Change is inevitable in the NFL. Every year, players come and go and so do coaches. In fact, it’s already started – on Monday, less than 24 hours after the NFL season ended, two coaches got fired, Steve Spagnuolo of the St. Louis Rams and Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Bucs. More are certain to follow.
And now, for the first time in a long time, there is speculation about the future of the Eagles’ coach. Andy Reid’s team entered the 2011-12 season full of hope and optimism and the Eagles were a consensus choice to win NFC East and challenge Green Bay for supremacy in the conference. Well, we all know how that turned out. The Eagles had to win their final four games just to finish 8-8 and all four of those victories came against teams that, like the Eagles, failed to make the playoffs.
That’s why, for the first time since Reid became coach in 1999, chants of “Fire Andy!’’ were heard at Lincoln Financial Field and radio talks shows ripped him around the clock.
Well, sorry to disappoint those people – and you may be one of them – but Andy Reid will be back as coach of the Eagles in 2012. And he should be back.
That doesn’t mean Reid did a good job this season. He didn’t. Some of his shortcomings have been there forever, like his poor clock management and his team’s penchant for making costly turnovers and/or penalties and, worst of all, some of his personnel decisions.
And even though many of the changes made on the team weren’t Reid’s doing, he was responsible for the biggest blunder of all, promoting offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator even though he had never coached on that side of the ball in the NFL.
But Reid wasn’t the one responsible for the second biggest blunder, signing Vince Young to be the back-up quarterback. That move was made by general manager Howie Roseman and team president Joe Banner, as were the decisions to sign running back Ronnie Brown and wide receiver Steve Smith, two other pedigreed veterans who did nothing to help the Eagles this year and, in fact, made plays that hurt them.
But signing Young was the exploding cigar that blew up in the Eagles’ faces. On some teams, it doesn’t really matter who the back-up QB is, because he never plays. Quick – can you name the Giants’ back-up quarterback? How about the Saints’ second-stringer? Or the Falcons’ No. 2 guy? But with the Eagles, the second-string QB is a key player because starter Michael Vick always gets hurt. He’s played 10 seasons in the NFL and has played all 16 games just once.
Young started three games this season while Vick nursed broken ribs and the Eagles lost two of them. They ended up missing the playoffs by just one game and that game could have been the 31-14 defeat to a mediocre Seattle team in which Young was intercepted four times, including once on the first play of the game that set up an easy Seahawks’ touchdown and another that was returned 77 yards for a TD.
Young was just one of 23 new players on the team this season, which is about half the roster. Plus the Eagles had an entirely new coaching staff on defense – Castillo, line coach Jim Washburn, linebackers coach Mike Caldwell and secondary coaches Johnny Lynn and Michael Zordich. And it wasn’t just a change in names – the Eagles completely changed the way they played defense from they had the previous 12 years under Reid, when Jim Johnson and then Sean McDermott played a blitz-happy scheme.
There were also plenty of changes on offense – only one position, left tackle Jason Peters, remained the same from last season. The Eagles started two rookies (center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins) moved Todd Herremans from guard to right tackle and plugged in journeyman Evan Mathis at left guard. And this unit also had a new position coach, Howard Mudd, who did things completely different than Castillo did throughout the previous decade.
And let’s not forget that all these new pieces had to be fitted together without the benefit of an off-season program or a traditional training camp because of the NFL lockout.
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise the Eagles struggled early in the season and they were never able to overcome that 1-4 start. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that they would play much better late in the season, even if it was mostly against bad teams.
It’s that second-half surge that should convince Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to bring back Reid for a 14th season. Granted, those good games came when it didn’t matter and season-ending streaks like that tend to be fool’s gold. But this was also a natural progression of a team that, when the season started, didn’t know each other on the field or in the locker room.
And that’s why Reid deserves another shot at this. Like him or loathe him, he has won more regular-season and playoff games than any coach in team history and he is one of just two coaches who has led the Eagles to the Super Bowl. So, Lurie owes Reid another chance with this slapped-together group. He owes him a full year of mini-camps and off-season workouts and all the classroom work that entails, as well as a full training camp.
Then, if Reid fails again, fire him. But give him that chance to fail. And who knows, he might even succeed.