PHILADELPHIA — Eagles coach Doug Pederson spoke with a renewed sense of confidence this week that stood in sharp contrast to the bleak state of affairs in Philadelphia.
The Eagles sit at 4-10-1, Pederson’s offense ranks in the bottom third in the NFL in points per game (21.3) and passing yards (215.3 per game), and franchise quarterback Carson Wentz regressed from MVP-caliber to bottom-of-the-league bad on his watch. That’s enough to warm any coach’s chair.
But the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Pederson’s home display case still glimmers and his recent résumé is filled with three trips to the postseason since 2016. He leaned on those merits as he shifted posture and sprang from a coach short on answers for much of the season to one full of them.
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“Really my confidence lies in myself, that I know exactly how to get things fixed,” said Pederson, who earlier Monday said he “fully expects” to return as coach in 2021. “We’ve won a lot of games around here. Been in the postseason three out of the five years I’ve been here and a championship and all that. I’ve seen it, I’ve done it.”
He’s right. For as bad as it has been in 2020, Pederson has a proven track record that shouldn’t be dismissed after one down, unordinary season. He continues to command the loyalty of his players and his staff. He has earned a chance to turn things around.
In order for it to be a successful venture, though, the team brass needs to fight its instincts and empower Pederson more and themselves less.
Pederson’s collaborative mindset is a big reason for the team’s success during his tenure. He has embraced Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie’s analytics-fueled approach to the game and weekly in-depth meetings with Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman to discuss all things football. Pederson has respected the line between coaching and personnel decisions, leaving Roseman and his staff to their expertise while focusing on his own.
But there’s a fine line between collaborative and claustrophobic if the boundaries aren’t properly respected.
The public stance is Pederson has final say on his coaching staff, but he did an about-face and fired offensive coordinator Mike Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch a day after he said they would return at the end of last season, aligning himself with his boss’, ahem, recommendation.
Lurie wanted to add coaches with fresh ideas to revive a sagging offense and was involved in that search along with Roseman. Lurie was particularly fond of USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, a source said, but Philadelphia was unable to land him. The Eagles ultimately went without an offensive coordinator and hired Kyle Shanahan protégé Rich Scangarello as senior offensive assistant, Andrew Breiner as pass game analyst and Marty Mornhinweg as senior offensive consultant, and elevated quarterbacks coach Press Taylor to pass game coordinator. The mix struggled to mesh, no identity was formed on offense, and the many voices too frequently caused a cacophony for Pederson and Wentz.
Pederson’s frustration this season has been evident, and some close to him suspect it is related in part to the front-office dynamics. That would add to what was described to ESPN as a growing frustration among some members of the Eagles’ staff that their evaluation of players is not being weighed heavily enough in personnel decisions.
Pederson, 52, was asked Monday if he would like more say in player talent acquisition.
“I want to be a part of the evaluation process. I want to be a voice that’s heard, and I want to have that collaborative communication with Howie and his staff and be a part of that process,” Pederson said.
“I don’t necessarily want to cross that line because it takes you away from doing your job as the head football coach. I like being on the football side of things as a former football player and obviously now a coach. That’s where my passion lies. But yet, I want to be part of the solution. I want to help evaluate and help bring guys in here that can help us win.”
However pure their intentions and wise their guidance, the perception of Roseman and Lurie encroaching on Pederson’s territory and limiting his power has led some inside and outside the organization to believe Pederson is not being granted the level of respect and sway a Super Bowl winning coach needs and deserves.
Given how poorly things have gone on the field this season, it would be unsurprising if the inclination up top was to assume more control in an effort to get the ship righted if they decide to continue with Pederson as coach. But that would only further push the team in the wrong direction. What Pederson needs is the proper space to build out a staff in his vision. They have to trust in his ability to shepherd this team back to contender status, in his way, and ensure he is an equal partner.
“I know what it takes. Me personally, I’ve been in three Super Bowls, been on three Super Bowl teams, and I’ve seen exactly how it can be done,” he said. “We’ve got to get that back.”
If they can’t grant Pederson that latitude, they might as well move on.