You might assume that when a head coach wins an improbable Super Bowl with his backup quarterback in just his second season on the job, and then just three years later is either fired or quits - and no one is really sure which - that there's something wrong there. Something really, really, terribly wrong with that organization.
But according to this report in The Athletic (paywall), when that team happens to be the Philadelphia Eagles, you don't know the half of it. From the sound of things, Jeffrey Lurie runs the team like King Joffrey, with backstabbing, fear, intimidation and internal spies reporting to him directly as the chief way of conducting business.
The article is long and goes into a lot of depth, with anonymous sources and too many names to keep track of, so just to hit the highlights:
--Lurie reportedly tried to force out offensive coordinator Frank Reich after just one year on the job, and Doug Pederson had to fight to hang onto him. The following year in the Super Bowl, Reich schemed the Eagles up to 41 points in the Super Bowl, with eight of his team's possessions resulting in scores and only one punt all game. A year after that, he was a head coach.
--In 2019, Lurie succeeded in forcing Pederson to fire assistants Mike Groh and Carson Walch.
--Every Tuesday, Lurie and GM Howie Roseman would insist on sitting down with Pederson and interrogating him on all his game day decisions for hours on end, and "treated him like a baby."
[Pederson] was ridiculed and criticized for every decision,” a 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 fact that Doug had the success he did with all the s— going on in the building, sometimes I look at our Super Bowl rings, and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, I don’t know how we did it.’
--Part of the grilling can apparently be traced to ownership's love of analytics. The head of that department is Vice President of Football Operations and Strategy Alec Halaby, who went to Harvard with Lurie's son and works under Roseman. He's either "brilliant" or an "interloper," depending on which anonymous source The Athletic spoke to.
The blurriness of Halaby’s influence on the final decision-makers created rifts throughout the organization and contributed to the iciness between departments. One source described the analytics team as a “clandestine, Black Ops department that doesn’t answer to anybody except the owner,” even though Halaby officially reports to Roseman.
During the 2017 season, Halaby and Pederson’s relationship soured to the point where Pederson berated Halaby within earshot of the rest of the office, according to sources. In the opinion of some members of the coaching staff, Halaby was not to be trusted.
--For instance, after a game against Packers on a Thursday night, Lurie pulled Pederson into the interrogation room, handcuffed him to the table (not really, I'm just using imagery to set the mood) and demanded to know why he didn't throw the ball more, because that's what the advanced metrics said would work. It's worth noting that this was after beating Green Bay.
--Lurie is a meddling, draftnik wannabe, vetoing what the scouting staff called for in the war room and making his own decisions unilaterally.
According to multiple sources, Lurie devours tape of college prospects and is an “active participant” in the pre-draft process. Those who have experienced that process aknowledge its murkiness. Often, there’s no explanation given when the team strays from an established draft board. Sometimes, as with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s selection in 2019, Lurie puts his thumb on the scale when the team was prepared to make another selection (in that case, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell).
It goes on and on from there, but I think I've painted the broad strokes of this insane, dysfunctional shit show. Holy moly. I'm not saying this lets Pederson off the hook entirely for the rapid decline and fall of the Eagles empire, but it certainly does explain a lot. This is how you go from 13-3 and a ring to 4-12 and out of work in four short years. And might go a long way toward explaining the epic failures of some of the individual Eagles players like Carson Wentz. A fish rots from the head and all that. And from the sound o of things, this has been a franchise with serious fish cancer of the brain.
All of which brings the Patriots fan in me to a very dark place. I hate to make this all about them, but it is about them. This one anonymous source is looking at their Super Bowl LII rings and wondering how they did it? Believe me, everyone in New England is looking at an empty space above the south end zone in Gillette where a banner should be and asking the same question. Yes, six should be enough but it isn't. Not when you lost to a organization that is run like the Kremlin under Stalin and can't believe they beat us with everyone looking over their shoulder, getting second and third guessed by Harvard mathletes and expecting to be fired.
Typically this kind of in-fighting and internal conflict is what happens to teams the Patriots beat, not the ones they lose to. Just look no further than to Atlanta for proof. The fact they couldn't keep it together after a great and improbable victory is astonishing. Though, I guess in a way it makes what the Pats were able to sustain for two decades (and counting, I hope) all the more impressive, I suppose. All I know is it couldn't happen to a nicer team. I hope Lane Johnson had fun during all this.