Of all the things one could blame Andy Reid for as his 14-year tenure as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles winds it’s way slowly downward to a blip, to a puff, to a wisp of smoke, nothing is more glaring at this moment and therefore more deserving of blame, than Reid’s failed attempt at a succession plan.
After years of sustained success with a team built on draft picks like Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Sheldon Brown, as well as with former regime holdovers turned Reid-guys Jeremiah Trotter, Brian Dawkins and Hugh Douglas, sometime around the 2006 offseason Reid made the intelligent and forward thinking decision that time on the team as it was currently constructed was running short and changes needed to be made.
Ever the shrewd operators and always with an eye to the future, Reid and former right hand man Joe Banner were merciless, and to be honest, oftentimes spot-on, when it came to cutting players loose after they had passed their prime (Or “age 30” as it used to be known). Time and again we watched Andy let go of loyal, dedicated, homegrown Eagles who no longer served their purposes well or to the fullest extent.
And this is as it should be.
The NFL is a cutthroat business and if you’re lucky enough to be a part of it for even a short time then you’re better off than most folks. There is no blame for operating a team and a business as coldly and candidly as necessary as long as the ultimate prize of a World Championship remains the sole focus (Andy, if you’re still reading, this is called foreshadowing).
So we fans sat, some solemnly holding hands, others gently wiping away quiet tears, still others crying shamefully and unabashedly, as first Hugh, then Trot, then Lito, then Ike Reese, then Trot, then Sheldon, then Trot again, and so on and so forth were all shown the way out. Of course, hindsight being what it is today we’ve been able to see that not all those decisions were smart ones (Brian Dawkins, ahem, ahem).
But of course along with cutting the dead weight comes the necessary step of acquiring new, better talent who, without the constraints of being a new coach and with the glorious goodwill built of 7 seasons of success, Reid could ostensibly obtain with a fair amount of scheme-focus and of course, a bit of fan and owner leniency.
Now, many folks like to paint Andy Reid and Co. as something of a failure when it comes to drafting, especially in the first round. And after the last couple drafts, it would be hard to argue with that sentiment (2012 draft excluded), especially in the sense of overall percentages. But the truth is that, especially early on in his tenure Andy had and has a pretty good drafting record, and with a few exceptions (Jerome McDougle, ahem, ahem), developed a knack for finding good, solid contributors, if not world-beating super stars (If there is a knock against him, it’s just that. Corey Simon, Brodrick Bunkley, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Patterson, Shawn Andrews, Lito Sheppard to name a few. All had success, and may not have been or will not be perennial Pro-Bowlers, but neither are any of them busts. Keep expectations realistic. The average lifespan of an NFL career is a little over 3 years for a reason).
But on a beautiful spring day in late April of aut-7, Andy and the rest of the front office made a few questionable decisions in the name of their succession plan that would eventually be the impetus for many more questionable decisions that would pave the way for the team to be constructed as it now stands.
The plan of course, knowing Andy and his fondness for throwing the football (As well as the small fact that NFL teams are built around their passing game), focused around the selection of a “Quarterback of the Future” (Side note: for some reason, the way I always hear this ignominious phrase in my head is in boxing announcer Michael Buffer’s voice accompanied by a massive echo and a blare of trumpets).
So, on that fateful day in 2007 Andy and the crew, seeing how the first round of the draft was breaking, waited with haunches tense and lips quivering as their selection eased cautiously up to the board, and when they’d waited just long enough for the unwitting prey to have moved into close enough range, they pounced! And traded back into the early second round where they drafted Conference USA superstar and future University of Houston Wall of Fame quarterback Kevin Kolb.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Kolb rode the pine for a couple of years, being touted constantly as the franchises eventual savior, while Donovan McNabb acted salty, tried to pretend he wasn’t acting salty, and spent press conference after press conference answering questions about his future. Until the magical season of 2010 finally arrived, and with D-Mac now safely in the web of failure that had been the Redskins up to that point (I say “had been” because with a guy like RGIII, any given year could be your year), Kolb finally got his chance to shine. Or at least to see what the dirt at Lambeau Field tasted like, courtesy of the Cro-Magnon Man, Clay Matthews.
Vick came in in relief, and Kolb never saw the field again until he was shipped to the Cardinals for a second round pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Now, listen up Dear Reader, because this is the important part.
This article is not to state that Kevin Kolb’s perceived failings as a football player or quarterback are the direct reason for the team’s current standing or Reid’s eventual dismissal. But instead, only to point out that the selection of Kevin Kolb as heir apparent is simply a symptom of a what eventually became a much larger problem.
An evaluation problem that led to a drafting problem. A succession problem. An Andy problem.
Andy Reid essentially had a second chance to put together a team, his team, with nothing holding him back. No caveats, no immediate pressure. He got to choose who he wanted, when he wanted, with naught but the perfunctory, “Are you ok with this, Jeff?” to hold him in check. And he, in a word, failed.
Poor draft choices in the latter years led to the need to rely more and more on free agency which led to a team made up of far too many non homegrown Eagles who didn’t and don’t truly appreciate what it means to wear the Midnight Green (Man, I wish I was typing Kelly Green. And that the Eagles hadn’t picked up Demetress Bell). And after the forced stepping down/amicable split/seeking of other opportunities/firing of Joe Banner last year, there’s nowhere else at this point for the blame of organizational failings to fall.
You see it wasn’t Andy’s decision to give Mike Vick a second chance, or to go with Vick after he’d clearly outplayed Kolb during his injury hiatus that had led us to this point. Where Andy Reid failed was in drafting Kolb in the first place. Because investing that highly in a quarterback means that he is your de-facto Quarterback of the Future. And it was obvious from the get go that Reid absolutely viewed him as such.
But after a couple of years on the bench, and some sub-par relief appearances and preseason work, it became apparent to Reid that he was not in fact, who he thought he was (Thanks, Dennis. And Coors Light). Which set off a whole chain of events, not the least of which being that at the slightest nudge he was “forced” to go with Mike Vick, who rode into town on his “Goodwill and Change Grand Tour”, successfully duping many of us, Reid included, with a mirage of quality quarterbacking that he just could not sustain (I don’t blame Vick for this in any way. He did his best with what he had but as they always say, “he is what he is”: an abnormally athletically gifted quarterback with subpar pre-snap and post-snap recognition skills. Like I said, we all got duped).
So perhaps one can blame Reid for poor clock management and timeout usage, for boring press conferences and an “I’m smarter than you are” demeanor. Or for too often having his eyes in the future, with a constant focus on cap space and not crippling your team now so that, if need be, moves can be made at a later date. But maybe, just maybe, the real reason we can blame Andy Reid is for allowing too much Andy Reid to enter the conversation.
Like most things in life, too much of a good thing is, well, too much. And it often leads to tunnel vision and a loss of situational context. The NovaCare Complex is Andy’s castle, and Andy is the all-seeing, all-knowing Lord of that castle. The problem now is that, with no one else to blame, the only one in danger of losing his head is going to be Andy.
From Sean McDermott taking over after Jim Johnson’s untimely and unfortunate death (Has a franchise ever struggled so mightily after losing a defensive coordinator? I don’t know that it’s possible to overstate how important JJ was to this franchises success in the early 2000’s), to promoting Rory Segrest to run the Special Teams and then the defensive line, to hiring Juan Castillo to run the defense, and then firing him during the season. These are Andy decisions and Andy choices made inside the vacuum that is Andy World, and there’s no longer any goodwill stored up with which Andy can fight this now losing battle.
Andy Reid has far and away been the greatest coach this city and this organization has ever seen. He’ll always hold a special place in the hearts of those of us who remember what it was like watching the team under Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes. What he has done, and the sustained success he’s brought should not be underestimated or understated. There were some truly wonderful years.
But now, the tough decisions must be made, and Jeffrey Lurie must maintain an eye for the future while making shrewd decisions for the present. And like the old saying goes, “With absolute power, comes absolute responsibility”. And now, the time’s yours, Andy, to start taking responsibility for your decisions.