Bob Ford: Eagles begin searching for the perfect coach

Posted: January 01, 2013

Jeffrey Lurie spent the first five minutes of his news conference on Monday describing the perfect head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, or for any NFL team.

The perfect man for the job is "not only an outstanding coach, but an outstanding person," according to Lurie. He is "dedicated, has an incredible work ethic and incredible ability to work with others." He is "smart," would earn the "love and respect of every individual in this organization," and, in short, is a "gem."

Of course, Lurie was describing the guy he had just fired, not the one he will hire to replace Andy Reid. According to the owner, what he had in Reid is exactly what he's hoping to find in the next coach.

That leads to one obvious question, but it has nothing to do with why Lurie decided to fire such a great coach and enter a scary new era of uncertainty. Reid had to be fired because it was over for him here. It was probably over a year ago, but Lurie believed Reid's track record of bouncing back from a bad season would continue to hold. When it didn't, and when Reid had no ability to stop the slide to a 4-12 record, that sealed things. All coaches come with an expiration date. It's just that Reid remained palatable a lot longer than most.

The obvious question, after reviewing all of Reid's qualities and declaring them a perfect fit for the job, is: In that case, why does the team stink so bad? Or, in simpler terms: What went wrong?

Lurie agreed that was a toughie, but he took it on and, to sum up, he thinks the Eagles decision-making process lost its way in Reid's final seasons. Everyone, Lurie included, was looking for the magic button to push that would transform the Eagles from a playoff team into a championship team.

The owner didn't list the buttons that were pushed, but you can put Michael Vick, Jim Washburn and the wide-nine formation, Howard Mudd, the Wildcat offense, Juan Castillo, and free-agent signings such as Jason Babin and Nnamdi Asomugha among the items on the list.

"You have an opportunity to think the next move, even if it's not consistent with all your previous moves, would be the one that gives you the chance to win the Lombardi Trophy," Lurie said. "Any organization will start to reach, thinking, 'That's the player, that's the method, that's the mechanism, that's the coach, that's the thing that's going to put us over the top.' "

Lurie made it sound like a lesson that has been learned by the organization, and he also made it sound as if the next coach is going to be a guy who likes to put the ball in the fairway rather than one, like Reid, quite often, who prefers to hook one through the trees because it might be a shorter distance to the green.

If you want to put that template over the potential candidates to replace Reid, it appears that raw innovation, of the sort you find in Oregon's Chip Kelly and his unorthodox spread offense, holds less appeal than a safe, steady alternative.

"We lost some of the exact nature of the methods we all shared to create the success, which was discipline, strategic thinking and, don't do necessarily what's popular, but what's right," Lurie said. "At times, we probably had to be a little more self-disciplined."

With that in mind, Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and team president Don Smolenski are going to begin the interview process. Lurie doesn't think it is necessary to find an established "name" coach, and Roseman certainly wouldn't lobby to share power with a big foot who comes stomping into the organization.

It doesn't seem, from Lurie's remarks, that a college coach would be a sensible choice, either, unless it is one with significant NFL experience. In all likelihood, the next coach is someone's position coach or offensive or defensive coordinator right now, a bright guy who can make the leap to the big job and return the Eagles to the fundamental business of winning football games.

That's the kind of guy Lurie found 14 years ago and it worked out pretty well. In fact, he was the perfect coach. Somewhere along the way, in pursuit of a championship, his decisions got a little wacky and finally it was time to let him go.

Andy Reid leaves as the winningest coach in team history. As for the guy who will take the job next, the surest bet is that he probably won't break Reid's record. Lurie would have to get very lucky a second straight time and that doesn't usually happen.

The owner doesn't have to worry, however, about the new coach reaching for that one magic button, that quick fix, to provide a championship. The Eagles aren't that close any more. Now, the real work has to begin again.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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