Phil Sheridan: To the end, Banner cast the Eagles in a positive light

Posted: June 08, 2012

For better or worse, the characteristic that defined Joe Banner during his 18 years running the Eagles was his singular loyalty to the organization. Even now, making his exit, Banner's main concern is casting the move, and the Eagles, in a positive light.

For better: Banner was the one member of the Eagles' inner circle who heard and responded to what was going on outside the NovaCare Complex bubble. The others were oblivious or insulated - Jeff Lurie by his enormous inherited wealth and Andy Reid by his absolute certainty that his way is the best way.

For worse: Banner could come across as sarcastic or insulting in his efforts to defend Lurie and Reid and the rest of the organization. He accepted what he saw as fair criticism, but lashed out when he felt the criticism was personal or based on incorrect assumptions. In Philadelphia - and really, every big media market in an era where opinions are formed without foundation and spouted without accountability - trying to reason with the unreasonable is a losing proposition.

No tears will be shed for Banner, and that's fine. He doesn't need the gig financially at this point, and, frankly, I've wondered for a couple of years whether he might be getting restless. Once the challenges of getting a stadium and practice facility built were behind him, the day-to-day running of the team had to seem anticlimactic.

That fits Banner's claim that he wanted this, that he wants to find another challenge elsewhere. That doesn't mean this wasn't a coup. It probably was, but it is typical for Banner to continue having Lurie's back even with a knife in his own.

The question for Eagles fans isn't whether Banner will be OK. He will. It is what this means for the Eagles and their fans.

The same loyalty and sense of outrage that drove Banner's public persona also led to the only substantive interaction between the Eagles' inner circle and the outside world. His was often the only open window in the NovaCare bunker. Banner heard the babble from beyond the bubble and was usually the only one who cared to respond.

Sealing that window does two things: It further insulates Lurie and Reid from fans and the media, and it cuts off a vital supply of oxygen to the ever-more-insular executive offices.

Presumably, Howie Roseman is going to be that public face. Roseman has the advantage of learning from Banner's example and avoiding a similar bull's-eye. Of course, that makes him less likely to say anything that can be construed as controversial or too honest. Roseman also has the advantage of having clean hands. He hasn't dirtied them with either hard decisions or actual achievement yet.

At some point, if he's doing his job right, Roseman will have to take a hard line in contract talks with players. He will have to preside over the emotional departure of a fan favorite or two. He will have to shield Reid from the blowback that comes from the business of the game.

We'll see if he's still fist-bumping the fellas in the locker room after a few years of that.

It would be sadly ironic if Banner is out because he took the flak for this franchise. Without him to deflect it, Lurie, Reid, and Roseman are all now in the direct line of fire. It is possible they don't even know how hard Banner worked to protect them - recasting Lurie's sometimes-mystifying public comments in more reasoned language, defending and explaining moves after Reid couldn't be bothered to work up a complete sentence on the subject.

If they didn't know, they will find out very soon. If it wasn't obvious before, it was on full display during Thursday's news conference. Lurie talked about "young stars," as if fans would be crushed if Don Smolenski had been lured away by the Bengals. Reid talked about being "fired up" by the new opportunities in front of Banner and Smolenski.

It wasn't hard to spot the smartest guy at the table.

Banner made a credible case that this is all about his next challenge. When he joined Lurie here in 1994, the Eagles were a dysfunctional franchise playing and practicing in a crumbling multipurpose stadium. Banner was the point man in building the Linc, the NovaCare Complex, and - truth be told - Citizens Bank Park. It was Banner who created the funding formula that broke the negotiating logjam and got both stadiums built.

"Now I spend 75 percent of my time managing the people who report to me," Banner said, adding that his role had become "passive."

That was not a word anyone would have used to describe Banner for the first 15 years he was here. Everything he did, though, was with the Eagles' best interests in mind - even the way he left.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster

Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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