Bob Ford: Don't believe the hype: Banner was the odd man out in Eagles front office

Posted: June 08, 2012

You can dress up what happened at the NovaCare bunker this week and send it to the prom, but no one will dance with the story the Eagles are telling about the "executive succession plan" that cost Joe Banner his job.

Only those who don't know how fiercely loyal and combative Banner was about the organization could believe the fairy tale that it was his first choice to go off seeking some opportunity more appealing or challenging than winning a Super Bowl with the Eagles.

All you need to know about this transition plan is that the only one who really got transitioned was Banner. The Eagles did a little sleight of hand with the job titles in the process, with Don Smolenski becoming president, but his job description is far different than was Banner's. Smolenski is an operations chief, working the stadium and business side, with the exception of the football operation. Banner was really replaced by general manager Howie Roseman, whose title didn't change, but who now has all contract and negotiating responsibilities that used to belong to Banner.

At the top of the organizational chart on the football side of the operation, Andy Reid is not only still standing, but he's erased whatever doubts there were about his position in the organization. Here's a hint: He runs it.

As with most things, probably several factors came together to make this happen. It wasn't just that Banner had been a terrible face for the organization over the years and that the Eagles are viewed as arrogant and intransigent because of it. It wasn't just that Roseman's rise made Banner superfluous, or that Smolenski and Roseman were attractive hires had they gone on the open market. And it wasn't that Banner may have tried a pushback within the organization to retain his power and pushed the wrong guy. All of that likely happened to some extent and whatever the percentages were, it finally added up to Banner's being 100 percent gone.

The story he tells of wanting to seek out a turnaround challenge with some other NFL team is reasonable enough. He will probably be hired because of his track record as a cap wizard and negotiator. That is to say, as what he used to be here. But this notion that the Eagles let him seek his destiny - "to let him fly," as Jeffrey Lurie said on Thursday - is nonsense.

If he were honestly committed to getting out and seeking a new path, the announcement would have been made in January when teams are shuffling their organizations. Why would he hang around for five more months while positions were filled all around the league? If this were a wonderful opportunity and the fulfillment of a dream for Banner, as it was told, why were his friends in the organization so bummed out?

Asked what it's been like since he got the news of his promotion a week ago, Smolenski said: "For all the pride and excited feeling [for yourself], you're also feeling for your friend. That's a tough thing to work through."

So, it's a nice story, but it's a story. The Eagles' circle of decision-makers got tighter, and Banner was no longer on the inside. Now, there are only two - Roseman and Reid - and Lurie had better hope they know what they're doing.

In some ways, Banner was his own worst enemy over the years, and Lurie chafed at the public's perception of his team. In the last year or so, Banner has been almost invisible because the organization felt his statements rarely made a situation better.

Joe couldn't help himself. He used to show up at The Inquirer's office with his ruler and spreadsheets and complain that the Phillies were getting too much coverage compared to the Eagles - during the Phils' World Series run! He'd drag along the public relations lackey of the moment, whoever had the unenviable job of calling up reporters to mouthpiece Banner's complaint of the day. And Banner would complain to media outlets about the tone of the coverage and tried to manipulate which journalists were assigned to write about the team. Oh, it was a merry time.

It isn't likely the Eagles are entering a warm era of openness now, not as long as Reid is still at the top of the organizational chart. The events of this week are a strong indication, however, that, regardless of what the Eagles do this season, Reid isn't going anywhere, and you can just get used to that.

As long as he wants to be head coach, Reid is going to be head coach. He won this power struggle - and covered the spread - squashing the last hint of player-personnel influence that Banner might once have had, leaving him with nothing but a nice office and a calculator. Whether Joe tried to strike back is irrelevant, although knowing his personality, that seems almost unavoidable. Regardless, it didn't work, and now he is free to pursue what Lurie called "the next great challenge in the sports world."

"I wish we had something here that would be the next great opportunity," Lurie said. "But that's not the case."

And all this time, we thought winning a Super Bowl looked like challenge enough for anyone in that organization.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @bobfordsports. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns

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