Andy Reid and the point of no return

Will 14th time be a charm for coach Andy Reid? He has only two years left on his contract, one if Jeffrey Lurie doesn't want a lame duck in 2013.
Will 14th time be a charm for coach Andy Reid? He has only two years left on his contract, one if Jeffrey Lurie doesn't want a lame duck in 2013. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: July 23, 2012

Is it possible that Andy Reid has less pressure coming off a "completely unacceptable" 2011 - Jeffrey Lurie's words, not ours - than he has in previous years?

It would seem unfathomable considering last season's "most disappointing" 8-8 record - again, Lurie's words - if the NFL's longest-tenured active coach did not enter his 14th season without some sort of unspoken ultimatum from the Eagles owner.

Such as:

Win the Super Bowl or you're fired.

Reach the NFC championship or you're fired.

Or at the very least, make the playoffs or you're fired.

And yet, when Joe Banner's 18-year run as Eagles president ended in June with his stepping down, it seemed to suggest that Reid had won a power struggle and that Lurie had sided with the coach.

It's Andy's World and Lurie and Howie Roseman are only living in it.

Of course, Lurie didn't have much trouble saying adios to his longtime friend and the man who helped pad his pockets by building a flourishing sports franchise. If Banner can go, why can't Reid?

Reid has only two years left on his contract, one if the assumption can be made that Lurie has to either extend or fire Reid between now and next offseason rather than allow his coach to go into the 2013 season as a lame duck.

Lurie will likely be asked about Reid's future when he meets with reporters for his annual State of the Eagles news conference during the early days of training camp. It's likely he won't provide any concrete answers, but it's difficult to look at the coming season as anything less than a referendum on Reid's future with the team.

The Do-Over

The Eagles open training camp, which commences Sunday with the reporting of rookies and selected veterans to Lehigh, with the 2011 team relatively intact.

There were a few notable additions, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and defensive backs coach Todd Bowles, chief among them, but it's fair to label this season, "Eagles, 2012: The Do-Over."

The team believes that a full offseason, after an abundance of changes helped derail 2011, will allow the new pieces enough time to jell.

"You get a sense of togetherness. You're in the locker room - you get a sense of the camaraderie part of it," Reid said last month. "The execution part you see. If somebody drops a ball, you see how it's handled. You see a guy make an interception, everybody's jumping around. Every team is different, but this team here . . ."

Reid stopped himself. The Eagles have been very careful not to make bold proclamations about the coming season after Vince Young's "Dream Team" comment and Banner's "all-in" quip painted a giant bull's eye on the team last August.

That is, until quarterback Michael Vick went on his book tour and went, perhaps, a little over the top when he assessed his team.

"When I look at our football team and what we have on paper, I think about when I was growing up and the great San Francisco 49er teams, the great Green Bay Packer teams, and the great Dallas Cowboy teams, how they just positioned themselves to compete and be one of the best teams out there," Vick told Comcast SportsNet last week. "I think we have a chance to be that. I think we have a chance to develop a dynasty."

We've heard the same optimism before, and Vick's confidence can be a positive. But was it wise to evoke some of the NFL's greatest dynasties when the Eagles haven't won a playoff game in four years, let alone a Super Bowl?

Happy superstars

Ultimately, words mean little and the Eagles' fate - and Reid's for that matter - will depend upon their actions on the field. A 1-4 start hindered the Eagles' chances last season, but a 3-4 record in the next seven games didn't help, either.

A 4-0 finish procured a .500 mark, gave the Eagles at least something to build on, and convinced the powers-that-be that major changes weren't needed.

The offense returns, essentially as is. The only significant change came when Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon and Demetress Bell was signed to replace the all pro at left tackle.

Contract extensions for wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy, however, could improve the mood in the locker room and make for happy superstars. Vick signed a long-term contract last August, although the Eagles could end their relationship with him after this season without taking much of a financial hit.

On defense, Reid brought Juan Castillo back as defensive coordinator despite the struggles of his unit. Bowles was hired to help. The trade for Ryans addressed a longtime need at middle linebacker. Four of the first five picks in the draft were on defense.

The scheme will change some with cornerback Asante Samuel dealt to Atlanta, but it all starts up front with the return of defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide-nine.

Reid's detractors will say that the changes will matter little as long as the ship's captain remains the same. Washburn said that the continuity at the top, and in turn, Reid's consistency, has allowed the Eagles to remain competitive for most of the coach's 13 seasons.

"If there's one thing [that's] a constant here, helps you through the bad, it's Andy Reid," Washburn said. "He doesn't change. He delivers the same message. That's a good thing. I'll tell you what: The boat's only as steady as the captain, huh? And he keeps the boat steady. The best I've ever been around."

Reid did make a few minor alterations this offseason, such as being a little more cooperative with the local media. But that should have no effect on the field and, really, how long will that last?

"I think we all make changes," Reid said. "The longer you do it, the changes are smaller."

'Why this guy?'

Jackson said he noticed one difference.

"I just see his intensity up a little bit," the receiver said. "He's always been a high intense coach, but [there's an eagerness] about him right now. I don't think he's going to let anything stop that."

Reid's reign in Philadelphia is rare in the modern professional sports. In some way Lurie's patience is admirable. But 13 seasons without a title is enough to test any town's fortitude, especially one as Eagles-crazed as this one.

Before Reid arrived, of course, there were 38 previous seasons that ended without a championship. In most cases, the team had nowhere near the success Reid has maintained during most of his tenure.

"I know when I came here the team wasn't very good, so there was a lot of scrutiny about the team," Reid said. "And then they hire this kid that hasn't been a coordinator, and I was young, and they're going, 'Why this guy?' "

Thirteen years later, some are still asking that same question, but for very different reasons.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, Follow @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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