Washburn-Mudd a gamble that didn't pay off

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles line coaches Howard Mudd (left) and Jim Washburn watch Michael Vick prepare to warm up.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles line coaches Howard Mudd (left) and Jim Washburn watch Michael Vick prepare to warm up.
Posted: December 04, 2012

THE WHOLE "Grumpy Old Men" act Andy Reid brought to town after the 2010 season is in tatters, along with just about everything else the Eagles' coach has tried the past 3 years.

Among the lessons taught by the failure of the Jim Washburn-Howard Mudd experiment is how difficult it is to transplant success.

Offensive-line coach Mudd told the Daily News' Paul Domowitch last week that he will retire after the season. Defensive-line coach Washburn was dismissed Monday morning, right after the Eagles' plane arrived in Philadelphia from the team's eighth loss in a row, 38-33, at Dallas. Washburn was replaced by former Eagles defensive-line coach Tommy Brasher.

Remember the giddy sense of triumph that attended the hiring of Washburn and Mudd? Across the league, bringing in such experienced, renowned teachers was hailed as a coup. Mudd was the guy who'd kept Peyton Manning upright, all the way to a Super Bowl win. Washburn, his equally irascible motorcycle-riding buddy, had created Pro Bowl sack monsters out of ordinary players such as Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jason Babin.

"There's no one that coaches that position better than Jim. The proof is in the people he's taken, that have failed in other places, and they've distinguished themselves with their play . . . Those people that are kind of no-name people. You'd better tape your ankles if you're going to play against Washburn," Mudd said, when the Eagles held a meet-the-new-guys gathering in February 2011.

The part about hiring a defensive-line coach with an esoteric system before you'd hired a defensive coordinator was noted, but largely was dismissed as one of those little details that didn't really matter.

Similarly underappreciated was the fact that Mudd had been retired since 2009, and that Michael Vick wasn't really much like Manning, in terms of how quickly he got rid of the ball, or how he read defenses.

There were things one wondered about, along the way. When Washburn explained his theory of lining the defensive ends up extra-wide, he was asked if that didn't put a lot of pressure on the linebackers and safeties. Washburn said that was no concern of his. From the beginning, the Washburn approach seemed to be to treat sacks as an end unto themselves, as opposed to, say, winning, or building an integrated, cohesive defense.

Wash was quite vocal about didn't want the defensive coordinator title. He wanted the freedom to do his thing, concentrate on the one aspect he cared about, without having to play well with others. "I'm not a social person," he told the Daily News' Marcus Hayes in spring 2011, Washburn discussing his motorcycle ride through South Africa with Mudd. "I'm a guy who likes to stay by myself."

Maybe such a personality would work in a winning situation, but as the Eagles foundered, first under defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, then under replacement Todd Bowles, Washburn grated. His sideline confrontation a little over a year ago with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was a portent of things to come.

Equally alarming, as we've noted before, was the way Mudd's ideas about the kind of offensive lineman he needed led to the jettisoning of several functional backups, who would have come in quite handy this season. And after the disappointing postlockout 2011 season, it was really surprising to ask where Mudd was during spring work and be told that the o-line coach didn't need to attend minicamps, at age 70, he would show up when he was ready. That's the kind of thing maybe you allow coming off a Super Bowl win, not when you've just clocked a season the owner called "unacceptable." Maybe if Mudd had been around more, he would have figured out before camp that plugging in Demetress Bell for Jason Peters wasn't going to work, and the Eagles could have moved on to something else.

It should be noted that Mudd has much more of an excuse for subpar results this season than Washburn. Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans all going down for the season is a pretty big deal. The defense has been very healthy, by contrast.

That, and the fact that Mudd isn't openly antagonistic toward his fellow coaches probably kept something like Washburn's fate from befalling the o-line coach. (Who would be the offensive version of Brasher, if Reid did make such a move? Well, Juan Castillo isn't doing much right now.)

Some are trying to spin this move into a theory about Reid knowing he'll be staying on. That seems far-fetched. In cutting Babin and then firing Babin's mentor, Reid seems to be moving, however belatedly, to acknowledge his biggest mistakes, to set things right, as best he can.

Brasher turns 72 Dec. 30, and has been retired since leaving the Eagles in 2005. But as ex-Eagles linebacker Ike Reese noted Monday, Brasher "was here from the beginning" and has always been available when Reid needed him. Everybody noticed the way, Reid, after refusing to discuss his reasons for making the change Monday, called Brasher "a very loyal, loyal assistant."

A pair of former Eagles noted Monday how the Washburn-Mudd style, Washburn most emphatically, went against everything Reid taught in his first decade with the Eagles. But despite the success of that first decade, Reid hadn't won a Super Bowl, so a little less than 2 years ago, he tried something really, really different, something not true to who Reid was or the atmosphere he'd fostered. We see the results.

"When you have change, things happen," Reid said Monday. "So, one of my responsibilities is that if I feel like it's going too far one way, then I correct that."

After Brasher finishes his four-game stint as a substitute teacher, it'll be a huge surprise if the new head coach lures from retirement any eccentric older guys with unique systems as position coaches. The NFL of 2012 is no country for old men.

"That didn't quite work the way I wanted it to work," Reid said Monday, after he called Washburn "a good football coach."

Birdseed

Andy Reid said running back LeSean McCoy has moved on to Phase 3 of his concussion recovery . . . The Eagles filled their open roster spot by signing offensive tackle Matt Kopa off the Patriots' practice squad.

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