Back in 1998 the Eagles went 3-13. Ray Rhodes was the coach. He set the tone for the organization and it wasn’t a good one. He was a players coach and trusted his guys. Ray had been a fringe player in the NFL and motivated himself. He didn’t always understand that more talented players might not have the same mentality. Bad habits set in and that team accepted being bad.
A young assistant from Green Bay named Andy Reid was hired to clean up the mess. Reid came in with zero credibility because of a limited track record. He had been the QB coach in Green Bay. He wasn’t a coach that players knew anything about. Reid ran a tight ship and made that clear early on. Training Camp was harder, more physical, and more intense. OL George Hegamin got on Reid’s bad side in the summer of 1999 so Reid had him drive a sled up and down the field after practice. Soon after, Reid cut him. In early November the Eagles lost to the Carolina Panthers 33-7. DT Bill Johnson was joking around in the locker room afterward. Reid didn’t like that so he cut him.
It was Andy’s way or the highway.
The Eagles went 11-5 in Reid’s second season, 2000. Think about that locker room. The offense had Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas. They were literally giants, but also had a big presence. When Brian Westbrook went down at the 1-yard line in Dallas in 2007, the world raved about what a heads-up move that was. Westy didn’t think of it. Runyan ordered him to do it in the huddle prior to the play.
The defense had a few clowns, but young MLB Jeremiah Trotter was a fiery leader on and off the field. Brian Dawkins was scary enough on the field that I’m sure players listened to what he said in the locker room. Troy Vincent was more soft-spoken, but was a natural leader who wasn’t afraid to get on his teammates.
When I watched A Football Life – Jimmy Johnson recently, Johnson blew me away when he admitted the key reason he left Dallas was that he got tired of being the bad guy. Jerry Jones could celebrate the wins. The players too. Not Jimmy. He had to find something new to complain about to keep the team motivated. The Cowboys feared him and that is what drove them.
That got me to reflect on Reid’s good teams. Reid wasn’t like Johnson, but he was a different coach in the early days than he is now. We now see LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson doing hip-bump celebrations with him on the sideline. Back then Hugh Douglas was the biggest clown on the team. He knew to ride on the bus that Reid didn’t when the team was on the way somewhere. Hugh wanted to have his fun. Reid didn’t want to be around that stuff.
Reid was different and so was his staff. Andy’s OC was a veteran coach named Rod Dowhower, who could be tough on players. The DC was Jim Johnson, who was also a tough, veteran coach. The STs were run by John Harbaugh. He was young, but was a fiery coach who wasn’t afraid to get in a player’s face. Brad Childress started as the QB coach. He could be demanding. Tommy Brasher was an old school DL coach. Young assistants Ron Rivera and Leslie Frazier had played for Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan. You have to believe they had thick skin and could be hard on players.
Players had to answer to each other, to the assistants, and to Reid. Now compare that to the 2012 Eagles.
Reid is a different guy these days. He has his moments, but time and circumstances have changed him. Do Juan Castillo, Marty Mornhinweg, Bobby April, or Todd Bowles seem like tough, confrontational coaches? I think Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn fit the bill, but they aren’t enough.
As for the players, you have Vick, Shady, DJax, Herremans, Celek, Trent, Jenkins, and Nnamdi as key leaders or prominent players. I think you could also describe them as…nice. That word would also describe Reid, Marty, Todd, Juan, and Bobby. The NovaCare Complex is full of nice guys. Too damn many nice guys. That’s not good in the NFL. The old sports adage is that nice guys finish last and that’s right where the 2012 Eagles sit in the NFC East.
The Eagles need some strong personalities. Or jerks. Or bad guys. You choose whatever word you like, but there is a need for some people who know how to push buttons and make players uncomfortable.
We all gave Tom Coughlin a hard time back in 2010 for screaming at his Punter after the DeSean TD return. Maybe we should have seen that as a good thing. Eli Manning has gotten on some of his teammates publicly, most notably Ahmad Bradshaw. The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009. We know Sean Payton and Gregg Williams could be pushy jerks when they wanted to. Brees can be a forceful leader. Think about the past. Payton’s mentors were Jon Gruden and Bill Parcells, both coaches who could be pushy jerks when they wanted to.
The head coach doesn’t have to be an over the top personality. Tony Dungy won a title, but having Peyton Manning at QB made that possible. Bill Walsh built a dynasty without a lot of yelling. He had Joe Montana and Jerry Rice running the offense. He had Ronnie Lott on defense. These were great players, but also very demanding people. They expected excellence and would not settle for less. Walsh’s assistants were guys like Bobb McKittrick, Mike Holmgren, Dennis Green, and George Siefert. Walsh had the right type of guys playing for him and working for him.
It takes the right blend of personalities for an organization to work. The Eagles had that blend a decade ago, but not anymore.
There will be a lot of firing and hiring going on in the month of January. I sure hope they bring in the right type of people. Just say no when it comes to nice guys. Find some demanding people who know how to keep players on edge when that’s needed. And please avoid free agents who can spell and use the word “equanimity” correctly. They don’t tend to be natural leaders. Or tacklers.