Rich Hofmann: Eagles coach Reid on the line for risky decisions

It is hard to see how Andy Reid, signed only through 2010, will survive if the Eagles' rocky summer is a precursor to a rocky, unfulfilled season.
It is hard to see how Andy Reid, signed only through 2010, will survive if the Eagles' rocky summer is a precursor to a rocky, unfulfilled season.
Posted: September 08, 2009

IT WAS THE DAY of the Michael Vick press conference, in the big auditorium at the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles had just brought this great convulsion down upon themselves and people were wondering, well, to what end? Club president Joe Banner was talking to a couple of reporters, standing in one of the side aisles, up against the wall (literally if not figuratively).

The question was simple: Has Andy

Reid - given his contract status, given

everything - just stuck out his neck here in a way that he never has?

Banner answered quickly.

"I think the nature of this decision," he said, "all of us have put ourselves on the line and will be subject to legitimate questions and skepticism and doubt if we end up being wrong - which is why we researched this so thoroughly and feel like we made a very educated decision and took a risk.

"We're not in denial about the fact that we took a risk in doing that. We all feel like, together, we came to this decision. We're all for the decision. If we made the wrong decision, we understand the way people will react to that."

It was a nice try.

But this is about Andy's neck.

It is hard to see how Reid will survive as the Eagles' coach if Vick has an off-the-field problem that embarrasses the organization. It is hard to see how Reid will survive if Vick's presence causes a quarterback controversy that paralyzes the franchise. It is hard to see how Reid will survive if Vick can't play anymore, if he turns out to be an ineffective waste of everyone's time.

It is hard to see how Reid will survive if the Eagles' rocky summer is a precursor to a rocky, unfulfilled season.

Now make no mistake: Banner and owner Jeffrey Lurie remain tied to this coach. They back this coach. They like this coach. In some ways, they probably cannot imagine the Eagles without this coach. It has been so long now - they fired Rich Kotite in 1994, and they fired Ray Rhodes in 1998, and that has been that.

But they also have worked it so this coach does not have a contract beyond this season and next season. It is the elephant in the room, and now Michael Vick is perched on its back.

If this were to go badly, would they really extend Reid's contract after the season? If this were to go badly, would they really be prepared to endure the 12-month firestorm that would surround the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, working into the final year of his deal?

Yes, they have done it in the past, both to Kotite and to Rhodes, and they have suffered the terrible consequences - and, remember, those were quieter media times, much quieter. To do it again would create an intolerable level of tension, even if Reid is indeed an expert at setting that kind of thing aside. If you think last year was tough when the team was 5-5-1 and Reid benched Donovan McNabb, multiply that by some factor and stretch it out over 12 months and see if your franchise doesn't collapse upon itself.

There is no indication from either Banner or Lurie that Reid was in any trouble last season, but you have to believe that a downspiral after 5-5-1 would have been significant. Instead, the team rallied and made it to the conference championship game, and then everyone went about the task of retooling during the offseason. And it was a good, solid offseason, even given the Brian Dawkins departure, which will not hurt the Eagles on the field.

But then came Vick.

It is, in many ways, a crystallizing move for this coach and his legacy. Many see him as an excellent coach who won a lot of games, who reached five conference championship games and one Super Bowl. Many others see him as the guy who always lost in the end, including three times as the favorite in those championship games.

His supporters see the genius of hard work, the benefits of a mature, even temperament in an emotional world. His detractors see stubbornness and an inability to adjust on Sundays.

That Reid is pretty much universally respected around the league, and will be viewed very, very kindly by history, is the simple truth. But there is validity in the criticism, too. It is that kind of business, and an 11th season is a very long time.

Now there is this new imperative, this Michael Vick experience, part football experiment and part social experiment, playing both to the football gadget freak and to the father who has seen two sons experience incarceration.

It is a unique time for the man, for Reid. It is a unique moment for the franchise, with its star nucleus (McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook) now aging, and what has to be a waning tolerance for being unable to shatter its own personal glass ceiling. The Vick move seems an attempt by the coach to satisfy both a personal and a professional need, and it really does make you wonder about the future if it fails.

That day of the Vick press conference, in the big auditorium, somebody asked Banner if Reid's track record on personnel issues was paramount here, that, "basically he's never been wrong . . . "

"I don't know if he's never been wrong - I wish any of us would be able to say that," Banner said. "But from Michael's perspective and from [agent] Joel Segal's perspective, Andy as a leader, as a person who is a strong moral leader, is somebody they thought Michael would relate to and it would be a positive influence in his life at this time, it was very important to them. From my perspective and Jeff's perspective, knowing we had somebody like Andy - who we think is very capable of dealing with challenging situations like this - it was a very important aspect."

It is on them, but it is really on him, on Andy Reid. He cannot afford to let Michael Vick fail.

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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