The Chiefs beat Houston on Saturday to advance in the playoffs. Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson has some fun plans for his Sunday.
Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Don Smolenski are in KC… will interview Doug Pederson at 8am Sunday.
— Derrick Gunn (@TheRealDGunnCSN) January 10, 2016
The reaction to this has not been good.
I’m not sure why people are so against the idea. Pederson isn’t at the top of my list, but I think you can make an interesting case for the guy. I know he wasn’t a very good player, but that should have nothing to do with him as a coaching candidate.
Let’s start with his playing days.
- New York/New Jersey Knights (WLAF) (1992)
- Miami Dolphins (1993–1995)
- Rhein Fire (WLAF) (1995)
- Green Bay Packers (1996–1998)
- Philadelphia Eagles (1999)
- Cleveland Browns (2000)
- Green Bay Packers (2001–2004)
You can see that Pederson had to scratch and claw his way into the league. He then had to keep fighting to try and keep a roster spot. That’s not good for a player, but it is great for a future coach. It shows mental and emotional toughness. It shows desire and dedication. It shows a willingness to do whatever it takes to make it.
Pederson had the good fortune to play for some great coaches. He got his start under Don Shula, one of the great coaches in NFL history. He then went to Green Bay, where he learned the West Coast Offense from Mike Holmgren. His QB coach was Andy Reid and when Reid left for the Eagles in 1999, he took Pederson with him. Pederson played for Chris Palmer in Cleveland and Mike Sherman upon his return to Green Bay.
He was exposed to a variety of systems and philosophies. The Dolphins threw the ball down the field. Shula also had very disciplined teams. They were always among the lowest penalized teams. Holmgren ran the purest version of the WCO this side of Bill Walsh, who he learned it from first-hand. Reid put his spin on things when he created his own version of the playbook. Palmer was a solid offensive mind (just a lousy head coach). Sherman ran a version of the WCO, but really incorporated the run game. Ahman Green ran for more than 1,800 yards in 2003. The Packers actually had more runs than pass plays that year.
Pederson saw some great defensive minds at work. Fritz Shurmur ran the Packers defense and did a lot of creative things. They were the #1 defense in 1996. Jim Johnson also ran a creative defense. Pederson got to see that up close for a year. Romeo Crennel was the DC in Cleveland. Ed Donatell ran the show in Green Bay.
Once done with playing, Pederson coached high school football from 2005-2008. He went 41-10. Pederson used that as a learning experience, but also wanted to test himself. He wanted to find out if he had the taste for coaching.
Late in his playing career, Pederson began to consider a future in coaching. He was Brett Favre’s backup, but became a key source of advice for Favre. Whenever Favre came off the field, the first place he headed was to Pederson to discuss what had just worked or failed. That carried over to meeting rooms as well.
Reid took notice of Favre going to Pederson during games. Interestingly, this happened when Reid was coaching the Eagles in a game against the Packers. He made a mental note to himself that Pederson had a future in coaching.
Pederson stayed in regular touch with Andy Reid over the years. He let Reid know he was interested in getting onto an NFL staff after he had started coaching at the high school level and knew that’s something he wanted to do.
Reid called Pederson in the 2009 offseason and told him there was an opening to be the offensive quality control coach. This is the most basic position on the staff. There is no glamour. There is a lot of grunt work. Pederson jumped at the opportunity. He joined the Eagles staff in 2009. The grunt work didn’t scare him off at all and he returned to the same position in 2010.
When James Urban left the Eagles after the 2010 season, Reid promoted Pederson to be the QB coach. Pederson worked with Michael Vick, Mike Kafka and Vince Young in 2011. He worked with Vick and Nick Foles in 2012. You would probably say his most impressive work was with Foles, who went from mid-round pick in April to starting QB at midseason. Foles wasn’t great by any measure, but handled himself well for a rookie and showed promise. Compare that to how Foles played for the Rams in 2015 and you have to appreciate Pederson’s work.
Reid was fired by the Eagles after 2012 and went to KC. He brought Pederson along, but promoted him to offensive coordinator. Pederson has held the OC position since then.
Reid went back to calling the plays, something he had given up late in his tenure in Philly. Pederson still is a key part of the offense. He helps to design and implement gameplans each week. Pederson calls plays in two-minute situations. On other drives, Reid gives the play to Pederson, who then calls it in to the QB. Occasionally, Reid will let Pederson call the plays himself.
Pederson is responsible for coaching the QBs. Reid traded for Alex Smith shortly after getting to KC and he’s started 46 of 48 games for the Chiefs. Smith is a veteran QB so Pederson hasn’t had to develop him. He did have to teach him the WCO. Reid and Pederson have adjusted with the changing nature of football. They mixed in some read-option. They do more QB running than in the past. They used receivers as part of the run game. Reid and Pederson looked at some of the things that have come into the league from college and they embraced what they liked and/or worked for their personnel.
Smith played well for Pederson. His QB rating went up each season. This year it was 95.4, a career high for a full season. Smith averaged 20 TD passes and more than 3,300 yards per season, easily the best 3-year stretch of his career. Those numbers aren’t gaudy, but remember that the Chiefs had poor WR play until this season. They were able to build up the WR group and open up the passing game this year.
KC got off to a 1-5 start this season. Star RB Jamaal Charles was out with a torn ACL. Reid and Pederson had to do something to help the offense. Rather than make it about them, they embraced Smith’s ability to audible. They gave him complete freedom at the line of scrimmage to change plays, routes and/or protections. This worked time and again, as Smith found a better option at a key moment that led to a TD or big play.
Coaches, who are almost universally control freaks, put their egos aside and tried something that they weren’t completely comfortable with. They were willing to take a chance. They trusted their player.
People generally look for coaching candidates from one of two categories. First, they look for proven coaches. Tom Coughlin win a pair of Super Bowls so let’s go talk to him. That’s logical. Generally, though, you are better off finding someone who failed in his previous stop. The guy learns from his mistakes, but hasn’t peaked. Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll are the best examples of this.
The other group that gets targeted are hot assistant coaches. You look at the best teams and/or the best units and find a coordinator or key assistant. The 1998 Vikings set (at the time) the NFL record for points scored. That made Brian Billick a hot candidate. Steve Spagnuolo’s defense was a key factor in the Giants winning the Super Bowl in 2007. That led to the Rams hiring him to be their head coach.
Sometimes you get so caught up in resumes and accomplishments that you lose sight of what you’re really doing. You are looking for someone to be a head coach. Does the candidate have the qualities to be an NFL head coach?
The biggest argument for Pederson is that he comes from the Reid/Holmgren tree. I’m not focusing on the fact that Jeff Lurie is tight with Reid and that creates a comfort zone. That’s of lesser significance.
The key is that Holmgren learned from Bill Walsh, who developed systems for everything. Coaches were given a plan and blueprint for how to succeed. Holmgren then passed that on to his players (Pederson) and coaches (Reid). The Holmgren and Reid coaching trees are full of successful stories.
Pederson also got to see the systems in different situations. He was with Holmgren when Green Bay was a veteran team and won a Super Bowl. That was obviously very different than when Pederson saw Reid take over the Eagles and build the team from the ground up. He also was with Reid when things got ugly at the end of his Eagles tenure. Then Pederson went to KC and helped Reid build the Chiefs into an instant contender. There was no rookie QB as there had been with the Eagles. While KC had been awful prior to Reid’s arrival (2-14), there was a talented core already in place. They needed a QB and some good coaching. Reid saw that and approached the situation differently than when he built the Eagles.
This isn’t as simple as Pederson building his own version of Reid’s famous big blue binder and then just opening it to the correct page on the correct day. That’s a drastic over-simplification of things.
The systems give you an idea of how to do things. It is up to the individual to make them come to life. The individual also has to put their spin on things. John Harbaugh’s Ravens look different than Ron Rivera’s Panthers. Pat Shurmur’s Browns were different from Brad Childress’ Vikings.
Bill Belichick is a one of a kind coach. He has a unique background and is so creative and versatile that there is no system to teach. Guys like Josh McDaniels, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini struggled mightily while on their own. They saw the genius at work, but couldn’t duplicate his ideas. Nobody really can.
Bill Walsh learned from Paul Brown, who is arguably the greatest coach of all time and a man who loved organization and systems. Walsh took a systematic approach to how he did things and passed that on. Belichick can’t teach his assistants how to think like him. Walsh was able to teach Holmgren a way to do things. Holmgren taught Reid. Reid taught Pederson.
The coach has to hire the right staff. He needs to help put together a good roster. And being part of the right organization is a hugely underrated part of success.
Spagnuolo failed in St. Louis. Think about what he was dealing with. He became coach in 2009. The last time they had a winning season was 2003. Shurmur failed in Cleveland. He took over a team that had losing records for the previous 3 seasons and 6 of the last 7. You need a lot to overcome that level of institutional failure.
The Eagles were 10-6 in 2013 and 2014. They fell to 7-9 this year, which feels awful for a team with playoff expectations, but would be considered acceptable to the Rams and Browns that Shurmur and Spags inherited.
Pederson would not be coming to the Eagles as some kind of savior. He wouldn’t need to completely rebuild the team. There is some good talent in place. The team wasn’t that far away from going 9-7 this year. There is plenty of work to be done, but this is nothing like the Titans, where a coach would be building from the ground up. Or think about Gus Bradley and the Jaguars. He inherited an awful team and after 3 years is still in rebuilding mode. This Eagles team is nothing like that.
There would be a couple of critical tasks for Pederson. First would be trying to keep QB Sam Bradford. Pederson has worked with pocket passers and athletic QBs. He’s worked with rookies and veterans. I would be shocked if he didn’t want Bradford, who played very well down the stretch.
Hiring a strong coaching staff might be just as important. Reid’s initial staff with the Eagles was amazingly good. One of the things that made it so impressive is that he didn’t just hire a bunch of friends and coaches he knew. Reid loaded up on coaches from all over. He built a group with a variety of backgrounds. Young, old, college, pro…you name it. Reid was an offensive guru so he made sure to hire a very strong defensive coordinator. Reid brought a former NFL head coach in to help with the offense and to help with any situations that might arise. Rod Dowhower was comfortable in both roles. Reid also wisely kept coaches like Harbaugh, Ted Williams and Juan Castillo from the Ray Rhodes staff.
Pederson could keep someone like Pat Shurmur around to be his version of Dowhower (and to help make Bradford feel comfortable). Pederson would need to find a strong defensive coordinator. I’m sure he’s got a few names in mind. He would need someone he really trusted to run that side of the team. If Pederson kept Dave Fipp around, the team would already have one of the best special teams units in the league.
Beyond the Eagles not being a major rebuilding project, Pederson is a good fit for the Eagles.
The organization had a certain feel under Andy Reid. He was loyal to the players and they loved him. It wasn’t completely sunshine and rainbows, but it certainly wasn’t a cold, corporate culture. Some of that got lost during the Chip Kelly years. Lurie wants that feel back.
There was a more extreme example in KC when Scott Pioli became GM of that team and tried to bring the Patriots magic to a place that more of a laid back, family organization. Things went very, very wrong.
The NovaCare Complex didn’t become anything quite like that, but the organization got away from where it was during the Reid era. And Lurie saw it only heading further away.
Pederson saw things done right as a player (MIA, GB, PHI) and coach (PHI, KC). Pederson hasn’t just seen how Reid treated players, he’s experienced it. Reid coached QBs in Green Bay and developed a relationship with him there. Then Reid brought him to Philly and gave Pederson his first chance to be a starting QB. Reid and Pederson stayed in touch when their paths parted and that led to Reid giving Pederson his first NFL coaching job a decade later. There was loyalty and friendship between the two. That wasn’t just a friendship of convenience.
I think Pederson would do a lot to build up player relations and improve the atmosphere at NovaCare.
There is also the question of how a coach would fit in with the Eagles current power structure. Pederson knows Howie Roseman and has worked with him before. That doesn’t mean they would be best friends, but having an existing relationship should help them to work together. Pederson knows Lurie well. Lurie is reportedly high on Pederson, especially for his football knowledge, personality and background.
Pederson wouldn’t be coming to an organization where he had to assert his authority and let people know how he wants things done (in a dictatorial way). He would actually be loosening things up from the past few years. Pederson still knows some in the building so that familiarity would help with the transition.
Coming from KC, Pederson saw Reid and John Dorsey have a healthy coach-GM relationship. Pederson wouldn’t be coming to the Eagles to fight for power and worry about who had control of what. He would be a young coach focused on winning.
Doug Pederson is not a sexy candidate. There is no great player, unit or team in his background. That doesn’t mean anything, though.
Billick was an offensive guru when he went to Baltimore. The Ravens never finished higher than 14th in yards and only finished higher than 12th in points once. He did win a Super Bowl, but that was all about Marvin Lewis and the dominant defense.
Spagnuolo was a defensive guru when he went to St. Louis. The Rams never finished higher than 19th in yards allowed. Unfortunately for him, there was no dynamic offense to bail him out so he was fired after 3 years.
Jimmy Johnson changed the game of football when he went to Dallas. He won 2 Super Bowls with the Cowboys. Later on he went to Miami. He won 2 wild card games with the Dolphins.
This isn’t a resume contest. Pederson wouldn’t stand a chance if that was the case. This is about Jeff Lurie trying to find the right coach for the Eagles. It is possible that Lurie and Roseman will think Pederson is the right guy.
There would be no “wow factor” with this hire. But the Eagles made the wow hire 3 years ago and now they are in the process of looking for a new coach so sometimes the wow factor is completely meaningless.
The best hire Lurie ever made, Andy Reid, was the least celebrated of his coaching hires. Ray Rhodes had just won the Super Bowl with the Niners when he came to Philly. The Eagles were going to become SF East. Didn’t happen. Chip Kelly was supposed to revolutionize the NFL. He certainly had an impact, but the Eagles never came close to being an elite team under him.
Reid was the guy who never called plays or was even a coordinator. He was the consolation prize when Holmgren took the Seattle job. Nobody had Reid as their first choice. He came in with little fanfare, but left as the best coach in franchise history.
If Pederson does get the job, remember that while he could be the next Pat Shurmur, he could also be the next Andy Reid. Lurie has made good hires so far during his time as owner. If there is something about Pederson he likes enough to roll the dice, history says he just might be right.
If you want to do some further reading on Pederson: