Almost all of the talk has been about the quarterbacks, although there has also been plenty of discussion about the new defense and the impact that will have on the Eagles’ NFL season. But it seems as if nobody is talking about the biggest change on the Eagles this season, and that’s the way Doug Pederson likes it.
It was big news when Chip Kelly was hired by the Eagles three years ago, because he was a brash innovator who had been wooed by every NFL team looking for a head coach. Kelly was also a terrific interview, if you overlook the fact that he was often condescending and rarely said anything of importance or interest. Still, reporters could cut up one of Kelly’s well-crafted and long-winded quotes and use it in different places in their articles.
Pederson just sort of strolled onto the scene when he was hired to replace Kelly in January, and he doesn’t generate nearly as much electricity as Kelly did. Everybody was eager to see Kelly unleash his no-huddle, run-and-gun offense on the NFL, but nobody really knows what they’ll see from Pederson’s offense or from Pederson.
Another reason why nobody seems excited about the new coach — Kelly had a long track record as a successful college coach, but Pederson had never been a head coach, except for a brief stint as a high school coach for a small school in Louisiana. And Pederson’s NFL playing career certainly wasn’t exciting, mainly because he rarely played.
It’s not that we’re saying Pederson can’t be a great NFL coach. What we’re saying is we don’t know what Pederson can do, because we have no way of knowing.
And this is not just casual sports conversation, because a head coach is much more important in the NFL than he or she is in other major league sports. Some baseball managers will bunt and others will hit and run, but they have little control over the game other than that in terms of philosophy. Some basketball and hockey coaches like high-flying offenses and others like to grind it out, but basically the players do what they want. I mean, does it really matter what a coach says to LeBron James? Of course not – James is going to do what he wants to do because he runs the show, not the coach.
Football is different.
There are all kinds of philosophies on both sides of the ball and the differences are easy to see – a football coach puts his brand on his team more than any other. And there’s much more to it than just Xs and Os. A football coach is like a CEO who has control over various departments. He has a much larger roster and coaching staff to oversee, and in a sport that plays only once a week, there are a million details to deal with on a daily basis, as opposed to just watching your team play one out of 162 or 85 games.
And, let’s face it, football fans are more demanding than the fans of other sports, and Eagles fans are among the most demanding of all. Plus the Eagles have the largest media contingent of any team in the NFL and the coach has to deal with them on a regular basis and, through them, the fans.
There have been coaches who were brilliant strategists and motivators who couldn’t handle all of that, and there have been countless coordinators who were very successful in their assistants’ jobs, but couldn’t make the cut as the head man. Marion Campbell, the former Eagles’ defensive coordinator/head coach who died recently, was one of them.
On the other side, there have also been assistants who came out of nowhere and proved to be terrific head coaches and, of course, one of them is Andy Reid. He, too, was a faceless assistant – Reid wasn’t even a coordinator when Eagles owner Jeff Lurie hired him in 1999 and Reid went on to win more regular season and playoff games than any coach in Eagles history.
And that’s what we don’t know, whether Doug Pederson will be Andy Reid or Marion Campbell. So far, he’s said and done all the right things. He’s not as loquacious as Kelly, but he’s not as smug, either, and so far Pederson has been cooperative and fairly quotable, even if – like all coaches – he really doesn’t tell you much.
At the same time, he hasn’t lost a game yet or heard the boo-birds calling for him to be fired or, better, drawn and quartered. He hasn’t been ripped for his play-calling or second-guessed for his late-game strategy. So, let’s see how Pederson handles things if the Eagles start off 1-5 and the questions from the media get prickly and the heat from the fans more intense. Even though Doug Pederson played here and coached here before, the fact of the matter is that we really know almost nothing about him. That will change soon.