Shake and stir: Eagles need to find the right mix

Quarterback Cam Newton was hailed as the centerpiece to turning Carolina around as a No. 1 pick in 2011. Instead, the Panthers are battling the Eagles for the worst record in the NFC. BOB LEVERONE / AP
Quarterback Cam Newton was hailed as the centerpiece to turning Carolina around as a No. 1 pick in 2011. Instead, the Panthers are battling the Eagles for the worst record in the NFC. BOB LEVERONE / AP
Posted: November 27, 2012

The formula for fixing the Eagles is simple enough: Hire a smart, up-and-coming young head coach and obtain a franchise quarterback. Shake well, serve hot, and wait for the Super Bowl runs to commence.

So explain the Carolina Panthers - the 2-8 Carolina Panthers, who will appear at Lincoln Financial Field Monday in a prime-time matchup that has ESPN execs doubling up on their meds.

In 2010, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson faced a situation very much like the one Jeffrey Lurie faces this year. He had a solid head coach, John Fox, who had been to a Super Bowl and as recently as 2008 had gone 12-4.

But the team fell apart after that, going 8-8 in 2009 and bottoming out at 2-14 in 2010. The time had come for Richardson to undertake the process that Lurie will face in six weeks: Replace a proven head coach and turn his franchise back into a winner.

Richardson hired Ron Rivera, whose resumé was impeccable. Rivera had played linebacker for Buddy Ryan in the 1980s. He coached under Jim Johnson with the Eagles and under Lovie Smith with the Bears. He had been to Super Bowls as a player, a linebackers coach, and a defensive coordinator. Rivera is smart, well organized, and was perfectly prepared to be a head coach.

With the first pick in the 2011 draft, the Panthers took quarterback Cam Newton. Rivera had watched Andy Reid build his program around Donovan McNabb. Now he had a bigger, faster, better young QB as the centerpiece of his own team.

The Panthers went 6-10 last year, one game better than Reid and McNabb's first season in Philadelphia. Newton broke Peyton Manning's rookie record for passing yards and was named AP offensive rookie of the year. The Panthers appeared ready to take the kind of step forward the Eagles did in Reid's second year, when they went 11-5.

Instead, they are competing with Reid's Eagles for worst record in the NFC. Newton's leadership became an issue when he questioned the play calling and said he'd put up a "suggestion box" after one tough loss. The team fired general manager Marty Hurney last month.

The moral is obvious for Lurie. You can do things right and still have them turn out wrong. That is probably one of the unspoken reasons Lurie didn't fire Reid after last year's similar disaster. By going with the known over the unknown, the safe over the risky, all Lurie did was waste another season.

It will be more than interesting to see how Lurie handles the challenge. He will not have Joe Banner and Tom Modrak to advise him. Presumably, he will have Howie Roseman, but that presents another problem. Before Reid finally won full control of personnel in 2001, the Eagles had a series of mismatches - Ray Rhodes with Dick Daniels and Modrak; Modrak with Reid - in their two most important football jobs.

It's a bit like hiring defensive line coach Jim Washburn two years ago, then forcing prospective coordinators to work around him. There is nothing more important to a football team than a good working relationship between the coaching staff and the top personnel guy.

Can Roseman attract a top coach? Or will the presence of an unproven GM limit the field of potential candidates? Will Lurie be limited to coaches represented by Bob LaMonte, who is the agent for Reid and Roseman - but also Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, and a host of others?

There will be plenty of possibilities. Lurie could go with a hot college coach, like Oregon's Chip Kelly and Stanford's David Shaw. He could go with a veteran retread like Gruden or Bill Cowher or Brian Billick. Or he could follow his previous strategy of identifying an up-and-coming NFL assistant such as Houston's Rick Dennison, Baltimore's Dean Pees, or Atlanta's Dirk Koetter.

Any one of them could be the next Sean Payton or Mike Tomlin. Any one of them could be the man who finally delivers a Super Bowl title to Philadelphia.

Or any of them could be the next Rivera or Pat Shurmur or Jason Garrett. Good coaches, all. But as hard as making a good hire is, it's no guarantee of success.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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