Phil Sheridan: Andy Reid and his Michael Vick obsession

Michael Vick has thrown for three touchdowns this season. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)
Michael Vick has thrown for three touchdowns this season. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer) (Gerald Gaul)
Posted: September 26, 2010

It may be as simple as this. Michael Vick just may be Andy Reid's midlife crisis.

Consider: In his 12 seasons as head coach of the Eagles, Andy Reid has made three major decisions that seemed completely out of character. Two of the three involve Vick: signing him in August 2009, then naming Vick the starting quarterback after he managed the task of beating the Detroit Lions last Sunday.

(The other, for those keeping score at home, was the pursuit of Terrell Owens back in 2004. That was mold-breaking for two reasons. Reid hadn't previously acquired a player with Owens' track record for disrupting a team, and he hadn't previously shown interest in a wide receiver who could actually play.)

This can't be coincidence. A man as steadfast and stolid as Reid doesn't suddenly go bonkers and start making rash decisions for no apparent reason. Clearly, there is something about Vick that drives the coach from his well-established approach. Reid is obviously obsessed with the enigmatic, talented, and troubled quarterback.

Captain Andy and Moby Vick.

Two factors are in play here. Reid the coach sees a uniquely skilled player whose full potential had not been reached in six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Reid the man sees a troubled individual who is, like Reid's own sons, trying to overcome the consequences of his own poor judgment and reprehensible behavior.

There is selfishness and selflessness. It is pure coaching ego to want to succeed where others have failed. If he can get Vick to harness those breathtaking physical skills and to dedicate himself to being a student of the game, Reid will add another line to his impressive resume. If he can help Vick find redemption after the sick behavior that landed him in federal prison, then so much the better. That transcends even pursuit of the almighty Lombardi trophy.

The big question is whether this obsession with Vick has warped Reid's judgment and knocked his own moral compass off true north. That question, alas, is going to take more than 60 minutes in Jacksonville or even a whole NFL season to be answered definitively. It is going to depend on Vick's performance on the field and the way he handles himself off the field - especially after the incentive of earning his next contract has been removed.

The early signs are worrisome.

There was a whiff of organizational denial in the way the Eagles handled Vick's role in the doomed birthday party that ended in a shooting in June. Vick and everyone else acknowledged it was "poor judgment" for a man with no margin for error to stage such an event. The Eagles' lack of curiosity about that night was profound: They saw and heard what they wanted to see and hear, in order to be proven right about Vick.

In that same vein, Reid has found himself on the wrong side of the line between truth and falsehood an awful lot lately. Most recently, he told multimedia figure Peter King on Tuesday that one reason for going with Vick was the fear that Kolb would be "crucified" if he was anything short of perfect. In his Friday news conference, Reid denied saying it. Later, he sent PR director Derek Boyko down to tell reporters that Reid did indeed say it.

It was an embarrassing and petty episode, but it raised a larger issue. You don't normally feel the need to lie and spin and backtrack if you're doing the right things the right way. It is when you start having to rationalize and explain mistakes that those tools become useful.

Besides, if Kolb was in such a precarious position, it was Reid who placed him there by anointing him a starter, trading Donovan McNabb, making Kolb play with Vick taking a percentage of snaps and assembling a wobbly offensive line.

When you look at it straight on, Reid essentially replaced McNabb - the consummate face-of-the-franchise, good-citizen QB - with Vick, who was recently voted the most despised athlete in all of sports. It is a move that would have been unthinkable 14 months ago and that was accomplished by gradual steps.

Sign Vick, absorb the public-relations flak. Manage Vick, McNabb, and Kevin Kolb through the 2009 season. Trade McNabb, with Kolb serving as a kind of Trojan horse. Spring Vick on everyone as the starter.

It might not have been planned this way, but that's the net result.

So Reid has the object of his obsession starting at quarterback. The move comes with enormous risk. Reid will look ridiculous if Vick reverts to his old freelancing ways, or if he struggles when he faces effective defenses that are designed to contain and frustrate him. If Vick fails off the field, before or after signing his sure-to-be enormous next contract, Reid will look worse than ridiculous.

He has put much more than a football in Vick's hands.


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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