Reflections on the Eagles' Andy Reid era

In the NFL, stars flicker briefly, then go out. But Andy Reid has held sway in Phila. since 1999, when Jeffrey Lurie hired him.
In the NFL, stars flicker briefly, then go out. But Andy Reid has held sway in Phila. since 1999, when Jeffrey Lurie hired him. (Inquirer file photo)
Posted: December 31, 2012

He was introduced to us 14 years ago as The Man With a Plan, and sure enough there it was, The Plan, a binder the size of the Manhattan phone book, an impressive repository of detail and minutiae down to the last bit of, well, what does The Plan say is on the docket for 2:21 p.m. on the second Tuesday of training camp?

And with that Andy Reid had Jeffrey Lurie at hello. Or, rather, at precisely 2:21 p.m. the second Tuesday of training camp. Never mind that Andy Reid had never been a head coach in the NFL. Or a coordinator. The Eagles owner was smitten by The Plan, by all that meticulous preparation, and adherence to the sainted John Wooden's caution: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

And thus was launched the Reign of Cap'n Andy, whose remarkable run will not be fully appreciated until historians, freed from the inflamed passions of the moment, can step back before having a go at a coach who bulled his way through the better part of a decade and a half in a profession where you get three years, maybe four, to prove yourself on the job, and in a city that can chew you up and spit you out and barely burp at your passing.

Andy Reid's tenure will be recalled in part as the time of the big Yes-But. As in, he won more than he lost . . . Yes-But, he never won a Super Bowl. Or, he got the Eagles into the NFC championship game five times . . . Yes-But, they lost four of them.

When you think on it, his most notable achievement might have been simple survival, in part because of his own head-down, slog-ahead, offensive lineman persistence, and the patience of an owner who is taking a long, long time before deciding: Enough is enough. Or rather, unacceptable. He may be too loyal for his own good . . . or for the good of his team.

What is inescapably ironic is that at the time of his leaving Andy Reid may have more supporters than detractors. In a poll by this publication on the eve of Reid's last home game, when asked whether they would cheer or boo, more than four times as many fans said that they would cheer.

In most cases, in most sports, the sacking of a coach or manager is viewed as a necessity - it's been good to know ya, but it's time. There is some of that sentiment at work here, and yet not even his sternest critics think Andy Reid isn't a success, isn't, well, good.

It's still a matter of Yes-But. The bare numbers say he won more games than any other Iggles coach.

Ever.

Yes-But . . .

And as for who will succeed him, well, they can't do worse.

Oh but they can.

And have.

Repeatedly.

Ultimately, he was done in by his own hubris, by the very thing that had so mesmerized Jeffrey Lurie and won Cap'n Andy the job.

The Plan.

His devotion to it was slavish, but ruinously so. In following it so rigorously, he struggled to adapt and adjust. To wed yourself to one philosophy at the expense of others in the National Football League is to invite unstoppable disaster.

Inevitably, as it became grudgingly evident that his addiction to The Plan was irreversibly flawed, desperation set it. He went against his nature, lowered his standards, took risks with me-first players, the kind whom he would never normally give even a passing glance. By the end, the players, as is always the case in these situations, spoke up on his behalf, defending him vigorously. But of course much of that sounded hollow because, really, they had their own lifeboats to row, and good luck to you, Coach.

They swore they didn't give up on him, but their slovenly play shouted otherwise.

Most of them will find employment elsewhere. And it is a lock that Andy Reid will coach again. His reputation everywhere but in his own backyard is gilt-edged.

I keep thinking back to that wintry day 14 years ago, and a hastily called news conference by the Iggles. Sitting in an overstuffed chair was an overstuffed man, sweating bullets.

Who knew we were being introduced to a man who would command the stage for nearly a generation. Who knew all that would follow?

Good Neighbor Andy Reid the coach is not the same person as Andy Reid the man. It is by his choosing, and he chooses not to let us in. But if he did, I would want him for my next-door neighbor, confident that I could give him the keys to my house, go away for two weeks, and return knowing that everything would be exactly as it was when I left.

That's not exactly a shabby reputation, is it?

So now, one last time, for Auld Lang Syne:

"Time's yours."

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