Reid's steady hand has helped guide young Eagles team to success

Andy Reid tries to pump up his team during a loss to the Bears. He's the same whether the team wins or loses, players say.
Andy Reid tries to pump up his team during a loss to the Bears. He's the same whether the team wins or loses, players say.
Posted: January 02, 2011

Andy Reid was furious. Sitting at a podium Tuesday night after an awful loss that cost the Eagles a shot at a playoff bye, he ripped his team ("terrible"), himself ("pathetic"), and even reporters who showed up late.

By Thursday, the team's first day back at practice, the wave of anger had subsided. Reid, his players said, was Reid.

"The greatest thing about Coach Reid is you can have the greatest win in the world, or the worst loss," but when the team resumes practice for the next game, "he's the same person," said tight end Brent Celek.

Two days after the Eagles' disappointing 24-14 loss to the Vikings, Reid seemed the same as in the days after the stirring win over the Giants, according to several players.

"You would never think that we just lost the way we did," said safety Quintin Mikell.

That steadiness is aimed at helping the Eagles move on from the defeat and improve for the playoffs. More broadly, Reid's consistent attitude - a demeanor that keeps the coach from getting exceedingly high or despairingly low - has helped guide a young team through a season of transition to another NFC East title. Along the way to the playoffs, Reid has deflated potential controversies before they expanded into crises.

Reid's unwavering nature has long been one of his signature traits. That's why it was so surprising when he abruptly tore up months of planning by starting Michael Vick and benching Kevin Kolb. It was a bold stroke, possibly the coaching decision of the year in the NFL, and one that vaulted the Eagles into the Super Bowl discussion.

But at the time, changing quarterbacks so suddenly could have divided loyalties, especially after the team had spent months getting behind the well-liked Kolb as its new leader. But there was never any sign of division from the players, no voices taking sides. It helped that Kolb and Vick were friends who spoke up to support each other.

It also helped that the team believed in Reid's decisions, both quarterbacks said.

"He has the utmost respect from everybody on this team, and he always seems to be in total control of every situation," Vick said. "It's all about trust. Everybody trusted the decision; the entire organization never questioned it once."

Said Kolb, "He builds trust with guys, because he's taken care of players in the past."

Kolb, who has a team-first attitude by nature, never complained about his benching. Reid, and Eagles players, refused to acknowledge that the offense might be different, or that it might be a challenge to change between a righthanded pocket passer with a game built on accuracy and a lefty with a huge arm and unparalleled running ability.

On a personal level, it was difficult for Reid, who thinks highly of Kolb, to bench the quarterback, Eagles president Joe Banner said. But the bond Reid built by standing up for his players, by being honest with them behind closed doors, paid off in that situation, Banner said.

"Kevin might walk away feeling like, 'Gee, I think it should be me and I can win, too,' but he respects the process and the honesty of it," Banner said.

When Reid decided to switch quarterbacks, he spoke to Kolb in person. That approach, in that instance and others, prevented sparks from becoming full-blown fires, players said.

"I love that he just brings it to the table and then we move forward," Kolb said. "He made his point after the [Vikings] game and in our first meeting, and boom, he's moving on to the Cowboys."

Said Reid, "If something's wrong, you don't want to hide that fact, you want to make sure you attack it, knock it out and move on." He was speaking about his approach to correcting mistakes he saw against the Vikings, but the comment easily could apply to this entire year.

It's a year that has included the dramatic quarterback change, public speculation over defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's job status, and a blow-up with temperamental star receiver DeSean Jackson. But Reid's team has, for most of the year, been a focused one that claimed the sixth NFC East title of Reid's tenure.

The same Andy

The Eagles' success, and the bold decision to make Vick the starter, put Reid into contention for coach of the year honors, though his candidacy was damaged by the flat loss to the Vikings. His team's Super Bowl hopes seem more shaky than they did a week ago.

That leaves Reid with another challenge: Can he get his team to shake off the lousy 71/2 quarters they played the last two weeks in time for the playoffs?

Those who have worked with Reid say he excels at navigating rough terrain.

"He remains the same Andy through the ups and downs of an NFL season, and that really becomes a stabilizing force for your football team," said Leslie Frazier, the Vikings' interim head coach, who worked with Reid in Philadelphia for four years. "They just know that it's not the end of the world when they take a tough loss, that they're going to be able to rebound because of the way he handles tough situations."

"He's not going to let all the peripheral noise affect him," said Fox NFL analyst and former Ravens coach Brian Billick. "Particularly in a town that has a lot of peripheral noise."

The Eagles' ability to move on and thrive despite potential flare-ups stands in stark contrast to other teams whose problems have festered and spilled into public view. Look at the Vikings and the Cowboys, whom the Eagles play Sunday in the season finale. Both teams entered the year loaded with talent and Super Bowl hopes, and both publicly melted down. Look at Tennessee, where Jeff Fisher, the only NFL coach with a longer tenure than Reid, might be on his way out after feuding with his starting quarterback. Then there's Washington, where Donovan McNabb is at war with his new coach. With McNabb's play this year, the Easter trade seems like another shrewd decision by Reid.

In Philadelphia, Reid has a young, redesigned team set for a home playoff game in the first round. Aside from helping Vick develop and then starting him, Reid's biggest accomplishment may have been keeping such an inexperienced group on track, helping earn the ninth playoff bid of his 12 years with the Eagles.

"When you have a lot of young, dynamic, exciting, excitable players, you don't want to take away the energy," said NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth. "But you have to find a way to keep the team focused."

Reid talks to his team about steadiness "from the very first day," Banner said.

"He'll talk about, 'Here's what we know: There are going to be a lot of things that come up during the year that could derail us. Could be injuries, could be a controversy, could be who knows what. If we keep our eye on the goal and just take one step at a time, then none of that has to have an impact on us that's very consequential,' " Banner said.

"His being so focused," said general manager Howie Roseman, "permeates through all of us."

Smoothing out problems is only one part of coaching. It's easier to mask them when a team wins, and that takes game planning, good personnel decisions, and talent development. Reid has done that well enough this season to earn a 10-5 record. But in the NFL, shutting down controversy is also critical.

Reid will show emotion immediately after a game. He chided the team after several losses and was jubilant after the comeback win over the Giants. Banner said Reid has shown emotion more publicly this year than at any time in his tenure. It's a result, Banner thinks, of the new start Reid saw this year and the youthful energy of the team.

But by the time the new week begins, Sunday's postgame smile or scowl is gone.

"I don't think it does any good to go way up or way down," Reid said. "I'm not sure that helps the situation."

In private, players say, Reid will speak to a problem directly. But he will never do that in public. He bats away probing questions with his monotone rasp and answers such as, "Yeah, we're OK there," or maybe, "We'll just see here."

On Mondays, he meets with a committee of veteran leaders to help address any issues and let his message seep into the team.

"It's a way for him to filter and kind of get what he wants to the team through us," Mikell said. "You have to have good sheriffs."

Reid's stubbornness

Still, many other coaches have succeeded with different, more openly fiery styles. Reid's steadiness also can turn to stubbornness, contributing to some of the annual frustrations that irk longtime fans and observers: time management, a zealous devotion to the passing game even when the situation screams for a run, playoff downfalls. One of the biggest knocks on Reid is that his team does not adapt to the unexpected, a problem evident against the Vikings' cornerback blitzes.

His obfuscation with reporters can reach Belichick-ian absurdity, going beyond truly sensitive issues to topics as innocuous as who is playing quarterback in a preseason game - or in Sunday's meaningless regular-season finale. Getting an honest assessment of a struggling player is nearly impossible.

Often, Reid will take the blame himself, as he did after the Minnesota game. Those kinds of evasions can frustrate those who want details of team concerns. But it wins in the locker room.

"When you don't throw your players under the bus, your players will listen to you," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "There's going to be camaraderie with the players, because they feel like the coach has their back, and I think that's the case with him."

When the year began, many thought the Eagles would be lucky to nab a playoff berth. But success along the way raised expectations to Super Bowl level. The heightened hopes made Tuesday's letdown that much more dispiriting.

As the playoffs approach, the worrying lethargy of that night presents another obstacle for the coach to maneuver his team around. If he can do it again, this year may go down as one of his best.


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari

at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JonathanTamari.

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