Maybe it's because Jeff Lurie so rarely speaks to the media, but he always surprises me with his eloquence and thoughtfulness behind the podium. Last year, Lurie expressed anger and disappointment about the 2011 results, but gave Reid one more chance to turn things around. It turned out to be the wrong decision, one that made Monday's announcement fait accompli.
There was a lot to digest in his remarks about firing long time coach Andy Reid and the future direction of the Eagles franchise. Let's get to it.
"His work ethic was incredible and his ability to work with others was incredible. He had the love and respect of every individual in this organization. And I don't say that lightly because I think if you were to interview owners and other franchise operations around the league, not everybody could say that. This man is amazing to work with, smart and dedicated himself, and the record will speak for itself. History will focus on exactly what he's been able to accomplish and what the team has been able to accomplish. I look forward to the day we all welcome him back and introduce him as a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame, because that's inevitable."
Lurie went out of his way to praise Reid for all that he's accomplished, as well as simply who he is as a person. He's right, most firings in the NFL aren't nearly as respectful as this one. You can't say the Eagles organization failed to do right by their all-time winningest coach.
I think in life, whenever you have either a downturn or a problem or something that you've got to face (like a) challenge, it should, if you are healthy about it, make you stronger. That's exactly what's going to happen here. We're used to winning and we're used to winning big. It's rare that we're not in the playoffs or playing in the (conference) championship game, and that's what we've got to return to.
Like other owners, Lurie isn't content with mediocrity. It's why so many coaches and general managers were fired on Monday. But I think this was also the first salvo in Lurie courting the next coach. Arizona, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Carolina, Kansas City, and (most importantly) Cleveland can't claim a winning tradition. Whether that really matters may be debatable, but Lurie is going to milk it for all it's worth.
"I think, as you know, I stood up here last year and went through some of the arguments for making a change, and decided not to. One of the key arguments, for me, for not making a change at the end of last year was that every time our team under Andy Reid was 8-8 or less, and it wasn't very often, but every single time after that the next season we were a double-digit playoff team. (We were a) double-digit and playoff team (or) advancing to the NFC Championship."
Lurie said he doesn't regret keeping Reid on for another year, but I think he learned a valuable lesson. Hope is not a viable managerial strategy. You can't assume that things are going to turn around just because they have in the past. Make decisions for the future.
He was very excited about the future of this team and this franchise. He wanted to stay. We spent some time on Friday going over exactly what his plans would be for the team, knowing that there was a very good chance that he was going to be let go.
When asked directly, Lurie denied that Reid was informed before Monday that he would be fired. But they clearly had an interesting end-of-season conversation. What I wouldn't have given to be a fly on the wall of that conference room...
"I think if you had to point to anything, it's when you had as much success as we had and are so close to winning a Super Bowl, (that) at some stage you have an opportunity to think that the next move, even if it's not consistent with all of your previous moves, will be the one that gives you the chance to win the Lombardi Trophy. I think that in the last couple years we've done things that have not been as consistent. They've been more scattered in terms of decision making. You notice it with any organization that has had a lot of success that you will start to reach thinking, ‘That's the thing that's going to (get us over the top), that's the player, that's the method, that's the mechanism, that's the coach, that's the thing that is going to put us over the top'... So I think we lost some of the exact nature of the method that we've all shared that created the success, which was discipline, strategic thinking, and don't do necessarily what is popular but do what's right."
This was the money quote. Lurie knows that Reid wasn't the same coach who lorded over the Linc a decade ago. Instead of drafting for the long term, letting veterans walk before they slowed down, this front office has been reaching in the draft, grabbing free agents willy-nilly, and re-signing veterans to long term extensions. It seems like you're just a step away from getting back to the pinnacle, but really you're going in the wrong direction.
"While you're trying to decide what you're going to do with your coach, at least the way I operate, is doing a lot of research over the past month or so. That is done meticulously and in great detail. We do have a very, very defined list of candidates. We hope to be able to meet with some of them as soon as possible. I think it's better to find the right leader than it is to make the fastest decision."
Lurie's quote here, combined with the news that he's going to interview three (!) candidates from the Atlanta Falcons this week, leads me to believe that he's got a long list of people he wants to talk to before he makes his decision. Sometimes teams interview two or three coaches as a formality before picking the one they wanted all along. Doesn't sound like that's the route Lurie's headed.
"I keep voluminous notes on talent evaluation on not just who we draft, but who is valued in each draft by each person that is in the organization that's working here. I came to the conclusion that the person that was providing by far the best talent evaluation in the building was Howie Roseman. I decided to streamline the whole decision-making process for the 2012 draft and offseason and that's the first draft and offseason I hold Howie completely accountable for. The mistakes that were made in the 2011 draft have little or nothing to do with Howie's evaluations and I think it was important for me to own up to the mistakes that were made and understand where they were coming from and it was awfully clear."
First of all, that's smart ownership. Lurie isn't out front making personnel decisions. But he sure is keeping track of who makes those moves. Accountability is vital. It's the conclusion from those notes that is more surprising, though. Lurie essentially said that Reid and Joe Banner were the ones making poor decisions over the last few years, and that Roseman was consistently right behind the scenes. He absolved his GM of all responsibility for the abysmal 2010-2011 drafts, as well as the 2011 free agent binge (which we were told at the time was all Roseman), while crediting him for the great early returns from 2012's biggest moves. I don't know if such faith is deserved, but it looks like Roseman will be the key player in the front office going forward.
"But my goal is to have the coach and the general manager work hand-in-hand and work collaboratively and work in a very, very terrific way together. But there's no question in my mind the head coach will report directly to me as every head coach has and that's important. It's important in terms of attracting the right coach, it's important in terms of the autonomy that coach will have and it also fosters an owner-coach relationship that I think benefits a football team in many, many ways. That shared responsibility with the coach and the ultimate support for a coach when it's coming directly from the owner and you build an organization that is supportive and give the coach all the resources possible and have the G.M. collaborate very, very moment-to-moment and day-to-day with that coach, that's a great support system and that's what we have here."
This is going to be an important question in attracting the right coach. Many candidates will insist on complete control. But, paired with his earlier praise of Roseman, Lurie doesn't seem willing to give it over. He described having the GM and coach work together with each reporting directly to the owner. Roseman won at least partial control in the last year, and that won't be relinquished, a fact which could eliminate a few of the most prominent candidates.
"Good question. I think the most important thing is to find the right leader. I'm not one who wants to buy schemes, wants to buy approaches that are necessarily finite. What you've got to find is somebody who is strategic. Somebody who is a strong leader. Somebody who is very comfortable in his own skin. That, to me, is probably one of the one or two top traits because players today see right through if you're not. If you're a salesman coach, that's not going to work. Somebody who is completely comfortable in his role and in who they are as a person, that's the most important thing. But there's a lot of other characteristics that go into it. How well does the person hire? Is he going to surround himself with strong coordinators and good assistant coaches? ... I'm looking for someone that's innovative. Somebody that is not afraid to take risks. Somebody that looks (at) and studies the league and studies the college world and decides what the best inefficiencies are on offense and defense and special teams and can execute it with their coaches so that you take advantage of trends and take advantage of, again, inefficiencies in terms of where the game is at and understand where it's going. So, a student of the game who is obsessed and who absolutely and, on his own, is completely driven to be the best, that's what you're looking for."
Innovative leader, not scheme champion. Sounds more like Bill O'Brien than Chip Kelly to me.
"I think to be really successful in this league, you've got to be able to have the freedom to make short-term plans, mid-term plans and long-term plans and if you feel like you're under the gun where you're going to be given two years and that's it or this year has to be absolutely the panacea to every problem you have, you're not going to get the best coaching."
So, what you're saying is that it might not have been such a good idea to give Reid a public ultimatum for 2012? Oops.
"I think the new coach will have a big factor in evaluating Nick. Nick is obviously very promising. I think when you bring in a new coaching staff, you have the opportunity to really get to know him and evaluate him. He has only played six games behind an offensive line that's been really battered. I think they're going to have a great opportunity. I know Andy was very excited about Nick and that's an understatement."
Interesting that Lurie describes Reid's excitement about Foles but not Roseman's. Obviously there's some organizational momentum behind the young QB, but we'll see what the next head coach says.
"I feel the pain. I feel the pain so much that I sometimes wonder, it's harder for me to lose than it is to win a game. I still play over, just to give you a feel for it, I will go back and go through a red zone series in New Orleans in a playoff game and I can't get it out of my mind. It could be a pass that is underthrown in a playoff game here against Green Bay a few years ago, or an early pass in the Super Bowl with a guy open that got intercepted. Things like that. I don't get it out of my mind. When we have a season like this year, it's embarrassing to me and it's personally crushing. Really, it's terrible."
Whatever else you want to say about Lurie, this team is his entire life. Let's all hope he makes the right decisions going forward.
Photo from Getty.