Andy Reid has been a very good coach for the Eagles. He's won a lot of games. He got the team to the Super Bowl and came close a number of other years. He's got a lot to be proud of and he's leaving the organization better than he found it. Reid established a way of doing things during his tenure that helped the team to win games despite players and coaches coming and going. Reid's systems worked, not just X's and O's, but the way the organization functioned on a daily basis.
Now the Eagles need to make changes. They need a new coach and a new way of doing things.
You hear the phrase "culture change" in regard to sports teams more and more. Usually this has to do with winning and losing. Reid had plenty of success during his tenure so there isn't a need to get rid of a losing atmosphere. The Eagles went to the playoffs from 2008-2010. They just missed the playoffs last year (although it was only an 8-8 team). The 2012 season has been a nightmare to be sure, but this is an anomaly, not the norm.
When general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith took over the Falcons they had never had consecutive winning seasons. The Lions were an awful organization before making the playoffs in 2011. The Niners had gone since 2002 without a winning record before Jim Harbaugh took over last year. They've been a force the last two seasons. These were teams that needed to learn how to win.
The problem in Philadelphia is different. Over time, the team lost its edge. I've seen this with other teams, especially in college. Florida State was a machine in the 1990s. They put out great teams and great players. There was a 14-year stretch when the Noles finished in the top five. Every year. That's incredible. 2000 was the last season that happened. Bobby Bowden never got the Noles to finish inside the top 10 again, let alone the top five. Did he forget how to coach? Did Florida run out of great high school players? There were players like Lawrence Timmons, Brodrick Bunkley, Everette Brown, Christian Ponder, Geno Hayes, Patrick Robinson, Leon Washington, Antonio Cromartie, and Kamerion Wimbley in the stretch where FSU struggled. That's plenty of talent.
So what went wrong?
I think too many players went there expecting to be winners. They didn't necessarily appreciate what needed to be done to win. There was a sense of entitlement that because the player was at FSU he would win. Doesn't work that way. One of the things that made FSU great was the competition within the program. Andre Wadsworth was the number three overall pick in the 1998 draft as a defensive end. He began his college career as a walk-on and backup defensive tackle. I remember watching him as a backup in 1996 and wondering how any college team was supposed to handle that defense. Corey Simon and Jerry Johnson were terrific defensive tackles. Greg Spires and Reinard Wilson were star pass rushers. Roland Seymour and Larry Smith were good college players. Wadsworth was actually listed at "nose guard" on the roster. And that guy went on to be the number three overall pick. Amazing.
This was an exceptionally talented group, but they were also very driven and ultra-competitive. They knew the only way to get on the field was to practice like their lives depended on it. If you did get on the field, you better produce. If not, you'd lose your job. Players put pressure on themselves. They also dealt with it from teammates. And then there was also pressure from the coaches. You were expected to play up to a certain level. You had to find a way to get the job done.
I see similarities with the Eagles. Nnamdi Asomugha came here expecting to win. Well, guess what. You don't win because you put on an Eagles jersey or sit in a meeting room with Andy Reid. You win because you get the job done on the field. He hasn't been nearly good enough on the field. Asomugha is part of the problem. Do you see any sense of urgency or desperation when he plays? Sheldon Brown lost 21 games in his first four years with the Eagles. Asomugha has lost 20 in less than two full seasons. There is no question about which guy is more talented (Asomugha) or which guy was willing to do whatever it took to win (Brown).
Early in Reid's tenure there was a mental and emotional toughness to the team that just isn't there anymore. Maybe it was the losing of 1997, 1998, and 1999. Whatever the reason, those early teams were desperate to win. In 2000 Duce Staley got hurt. Darnell Autry replaced him. The Eagles were 3-2 with Staley, 8-3 with Autry. Staley is easily the more talented player. When he went down, the other players did what it took to replace him. You didn't get special treatment because of your draft status. Playing time was earned. First round pick Freddie Mitchell was given a chance to be the slot receiver in 2002. He got off to a slow start in camp so Andy Reid brought in Antonio Freeman. Mitchell did earn the job in 2003 and played well. Jeremiah Trotter didn't automatically get his job back in 2004 when he returned to the Eagles as a free agent. Reid let Mark Simoneau stay in the middle until it was clear that Trotter deserved to get the job back. Trotter helped the team to get to the Super Bowl that season.
Maybe the most simple way to summarize the situation is that the team trumped the individual. Andy Reid was able to get all 53 players on the same page. He was able to get them to do the little things it took to win. Those early teams were motivated, focused, and hungry for success. Those teams played with an edge. Over time, that stuff just seems to have slipped away. Vince Young uttered the infamous "dream team" line in the summer of 2011, having been an Eagle for a matter of hours. This summer Michael Vick talked about a dynasty. He at least had been part of Eagles teams that won.
You want players to want to be here. You want players to be confident in themselves and their teammates. You just don't want players falling into the trap of thinking that they will win for any reason other than earning it on the field. Being on a talented roster guarantees nothing. Being part of a successful franchise guarantees nothing. You wonder how many guys believed "We're Eagles now. We get to win."
There are too many players that you would label as "soft". Watching Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha try to tackle can be painful. Watching Jeremy Maclin try to block is also highly frustrating. DeSean Jackson was a very selfish player in 2011, but has changed his ways this year. Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen are erratic tacklers. Neither is an impact hitter. Watch special teams plays and you will see too many Eagles who can't make a big block or get off a block. Where the heck is Jason Short when you need him?
Bill Walsh felt that a head coach should only stay at one place for about 10 years. That would have had Reid leaving after 2008, the last time the Eagles got to the NFC title game. Since then the Eagles have not won a playoff game. Maybe Reid should have left back then. It is also fair to point out that Jim Johnson died after that season and his loss has greatly affected the team. That was the last Eagles defense that played up to its potential.
Reid knew what to say and do early in his career. The team responded to him. His words and actions had real meaning. The current players still like Reid very much and swear by him. Unfortunately something is lost in translation. Their level of play on Sundays would tell you they are okay with losing and don't care much for Reid. That's not the case, but the current team doesn't seem to understand that words ring hollow. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I think that road also leads you to a top five pick.
Change is needed. The question isn't whether Reid can coach (he can), but whether he's the right coach anymore. Clearly he isn't. A new coach needs to come in and get everyone out of their comfort zone. This isn't about screaming and yelling. Reid has yelled at the team plenty the last two years. The words just no longer work. The relationship has grown stale.
The new coach needs to make it abundantly clear what is and isn't acceptable. He needs to rule the roost in an aggressive, hands-on kind of way. Reid did this in his early days and it helped develop a culture of accountability and winning. I hope the Eagles choose a coach with a different personality than Reid so that the players can really see the change. I hope they avoid anyone from the current staff or past staffs for the top spot. There needs to be a new way of doing things, not just a new voice running Reid's systems.
I think the right head coach could get the Eagles back on track pretty quickly, depending on how the quarterback situation plays out. Whether the quarterback is Nick Foles, a rookie, a new veteran, or even possibly Michael Vick, the team is only going to have a chance of winning if the quarterback plays well. All the culture change in the world does you no good if the offense turns the ball over and struggles to score.
One of the reasons I think there can be a quick turnaround is that the Eagles have high character players on the roster. Many of these guys were team leaders in college. You don't see the players getting into trouble off the field. Many are actively involved with charities. These are the kind of players who are generally coachable. Clearly something is amiss now, but a staff change should get their attention and snap them out of the funk they're in. Getting rid of the sense of complacency and entitlement should do a world of good. "Should", of course, is the key word there. No guarantees.
I also like the talent that is in place. Changes need to be made, but I don't think a roster overhaul is in order. One of the benefits to the miserable 2012 season is that young players are getting experience. This isn't an aging roster that must be gutted. The new staff must decide which players fit their schemes and make the necessary personnel changes.
Jeffrey Lurie made a great hire when he picked Andy Reid back in 1999. Let's hope he can once again hire a coach that can get the Eagles back to winning and being Super Bowl contenders. Losing sucks.