Andy Reid will be fired in early January. Or let go. Or whatever phrase Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie prefers to call his dismissal of his long time friend and highly successful coach. There will be no bad feelings. Reid did an amazing job in Philly and leaves here having failed in only one way...by not bringing home the elusive Lombardi Trophy.
Reid's overall resume looks terrific. He has regular season success. He has postseason success. His players won lots of individual accolades. The Eagles won the right way. The media loved the team. Fan support was strong. What's not to like? The argument against Reid is that his biggest success came in the 2000-2004 period. Things have slowed since then and he hasn't won a playoff game since Jim Johnson died in the summer of 2009.
The last two years have bad. The Eagles were 4-8 in 2011, before getting hot to finish a respectable 8-8. This year the team started 3-1 before falling apart and sinking to 4-10. These teams look nothing like Reid's Eagles units that won division titles and hosted NFC title games a decade ago. Some will argue that Reid has been exposed. He no longer has Johnson to run the defense or Brian Dawkins to be the star defender and team leader. Ray Rhodes holdovers like Tra Thomas, Troy Vincent, Duce Staley, Jeremiah Trotter, and Dawkins are long since gone. Heck, some want to know if Reid was ever really that good of a coach?
Yes. And he still is a good coach.
As bad as things have been since Johnson died, Reid still has a winning record, a division title, and two playoff appearances. In 10 years with the Bengals, Marvin Lewis has two division titles and three playoff appearances. Mike Shanahan hasn't won a division title since 2005. That was also the last year he was in the playoffs. Since 2004 Jeff Fisher has one division title and two playoff games. I don't think you would find many people who would say that Lewis, Shanahan, and Fisher are bad coaches.
There is no debate that Reid's star has slipped. He used to be compared to Bill Belichick, the king of current NFL coaches. That comparison is no longer valid since Belichick's teams continue to play at an elite level and Reid's don't. The Eagles recent struggles are not to be ignored. Reid has made personnel errors, poor staff hires, and some questionable decisions. The 2012 Eagles are a bad team. The struggles go beyond injuries, bad luck, and turnovers.
While Reid doesn't get a free pass for the disastrous 2012 season, it is an anomaly. Reid has never had another season quite like this. Teams that look at him as a coaching candidate have to decide if they think Reid can bounce back from this or if he's simply lost his ability to be a good coach.
Bill Walsh believed a coach should stay in one place for about a decade. He thought that was as long as a coach could keep things from getting stale, for lack of a better word. There are only so many ways to motivate players. There are only so many pre-game speeches. There are only so many ways to criticize a team after a bad loss. At some point, the message no longer works. People fall into ruts, no matter how hard they try to avoid them.
There are some exceptions to this (Tom Landry, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, and apparently Belichick), but those are some of the greatest coaches of all time. Most coaches need to move on. Vince Lombardi left Green Bay after nine seasons, the last two of which resulted in Super Bowl wins. He could sense that it was time to move on.
Reid's message no longer works with Eagles players, but that doesn't mean it won't work on new ears. The man didn't suddenly forget how to coach. He can still design plays with the best offensive minds in the game. Reid knows how to teach players how to the basics of football. He still knows how to run an organization. Coaching these days is about more than X's and O's. Reid understands that football is a business. He believes in having a young roster and not overpaying for veteran free agents.
Maybe the biggest selling point for Reid is his offensive acumen. Anyone who sat through Monday night's Jets-Titans game knows how painful it is to watch teams that can't move the ball or score points. If you don't have a quarterback, you can't win in the NFL. You will struggle to compete. The Eagles are 29th in scoring this year so it may sound funny to think Reid is a guru that can solve another team's problems. In the last four games the Eagles have gotten the offensive line to play better and rookie Nick Foles to settle in. The Eagles have averaged 22.75 points per game in that stretch. That figure would place them 18th in the NFL. And that is with Jason Peters, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Michael Vick all out of action.
In the previous four seasons, the Eagles averaged finishing 5th in the NFL in scoring. In the last 12 years the Eagles have finished in the top 10 in scoring eight different times. That's an extended pattern of success, not just a coach getting lucky with a couple of good skill players. There is no guarantee that the team which hires Reid will get an explosive offense, but the odds say that he will do pretty well. Reid has produced good numbers with various quarterbacks. He got Donovan McNabb, A.J. Feeley, Kevin Kolb, and Michael Vick to all play well for him. Reid developed Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, and McCoy into star running backs. Pass catchers like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Chad Lewis, and Brent Celek all thrived in the Reid offense.
Having a good offense is critical for a couple of reasons. The last three Super Bowl winners all had top 10 scoring offenses. The rules of the game now favor offenses. You must be able to score points. It also helps to sell tickets and generate highlights. Exciting teams and players sell jerseys. That stuff doesn't affect winning, but it does affect the bottom line and that is important to all 32 owners.
I think Reid can also point to player loyalty when talking to new teams. Just this week Brian Dawkins went on ESPN Radio and said Reid should keep his job. Dawkins talked about how much he still believes in Reid as a coach. Players like Hugh Douglas and Jeremiah Trotter left Philly in free agency, not real happy with less than great offers from the Eagles. Both players returned to the Eagles later on for minimum contracts because they wanted to play for Reid again. Reid doesn't just coach his players. He connects with them on a personal level and builds strong relationships. That's good for the locker room and can be good for the organization long term.
Reid is currently the longest tenured coach in the NFL. He took over that title when the Titans fired Jeff Fisher a couple of years back. Fisher was 8-8 and 6-10 in his final seasons with the Titans. He took a year off and now looks very rejuvenated. The Rams are 6-8 and look like a much better team. Fisher can still coach. Changing teams did him a world of good. John Fox was just 2-14 in his final season with Carolina, but won the AFC West title last year with Denver and is on pace to do the same thing this season. The change of scenery did wonders for him. Adding Peyton Manning this year was pretty helpful as well.
Reid can have the same type of bounce-back. The real key for him is hiring a good staff. Reid put together a brilliant group of coaches when he took the Eagles job. Brad Childress, John Harbaugh, Leslie Frazier, Pat Shurmur, Ron Rivera, and Steve Spagnuolo all went on to get head coaching jobs. Jim Johnson became a legend while working for Reid. Juan Castillo was a good offensive line coach and had some success as defensive coordinator.
Unfortunately Reid wasn't able to replace his guys when they left for greener pastures. Poor replacement hires were one of the key reasons that Reid's teams began to struggle more. Building a staff from scratch might help Reid. He'll be thinking long term and big picture. The staff will come in at the same time and start from scratch together. That should help them form a good bond and work well together.
It is possible that building a new staff could expose Reid as being out of touch with the up and coming coaches in football. Remember that Reid's great original staff featured only one coach who was a truly known commodity - offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower. Even Johnson, who became a guru, wasn't widely known. He was the linebackers coach for Seattle in 1998 and only had been a defensive coordinator in the NFL for a few years. Most of his pro experience was as a positional assistant. Guys like Spagnuolo, Rivera, Frazier, Castillo, Harbaugh and even Childress were young coaches on the rise.
Andy Reid did great things for the Eagles, but that time is coming to a close. I think he'll be with a new team in 2013. He needs to learn from his mistakes and study what Fisher and Fox did in their new jobs. If Reid does that and makes the right hires, he can be a great addition to a franchise and get his new team back on the winning track.