Way back in 1999, the Cleveland Browns had a new team and the Philadelphia Eagles had a new head coach.
Fast-forward 14 NFL seasons and the Browns are still essentially a new team, one that has 15 rookies on its roster and possibly five in the starting lineup for Sunday’s season opener vs. the Eagles.
Andy Reid is still the Eagles coach. He’s the longest tenured coach in today’s NFL, a year ahead of Bill Belichick in New England.
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As a point of comparison, the reborn-in-’99 Browns are now on their fifth full-time head coach. Second-year Browns coach Pat Shurmur is one of four former Reid assistants who are now NFL head coaches.
The Eagles have changed assistants and changed quarterbacks, but the winning hasn’t changed. They’ve had a winning record in 11 of Reid’s 13 seasons and gone to the playoffs in nine of them.
Besides a bunch of hardware and memories, that’s earned Reid the chance to keep going — but only if he has another winning season this year. After the Eagles had to scramble and finish strong to go 8-8 last season, owner Jeffrey Lurie has said firmly that 8-8 won’t be enough for Reid to keep his job in 2013.
Reid understands the message, and what’s at stake.
“I would tell you that 8-8 is not good enough,” Reid said Wednesday. “That’s not what we’re shooting for. I’m all in on that. Jeffrey and I have a good relationship. We keep everything out on the table and that’s why we’ve had this thing going for 14 seasons.”
That’s just one storyline surrounding the start of Year 14. The Eagles, on paper, are one of the league’s most talented teams. Quarterback Michael Vick had a very limited preseason due to injuries, but insists he’s healthy and ready to go. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s contract squabble is over. The Eagles might have the league’s best pass rush.
Reid has every reason to think his team can win a bunch, more than enough to land on the right side of that pass/fail line.
“Right now,” Reid said, “I’m all in on playing the Cleveland Browns and I really don’t go anywhere else.”
To the Browns, 8-8 would be great success. Since a 10-win season in 2007, the Browns have been through two coaches and have won just 18 games total. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden gets the ball Sunday, becoming the 11th different player since 1999 to start at the game’s most important position on opening weekend.
Reid said he’s a fan of Weeden’s strong arm and poise. Not surprisingly, he said Browns general manager Tom Heckert — who held the same title with the Eagles before coming to Cleveland in 2010 — has upgraded the talent level of the Browns, and that the Browns make for a very dangerous opponent.
Like every other coach, even the ones who don’t stick around long, Reid said he’s playing them one at a time. He was back at work just a few days after his son, Garrett, passed away during training camp. Anytime the issue of last year’s struggles or the two remaining years on his contract has been raised, Reid simply says he’s focused on the present.
That philosophy has worked to this point.
“His track record speaks for itself,” Vick said. “If you’re a coach that has that long of a tenure, that says a lot about what you’ve been able to accomplish.
“With most coaches, the life span of a coach in the NFL is 2-3 years — if that. And we’ve seen some get the boot even quicker. Coach Reid has been building something special within the organization that he’s been able to sustain.”
Reid is the fourth longest-tenured coach in American pro sports. Reid’s teams have won 126 regular-season games, 10 playoff games and in the 2000s Reid became just the fourth coach in NFL history to win 100 games in a decade.
Reid insists there’s no secret to his success and credits the people around him. Lurie took over as owner in 1995. Still relatively new to their current jobs are team president Don Smolenski and general manager Howie Roseman, but they’ve been with the Eagles for 15 and 13 years, respectively.
“I’m surrounded by really good people,” Reid said. “From my owner on down. The front office guys are phenomenal. The GM is awesome. The coaches and players have been incredible over the years. If i could pick one thing, that’s it.”
The Eagles are model of stability in an ever-changing, completely unstable league. The Browns are six or so weeks from undergoing an official ownership change, the kind that often leads to the kind of change that’s been the only constant for the Browns organization.
Reid said he doesn’t sense that stressing Shurmur — “you’re in to this day in day out grind of getting your football team right” — and called his former quarterbacks coach “extremely smart and very good with people.” Shurmur is trying to be much better in the win-loss record part of the game after going 4-12 in his first year.
His counterpart Sunday serves as a very good role model.
“It points to his character,” Shurmur said of Reid’s longevity. “The man can persevere, I think that’s important. He doesn’t let the issues of the day build up on him. He just keeps working with his team. I hope I’m sitting here 14 years from now because I do appreciate that strength in his character and I hope I learn some of that.”