Boy, I never thought I'd be dealing with this question in mid-October after the exciting additions the Eagles made back in the summer. A 1-4 start and some bad football will cause people to ask some tough questions. It also leads to the blame game, with everyone wanting a single person to point the finger at.
Reuben Frank is one of the best Eagles beat writers around. I have a ton of respect for him. Frank isn't a sensationalist. He has followed the team a long time and knows how to keep things in perspective. He brought up the subject of Reid losing the team in a recent column. Frank said it is too early to tell, but then followed up with this:
"But let's be honest. What we're all seeing right now reeks of Rich Kotite at the end, Ray Rhodes at the end. That bad.
And just like those years - 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998 - it's embarrassing."
Okay, there's a lot to deal with here. First up, I don't think Reid has lost the team. Reporters have been all over the players recently, prying for any kind of inflammatory nugget. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson each made it as clear as possible to reporters that the coaches aren't responsible for the turnovers. Both guys essentially said, "They coach. We go out on the field and play. They can't play for us". Rather than pound you with two similar quotes I paraphrased them into one.
If the players are sticking up for the coaches I would say that's the very definition of a coach not losing the team. And this ties in to Frank's comments about teams of the past.
Rich Kotite succeeded Buddy Ryan back in 1991. Kotite was never accepted by the players. They wanted Jeff Fisher. Kotite was seen as an outsider that was forced on Ryan when the team needed an offensive coordinator. Fisher was a Ryan protege and a coach the players liked and respected. Those feelings are exactly why Fisher didn't get the job. Owner Norman Braman didn't want one of Buddy's boys, so to speak. He wanted a coach that would answer to him and fall into line.
Kotite got through 1991 okay, but things got rocky in 1992. Seth Joyner is one of my all time favorite Eagles, but he was angry when he was happy. When things went bad, he went to a whole other level. After the overtime loss to Green Bay (and some young punk quarterback named Favre) Joyner went to the press to complain about Kotite. Prior to the next game Joyner once again went after Kotite in the media. If you believed Joyner, there was a near mutiny going on. Kotite weathered the storm and lasted another two years. Being a "yes man" has its privileges. There was open friction between Kotite and the players for a long time. They never liked him.
Ray Rhodes was his successor, and a much different coach. Rhodes was very popular with the players. They loved him. He had a couple of problems. First, Rhodes was too casual. He spent a lot of time with the Niners. He was used to stability, good team leaders, and a functional locker room atmosphere. Back then, the Eagles couldn't have been more different than the Niners. There was no stability. Leaders? Jerome Brown was dead and Reggie White was in Green Bay. Andre Waters and Wes Hopkins were gone. The Eagles were the epitome of dysfunctional back then. You could use a scene from Apocalypse Now to sum up those days.
"Are my methods unsound?"
"I don't see any method...at all."
Rhodes used emotion to motivate a less than great roster in 1995. His most famous speech involved challenging players before a Dallas game to play as if someone had broken into their homes and was holding a gun on their families. The speech is part of Eagles lore. Oddly, it really didn't work. He gave that talk on Saturday night before the game. The Eagles trailed at halftime 17-6. They rallied and won 20-17, but I don't think the speech had all that much to do with the win.
Rhodes had a better roster in 1996, but still liked to push buttons and try to motivate his players in any way he could. The 1997 team hit some hard times, but still got the fiery speeches. 1998 began with a 38-0 loss to Seattle. Speeches followed, but had no effect. You can't go with pep talks game after game, year after year. Players tune them out.
Rhodes did lose the team in 1998. The writing was on the wall. Three of the first five games were losses by 14 or more points. Coming out of the bye week the team lost three of four games by 20 or more points. The young guys played hard once Koy Detmer took over the team late in the season. He brought some emotion (and hope) to the field, but it was too little, too late.
Do Kotite and Rhodes sound anything like Reid? I don't see it. Reid doesn't use emotion all that often. His teams are built on organization and structure. He will challenge players at times, but tries to be very selective about playing mind games. Reid doesn't want to go to the well too often.
Reid is a very popular coach, but he remains a disciplinarian. Dave Spadaro has talked about how strange things got in 1998. Players would be talking on cell phones during practice. Can you imagine anyone doing that with Reid in charge?
Go back to my comments about Joyner and Kotite. No player has come out against Reid. They are protecting him. They do this because they know Reid protects them. He could have blasted Maclin to the media after the Falcons and Giants losses, but didn't.
To those of us on the outside, Reid is a boring, unemotional guy that says the same few phrases over and over. "Times yours." "I've gotta do a better job." "He's a heckuva player." "That's on me." "He did a nice job." "We're fine there." Obviously players feel differently. We've seen a lot of guys return to the Eagles over the years. Jeremiah Trotter and Hugh Douglas didn't leave on the best of terms, but both were happy to come back. Kevin Kolb still loves Reid. Vince Young came here because he wanted to play for Reid. Brian Westbrook admitted that he stayed in regular contact with Reid after leaving. All of this should tell you that Reid is a different guy behind closed doors than out in front of the microphones. Players like him, and not the rah-rah way they liked Rhodes. There seems to be a genuine relationship between Reid and his players.
Neither Kotite nor Rhodes had one key player to point to as his "guy". Reid had Donovan McNabb. Now he's got Mike Vick. That counts for a lot. Vick owes his career resurgence to Reid. Vick is going to fiercely protect the man who helped get him a nine-figure contract. Vick is respected in the locker room so what he says matters.
One of the questions that coaches deal with is players who quit listening to them. We've seen this plenty of times over the years. A team peaks early and then gets old and the players become really tough to coach. Think back to the old Cowboys. They won three Super Bowls in four years, but quickly fell apart. The 1997 team with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Larry Allen, Deion Sanders, and Darren Woodson went 6-10. They dealt with some injuries, but all of those guys played at least 12 games. That team tuned Barry Switzer out and did their own thing.
Reid is a firm believer in keeping a team young. I'm sure one of the reasons he wants to do this is so that the players won't all get old at the same time and tire of his message. The Eagles have added a lot of young players in the last couple of years. There are plenty of new veterans in the mix as well. I don't really see how this group could be tired of Reid's message. Now, if they were forced to listen to his press conferences that might do it (would also likely break the Geneva Convention). Again, and I can't stress this enough, Reid is a very different person when he deals with the team than when he deals with the media. He can be fiery, charming, or just matter of fact.
The Eagles do have a lot of problems this year. I don't think Reid losing his players is one of them. If the season somehow continues along at a nightmare pace, we might have to re-visit the topic. For now, Reid and the players are still "working together to get this thing turned around". After all, "everybody's got a hand in this". Forgot to mention those Reid-isms earlier. See how exciting he can be?