Infighting, dysfunction reportedly behind Philadelphia Eagles' rapid fall from grace
It was Feb. 4, 2018, and the Philadelphia Eagles were Super Bowl champions for the first time in franchise history.
They had a dynamic coach in Doug Pederson, a rising star of a quarterback in Carson Wentz and the depth to overcome his injury absence down the stretch. After a thrilling 41-33 victory over Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, jubilant Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was asked what the championship meant.
"If there’s a word, [it’s] called everything," Lurie said. "That’s what it means to Eagles fans everywhere."
Three years later, the Eagles are coming off a 4-11-1 season. They’ve gone 22-25-1 since that championship. Their dynamic coach is gone, having been fired in January. Their promising young quarterback regressed upon returning from his knee injury, and now he’s gone, too – shipped off to Indianapolis in March.
The fall has been quite stunning. And now, thanks to an exhaustively reported story in The Athletic, it appears that a fair amount of blame for that fall can be placed squarely at the top.
The story, reported by Sheil Kapadia, Bo Wulf and Zach Berman, painted a picture of infighting and dysfunction, of "second-guessing, paranoia and a lack of transparency" under the guidance of owner Jeffrey Lurie and Executive Vice President Howie Roseman.
One of the big issues, according to The Athletic, was the treatment of Pederson, who was called in for meetings with Lurie and Roseman every Tuesday. In those meetings, Lurie and Roseman would go over the previous game and question their coach on every aspect of his game management, including his use of personnel, playcalling and other decisions. They did this even after victories.
"[Pederson] was ridiculed and criticized for every decision," one source told The Athletic. "If you won by three, it wasn’t enough. If you lost on a last-second field goal, you’re the worst coach in history."
The Eagles stressed transparency and collaboration. Decisions were supposed to be a group effort, with the three-headed team of Pederson, Roseman and Lurie leading the way.
But it didn't work out that way. Roseman, having previously lost a power battle among him, Lurie and former coach Chip Kelly, had learned his lesson. He ingratiated himself with Lurie, and Pederson was the one left on the outside.
The irony is that the Kelly experience was what led Lurie to stress collaboration and transparency. But that’s not how it happened: The balance of power merely shifted from owner-coach to owner-VP.
The Athletic’s Berman said that’s what shocked him the most about the whole story, which he spent two months reporting.
"I would say that a team that publicly touts collaboration whenever they can really is deficient in that area," he said. "I think that is a major weakness of theirs that must be improved, and it runs counter to so much they say publicly. If you read their public comments over the past five years, they use collaboration as a buzzword so frequently, and it’s something that they really must improve upon."
The infighting and intrigue are interesting as well, considering that they seemed to amplify after Super Bowl LII.
You would expect the owner to keep an eye on Pederson as a new coach in 2016, but you might think that would change a bit after he won a title. Instead, Lurie tightened things up even more to the point that one writer compared his overbearing style to that of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Colin Cowherd, speaking on his show "The Herd," pointed to Lurie’s micromanaging as hurting the team’s ability to find an experienced replacement for Pederson.
"When you do that, coaches talk," Cowherd said. "And when coaches talk, like 'don’t go [there], they treat you bad.’ This is why Cleveland forever kept running through coaches. … When owners treat coaches poorly and are unrealistic, you end up with the seventh option as head coach."
Cowherd might have a point. The Eagles ended up hiring Nick Sirianni, a former offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts. Sirianni, just 39 years old, had never been a head coach, and he was running his offense under an offensive head coach in Frank Reich. (In an odd twist, Reich is a former Eagles offensive coordinator who got the best out of Wentz. Wentz, of course, is now his quarterback).
Granted, it’s unfair to judge the Sirianni hire at this point. Pederson didn’t have head-coaching experience when he got the job, and he led the Eagles to a championship. Maybe Lurie can strike gold again, with a more malleable coach this time around.
In fact, former Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett spoke glowingly of his time working with Sirianni.
"He knows football. He loves football," Brissett said. "A guy that can be prepared for everything. One thing about Nick is he thinks about every situation possible. That’s what will set him apart."
Time will tell. Perhaps Sirianni will be a better fit with the operation Lurie and Roseman are managing. Perhaps he will blend beautifully with young quarterback Jalen Hurts and help build Philadelphia back into a championship-caliber franchise.
That would be stunning — but perhaps not as stunning as how quickly things fell apart in the first place.
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