Phil Sheridan: Reid has to prove himself all over again

Posted: September 12, 2010

Andy Reid enjoyed a successful decade as head coach of the Eagles. Maybe that's why he seems intent on reliving it.

Just as he did in 2000, Reid goes into the 2010 season with a new starting quarterback whose flashes of promise resulted in expectations that might be a bit too high.

Donovan McNabb, of course, took the Eagles to the playoffs in 2000 - as well as 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. If Kevin Kolb has that kind of success, Reid will look pretty smart. If Kolb can add a Super Bowl title to the resumé, Reid will look like a genius.

Ultimately, the big change from McNabb to Kolb will be a referendum on the coach more than on either of the quarterbacks. That is probably what Reid finds so energizing about all the turnover on the Eagles' roster (as well as the front office and coaching staff ) over the last few years. He has to prove himself all over again.

Here's the fundamental truth: All the logic Reid and the Eagles applied in deciding to move McNabb would apply equally as well to the coach himself. Things had gotten stale? Tired of hitting the same wall, year after year? Sometimes change, even hard change, is necessary? It was time to try someone new?

In making the decision, McNabb's contributions to the team over the last decade counted for nothing. That's how it has to be. All that mattered was what the Eagles projected him doing for the next three or four years. And they - meaning Reid - decided Kolb gave the team as good or better a chance to win a Super Bowl.

By the same logic then, Reid gets a thank-you note and nothing more for his role in those very same accomplishments and shortcomings. The five seasons since that trip to the Super Bowl have produced one unlikely run to the NFC title game and, more recently, the most humiliating playoff loss of Reid's tenure. By hitting the eject button on McNabb, Reid cleared his own ledger as surely as if the Eagles had just hired him anew.

In a sense, he's more like Mike Shanahan starting over in Washington than he is like Bill Belichick or Tom Coughlin trying to get their teams back to the top of the mountain. Shanahan won a couple of Super Bowls in Denver. That counts as little to Washington fans as Bill Parcells' rings did in Dallas. Shanahan will and should be judged on what he does from here on out.

Same with Reid. His first six A-plus years - four division titles, four trips to the final four, one NFC title - bought him these last five B-minus years and the free-play card he has now cashed in.

So 2010 is like 2000 all over again, with a couple of important differences.

In 2000, the Eagles' defense was peopled mainly by players Reid inherited and coached by the savvy veteran Jim Johnson. In 2010, every player has been drafted or otherwise acquired on Reid's watch. The coordinator is Sean McDermott, Reid's handpicked choice to take over after Johnson's death last year.

In 2000, McNabb had to run Reid's West Coast-style offense with a so-so supporting cast that was learning on the job along with the QB. In 2010, Kolb steps into the huddle with the best set of skill players Reid has assembled during his tenure here. Somewhere along the way, rather late for McNabb, the coach discovered that speed and skill do not violate the purity of the West Coast offense.

Meanwhile, the 2010 offense has evolved quite a long way from that Mike Holmgren-derived system of 2000. It is funny to hear people tout Kolb as a better fit for the West Coast offense, because the Eagles haven't run a pure West Coast offense in ages.

Knowing Reid, he would love to shock skeptics with a strong start to this new era. It was in 2000, McNabb's second year, that Reid threw down that stunning onside kick in the season opener in Dallas. Or think of 2002, when McNabb broke his ankle. Everyone thought the Eagles would be more conservative with Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley taking over, but Reid came out gunning.

That's what he'll want to do as the Kolb era begins Sunday afternoon.

The 2000 Eagles went 11-5 and won a playoff game with Charles Johnson and Torrance Small starting at wide receiver. Because Duce Staley got hurt, Darnell Autry led the team in carries. The defense was very good. There was hope for great things to come.

That is the bar Reid set for himself. A decade later, he will try to clear it with Kolb, some powerful offensive weapons, a young defense, and a pretty unforgiving schedule. Can these Eagles be as successful?

Reid will be judged by the answer.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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