Lurie confident in Smolenski as Eagles president

Posted: June 08, 2012

It was January 2004, the night before the Eagles would showcase Lincoln Financial Field in another NFC championship game, and - more important - advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1980 season.

Mother Nature didn't get the memo. Two feet of snow blanketed Philadelphia, and the temperature dipped into the teens, setting up a game against the Atlanta Falcons that fans won't soon forget. It also set up a night that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie won't soon forget.

As Lurie looked out at the new stadium, he saw Don Smolenski. The team's senior vice president at the time had swapped his customary suit for long johns, a large coat, and a thick pair of gloves and was in the stadium shoveling snow.

Lurie was used to seeing his young executive working crazy hours - he jokes that coaches aren't the only ones who keep an air mattress in their offices. But this was something different.

The Eagles owner saw something in Smolenski that he said revealed the work ethic of a rising star, a man who could be leading a franchise's front office in the National Football League.

Now, that snow-shoveling senior VP is the new team president.

"The primary focus is to win a championship," said Smolenski, 45. "That's the passion for everyone in the entire organization. One of the principles we have here is being a leader."

Lurie and previous president Joe Banner said they have known for a few months that Smolenski was going to be the team's president, but they didn't tell him until last week.

Unlike Banner, who was directly involved in player negotiations and dealings with the salary cap, Smolenski will take over as team president in a more "traditional" capacity as part of the Eagles' "executive succession plan," Lurie said.

"We're transitioning to what is very common in the National Football League," he said. "The president is not overseeing contracts and salary-cap analysis. The president doesn't usually get involved in that.

"Don is incredibly intuitive and accomplished. This [change] wouldn't have happened if we didn't have good executives in place ready to take over."

Lurie said general manager Howie Roseman would assume more responsibilities.

Since April 1, 2010, Smolenski has been chief operating officer, working on non-Eagles events hosted at the stadium and developing initiative strategies. He joined the Eagles in 1998 as vice president/chief financial officer after serving as CFO of the International Hockey League. The Eagles promoted him to senior VP two years later.

Banner said he has given Smolenski - who has two sons with his wife, Karen - more roles and responsibilities the last several years.

The franchise's past president and its current one have offices across from each other at Lincoln Financial Field and next to each other at the NovaCare Complex.

In the years leading up to Thursday's announcement, Smolenski said, Banner was his mentor. The two estimate they've spent more time together than with their families - though Smolenski recalls trips down water slides and roller coasters with Banner's children.

They were two of the biggest components in the planning and construction of Lincoln Financial Field. Maybe that's why Smolenski was so adamant about having each aisle, each seat free from snow that frigid January night 81/2 years ago. Or maybe that's just part of the dedication that made an impression on Lurie.

"I couldn't be more optimistic about Smolenski as our next president," Lurie said. "He's an outstanding young star that I couldn't be more confident in."


Contact Chad Graff at 215-854-4550 or cgraff@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @ChadGraff.

 

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