Doug Pederson will return to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday to face the Philadelphia Eagles as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The only coach in franchise history to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl isn’t the most glorified figure in franchise history. In fact, he took an undeserved amount of criticism for his flaws while he coached the Eagles.
The “man who went for it on fourth down” in Super Bowl LII didn’t have the most graceful exit from Philadephia. He became the third-fastest coach in history to be fired after capturing a Lombardi Trophy.
However, the teaser to his book Fearless: How an Underdog Becomes a Champion accurately states:
“Doug Pederson is the very definition of an underdog. He was an undrafted rookie free agent who would go on to play fourteen years in the NFL as a backup quarterback. He was cut five times, yet kept getting back up and into the fray.”
Criticism of an Unproven Head Coach
When Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman first introduced Doug Pederson, the fan base met the new head coach with skepticism. He didn’t have the most impressive track record of available candidates, and no other NFL teams interviewed him for head coaching positions.
Most long-time fans of the Eagles hated him from the one season he spent as a player in midnight green paving the way as a mentor for Donovan McNabb in 1999. The team finished 2-7 in games that Doug Pederson started, and people weren’t satisfied (to say the least).
The demanding Philadelphia fan base did what they’re accustomed to doing and heavily scrutinized a transition season in 2016. The team finished 7-9 with limited talent on the roster and a rookie quarterback. Pederson made some questionable decisions that ignited some doubt.
Despite supposedly being “less qualified to coach a team than anyone” over a 30-year period, Doug Pederson withstood a barrage of injuries in 2017. Star quarterback Carson Wentz, future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters, linebacker Jordan Hicks, and explosive offensive weapon Darren Sproles (among others) all went down with season-ending injuries. The Eagles barely blinked in the face of adversity and defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in an epic showdown with their previously unintimidating backup Nick Foles under center.
After Philadelphia fans finished rejoicing in the glory of their first Super Bowl ring, they set an even higher standard for the most popular team in town. Pederson called the victory the “new norm.”
The Eagles failed to stock their roster properly to keep up with the constant changes of the NFL. Roseman struggled to draft players to replace aging veterans, and he didn’t have the same kind of success in free agency as he did during the 2017 offseason.
The Eagles somehow suffered through an even longer list of injuries in 2018 and 2019. They overcame their imperfections to earn a playoff berth in both seasons. The adjustments made by an accomplished coach who works with personnel regardless of disadvantages can often become criteria for Coach of the Year awards in professional sports.
The high demand for success somehow pushed Pederson’s accomplishments to the back burner. In some cases, he got roped into blame for relatively successful seasons by most NFL standards with extremely flawed rosters that he didn’t create.
Doug Pederson and Frank Reich
Former offensive coordinator Frank Reich left Philadelphia to take the head coaching job with the Indianapolis Colts in 2018. When the Eagles limped to 4-6 and 5-7 records to begin the 2108 and 2019 seasons, respectively, fans pointed out the absence of Reich as a reason why Doug Pederson could no longer succeed.
The most misguided sentiment that slandered Pederson had to do with his former assistant. Many Eagles fans started reassigning credit for the Super Bowl LII victory to Reich with an unfounded display of revisionist history. Whenever the offense stalled, people pointed fingers at Doug Pederson.
The celebration of Reich only took place after he was gone. The undying passion of the best fan base in the NFL led to unnecessary levels of criticism against a head coach who embodies everything they stand for.
The idea of Reich as the brains of the operation behind gearing the Philadelphia offense towards Foles after the 2017 season is a subjective argument with very little material basis.
Since Reich left the Eagles for Indianapolis, the Colts have qualified for the playoffs twice in four seasons. They’ve won one playoff game. In Doug Pederson’s three years with the Eagles following 2017, he also qualified for the postseason twice and won one playoff game. Wentz’s stint with his former offensive coordinator in Indianapolis didn’t exactly go according to plan either.
Where exactly is the justification for reassigning credit for the biggest win in the history of Philadelphia sports? It sounds like even Reich gives credit to the head coach who led the fearless charge.
Eagles Move on From Doug Pederson
The bottom fell out in 2020. A 4-11-1 season cost Doug Pederson his job, even though Lurie implied that his only championship-winning head coach didn’t necessarily deserve the axe.
Pederson died on the hill of the assistant coaching staff. Lurie and Roseman didn’t want to give him full control over his own hires, and the disagreement led to his exit. The split might never have taken place if Wentz had requested a trade sooner to give the organization a better idea of their plan moving forward.
Despite the bigger picture, Pederson was as culpable as anyone for the brutal season in 2020. He deserved criticism for head-scratching decisions that put the Eagles in a hole, especially his game management blunders in a Week 3 tie against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“You have to hit the reset button, man. When that new league year starts over again in March, you’ve got to hit the reset button and get off your friggin high horse and go back to work just like it’s day one and you’re the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles or whoever it is and you’ve got to go back to work.”–Doug Pederson
Accepting the flaws of an excellent coach with the benefit of hindsight is nothing new in Philadelphia. Eagles fans hammered Andy Reid for a long time for his shortcomings, but he is now a deservedly celebrated figure in franchise history. The separation over time put out the fires of anger against Big Red, and it looks like Pederson is well on his way to the same fate.
Fans at the Linc cheered the current Kansas City Chiefs head coach in Week 3 of his first season after leaving the Eagles, and they will also cheer Pederson on Sunday.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back there (Philadelphia). I understand that city, I understand that passion for football, but now I’m on the other side,” Pederson said about the upcoming matchup.
He knows the highs and the lows. He’s in a better spot, and so are Nick Sirianni and the Eagles. Doug Pederson deserves a loud ovation before the game starts on Sunday and a louder chorus of hostility once the Jaguars take the field.
Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire