I’ve read multiple articles and blog posts from the big media outlets warning Eagles’ fans that the world post-Reid will be a dark and scary place. We are an ungrateful lot, us Philadelphia Phaithful. Afterall, we booed Santa Claus, harassed Mike Schmidt, chased Charles Barkley out-of-town and never fully appreciated Donovan McNabb. Obviously then, we’re in danger of being on the wrong side of history with regards to Reid’s departure at season’s end.

From the national perspective, this argument holds water. It makes sense, it does. Reid was the architect that built a team capable of 5 NFC Championship appearances in 14 seasons. He took us to the playoffs 10 times. We went to a Super Bowl under his leadership and for most of his tenure, we were competitive. The margin between Reid’s success and that of former Eagle coaches – guys like Dick Vermeil and Buddy Ryan – is a massively wide one. No other head coach has come close to matching Reid’s overall resume. Vermeil captured our hearts more feverishly. Ryan played to our aggressive nature better than anyone. But Reid has them beat where it matters most – in the win column. To the rest of the league, we look like a spoiled fan base cheering (or more accurately – booing) the demise of our best asset.

In the hopes of debunking that claim and putting to rest this mis-led argument, here is The Spotter’s View on Andy Reid and his final days in Philly.

Trough History’s Lens

There is no question that Reid has been the best head coach that Broad Street has ever been blessed with. He has led the Eagles to more wins and post-season appearances than his predecessors and has elevated this franchise to greater heights than had been previously imagined. This is the prevailing argument for why Reid should be considered a great coach. History will remember him for these accomplishments but he will also be forgotten because of his missed opportunities. Think Marv Levy and his four missed chances at a Super Bowl title. When the discussion begins about the greatest coaches of all-time, rarely does anyone ever mention Levy. This is a guy who brought a mediocre, small-town franchise to four straight Super Bowls. FOUR STRAIGHT. And because he didn’t win a single ring, he is largely forgotten in these types of discussions.

Even during his own era, he is forgotten. Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson, Don Schula, Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells are all more commonly discussed. They are all more positively remembered. Levy is the outcast of that group despite having a record of success that was second to none. In the end, rings matter. They make legacies. They are the reason for remembrance. Reid didn’t win one and as such, he will likely be forgotten in a historical sense. People will talk about Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy. They’ll remember Tom Coughlin and Bill Cowher. Even shorter spans of success enjoyed by the likes of Jon Gruden and Brian Billick will be mentioned before Reid. His failure to achieve the ultimate goal will forever stain his legacy and erase his other outstanding achievements. It happened to Levy and it will happen to Reid.

Philadelphia’s Mindset

Philadelphia has a long-standing issue with our sense of worth. We are overshadowed by the political might in Washington and the economic force that is New York City. We were once influential and powerful and now we’re the forgotten sibling fighting for scraps at the dinner table. To pretend this doesn’t shape the mindset of a people is to simply avoid reality. Think about New York….it’s theme song – “if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere” – exudes confidence and self-worth. It’s fitting then that their sports teams are successful. The fan base expects success inherently and their sports franchises chase it tirelessly. There is no argument against this. The Yankees are unquestionably the best example of this commitment to championships but the Giants and their steadfast approach is nothing to be scoffed at either. These teams win rings and further substantiate the mindset of their confident fans.

D.C. doesn’t have New York’s sense of entitlement but they are in their own way slightly better suited to handle the highs and lows of their sports teams. This is a place – after all – where power changes hands between conservative and progressive leaders every few years. They ride the tide of change politically and infuse that way of life into their relationship with the Redskins. When the team is good, the fan base is rabid. When the team is bad, they are despondent. It’s the nature of their lives and of change. It’s why they’ve fallen in love with RGIII so quickly. He represents change, hope and a return to relevance. D.C. lives and dies with their Redskins and they handle the roller-coaster ride better than any other major city in America. They also have three rings to hold them over in times of despair.

But Philly….we have no confidence. We don’t handle change well. We’re impatient and fiery and passionate. We root for a make-believe boxer (Rocky) and ignore the true greatness of a great homegrown pugilist (Joe Frazier) because the movie version was a massive underdog with a chip on his shoulder. The real one was only a slight underdog with a chip on his shoulder. We hate entitlement and loathe indifference. We want effort. We demand emotion. We respect true grit. It’s why Brian Dawkins and Allen Iverson will live forever in our hearts. They wanted it. They showed it. They had it. We LOVED those guys the way we loved the irreverent Ryan and the emotional Vermeil. They were real.

For all of Reid’s success, he was unable to connect with our mindset because of his lack of personality. Because of his awful press-conferences. Because we almost never saw him pump a fist or throw a headset or talk smack. Those traits might be idolized in puritan New England but they don’t fit our collective personality. More than a winner, Philly respects those who would seemingly die in order to win. It’s our underdog nature. Us against the world – even when the world is probably right. If part of a coaches’ legacy is defined by how he was perceived in the stands of his own stadium, it’s safe to say that Reid failed where Vermeil and Ryan thrived. He never got us and we never related to him. It’s that simple. Maybe his business-like, emotionless pressers would’ve worked elsewhere. Maybe his evasive, nondescript answers were to protect his players from criticism. Maybe it worked….but it was perceived as arrogant and that’s what matters.

Discipline

If you went back through history and dissected all of the articles written about great coaches, I would bet that discipline would be their shared characteristic. Living by it, instilling it in their players and engraining it into the locker room. The great leaders of men are almost always disciplined. Lombardi, Walsh, Belichick, Saban, your local high school coach that wins multiple state titles. They understand – better than anybody – that football is a game of inches and that those inches are likely tilted in your favor by adhering to the basic premise of being disciplined. In terms of substantive terms, what does being disciplined mean in football? Penalties, turnovers, continuity, predictability and consistency are all intertwined into that word.

By all accounts, Reid has never led a very disciplined bunch. Corporately protective, yes. Obedient, yes. Mostly respectable, yes. But disciplined, I don’t think that would be applicable to his teams. How many times throughout the last 14 years did you witness a mistake that lacked discipline? I can think of a dozen in the time it took me to type this sentence. Inexplicable penalties at the worst possible time. Ridiculous plays that ruined scoring opportunities. Turnovers, mind-numbing turnovers – especially in the red zone. I would credit Reid for being a creative designer of plays. He was. I would laud him for being aggressive offensively and for sticking to his guns even as the criticism started to pile up. He was and remains a proudly stubborn man. Surely a trait that helped him survive for 14 seasons in Philadelphia. But because he failed to instill discipline into his teams, he never reached the ultimate goal.

Jim Johnson

Clearly the rugged and rough Jim Johnson lacked the traits to be a head coach in the NFL where the job requires partly the mindset of a CEO. However, he was an excellent coach and a defensive savant. Johnson really was the glue that held Reid’s team together. His defenses were physical and aggressive. They regularly ranked in the top 5 of all the major statistical categories and his players bought into the reckless style of play that he taught.

Since Johnson’s death, this once great defensive team has become soft and reactionary. I would argue that Johnson and his innovative blitz schemes had as much to do with the Eagles success during Reid’s tenure than almost anything else. No that he’s gone, we see what’s left. Big plays surrendered, zero play makers at the LB spots, passive tackling, missed assignments and a steady stream of inconsistent play. Reid can definitely be blamed for not having a succession plan in place for Johnson – even had he not suddenly passed away. What was his plan? Sean McDermott for a season? Moving his offensive line coach to defensive coordinator? What? In places like New England and Pittsburgh, when a valuable assistant coach leaves, there is another guy in line ready to take up the slack. They don’t miss a beat. The Eagles – since Johnson’s death – have missed entire songs. In my opinion, part of the blame for this decline has to be on Reid’s shoulders who failed miserably in finding even an adequate replacement for his once great assistant.

The Two Minute Super Bowl Debacle

Can anyone offer an explanation that doesn’t involve Reid being completely inept at handling game management situations? How else can the last two minutes of Super Bowl XXXIX be explained? Reid has always been awful at managing the clock and in this instance, it may have cost us our only legitimate chance of winning a ring. I’m still dumbfounded by the final few minutes of that game but somehow…it makes perfect sense. Reid was good enough to get us there. He had enough talent under his guidance to nearly achieve greatness. But, in the end, the same issue that ALWAYS undermined his success came back when it hurt the most. Still upset about it and I have a feeling that’s not going away anytime soon.

2012

The end of the…….I’m not Mayan so this isn’t about the end of the world. But it is about the end of an era. What do you get when you have massive injuries along the front five, a new line coach who was the guiding hand behind Peyton Manning’s highly complex offense in Indy, a QB incapable of operating within that system, a fired defensive coordinator replaced by a first-year position coach, a class of underperforming free agents and mix that all in with a devastating personal tragedy for Coach Reid? The answer: the Philadelphia Eagles 2012 season.

It’s a shame this is how Reid goes out but there was no other way. Not in Philadelphia. We were never going go have the hero ride out-of-town on a white horse carrying the Lombardi Trophy with him as he disappeared into the setting sun. No. That’s not our storyline. The era was always going to end with a deafening silence and an abysmal season. It’s part of being an Eagles fan. You expect disappointment and you’re chastised when it happens for being too negative. Let’s hope the next head coach can capitalize where Reid failed. Let’s hope this narrative changes and we can experience what the Patriots, Cowboys, 49ers, Giants, Steelers and Packers have all achieved. Sustained greatness and championship level play. Let’s hope Reid’s tenure was the foundation for that ultimate success. Time will tell….

Overall

Reid has dealt with tremendous adversity during his final days as an Eagle and has handled himself with class. He is a well-respected coach particularly amongst his peers and he’s always been regarded as a great person. Unfortunately, he never connected with his fans on a level that will cement him as an all-time Philadelphia great. Yes, his record is the best in Eagle history. Yes, he took us to great heights as a franchise. But he missed the opportunity to win a title and that will forever stain his legacy. Part of his failure was caused by his own early success. He never was able to regain that momentum once Jim Johnson passed away and what we’re left with is an unfulfilled promise of Super Bowl glory. You can really break Reid’s career down in two parts. The first with QB Donovan McNabb and his defensive support system led by Johnson. The second with a rotating QB situation and a dysfunctional defense without any leadership. It’s unfortunate for Reid who had a stretch of early success that might have put him into the all-time pantheon of coaching greats. His failures though – some massive – will keep him in that third tier of coaches. There’s the legends (Walsh, Belichick, Lombardi, Landry, Knoll, etc), the next group of near-legends (Jimmy Johnson, Mike Holmgren, Mike Ditka, Bill Cowher, etc), and then there’s Reid’s group. The good but not greats. The successful few that almost tasted greatness but failed to obtain it. Reid and Levy are the headliners of that group and will forever be forgotten when discussions of greatness are had.

You don’t need to Reid between the lines to know that much.

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