Please allow a moment of silence as we sprinkle a big greasy Cheesesteak sandwich on the ground for the newly unemployed Andy Reid. The long term coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, the longest serving coach on any team in the NFL was fired today, after a pathetic 4-12 season, which was the culmination of two straight years of missing in the playoffs and the first two consecutive losing seasons of his 14 year career. Reid’s career will be dissected by analysts and commentators for days, but as a fan, I don’t care about that, because this firing finally answers the question that every Eagles fan has been quietly asking themselves since 2010: Was Donovan McNabb propping up the poor coaching of Andy Reid, or was Andy Reid covering for the questionable skills of Donovan McNabb? It took almost three years to get here, but we finally know our answer.
You can’t discuss the firing of Andy Reid without discussing former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Reid drafted McNabb 2nd overall in 1999 despite protests from the notoriously vulgar Eagles fans who wanted running back Ricky Williams instead. From 1999 to 2010 when McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins the Reid / McNabb combination led a wildly successful Eagles squad. They repeatedly won the NFC East in an era when it was considered the toughest in the league. They went to five NFC Championship games (three of them were at home) and one Super-bowl. From 1999-2010 they had the third highest winning percentage of any Coach / Quarterback combination in the league. The only combinations with higher winning percentages than them during that decade were Tony Dungy/ Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick / Tom Brady. Not bad, until you consider that the first two duos each appeared in multiple superbowls during that same time period and won at least one a piece. And therein lies the question that has always hung over Andy Reid. Why couldn’t he win the big game? Was it him, or Donovan or both of them?
The high scoring exciting nature of the Reid / McNabb era helped mask their debilitating flaws as both player and coach. Donovan and Andy both complemented and covered for each other. Donovan McNabb was athletic and had a high football IQ, so for years he could improvise and cover for Andy Reid’s horribly predictable play calling and legendarily bad clock management. At the same time, Andy Reid organized his entire team around McNabb, giving him running backs who could catch short screen passes and defenses that provided turnovers, which made up for McNabb’s inaccurate throws and inability to sustain long drives down the field. Their loyalty to each other paid off for years. McNabb took all the heat for the T.O. debacle, not to mention horrible clock management and play-calling in the Superbowl and the painful 2008 NFC Championship loss to the Cardinals when both situations could’ve been fixed with better coaching. On the flip side, Reid constantly fended off attempts to trade McNabb and removed other quarterbacks or players that challenged McNabb’s tenuous leadership on the team (Jeff Garcia, Kevin Kolb and believe it or not A.J Feely at one point.) This helped create the myth that Reid was a great game day coach, even though he was terrible at half-time adjustments. This helped create the myth that Reid was a great quarterbacks coach, even though no quarterback Reid ever drafted or traded for besides McNabb was ever able to keep a starting job.
When the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins in 2010 pundits lauded it as another example of Reid cutting ties right before a player lost a step. But as a fan I knew better. The clock was running on Reid, he no longer had Donovan as a cover for his poor decision making, lack of preparation and lackadaisical game planning. He had a great young offensive team, a quarterback he had drafted high (Kevin Kolb) whom he’d groomed for years. If McNabb thrived on another team and Reid failed we’d have our answer. If Reid thrived with another quarterback and McNabb failed we’d have our answer. Either way, the clock was ticking. But anyone who’s followed Andy Reid knows he was never that good a clock management.
Donovan moped his way through a season and a half with the Redskins and Vikings before finally realizing his heart just wasn’t in the game anymore. Reid would’ve flamed out just as fast but McNabb left him one last cover to extend his coaching career: Michael Vick. McNabb had lobbied for the Eagles to pick up Vick after his two year stint in jail, as a bit of a rehab project in 2010. When Kevin Kolb turned out to be a horrible bust of a player Vick stepped in and kept Reid in a job for another season with his dynamic play. But eventually Michael Vick proved to be fool’s gold, the New Coke to Donovan McNabb’s original recipe. All of the talent and fizz but none of durability, football IQ or substance. After scrambling around and firing people and laying blame and trotting out Nick Foles Andy Reid is finally done and Philadelphia and we fans got our final answer.
Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb were both frustratingly borderline talents. They were tantalizingly really really good without ever being great. There are a lot of reasons Andy Reid got fired, his inability to manage a defense after Jim Johnson passed in 2010, his poor drafting, and his off the field troubles with his children all played a role. But in the end Reid, like Dan Reeves, Mike Shannahan and Jeff Fisher before him, was exposed as a mediocre coach who couldn’t get it done without his star quarterback. Andy will go on and sucker some other team into hiring him, and Donovan will work his way up the NFL analyst ladder, but neither of them will ever reach the heights they saw in 2000’s again. Thanks for the memories Andy. The confidence of knowing we had football in January, the annual “I swear I’ll never watch Philly again” rants, the depressing Mondays and my pathological desire to find an Eagles bar no matter where I lived. I couldn’t think of a better more mediocre coach to spend the last 14 years with.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson.