Well, that was unexpected.
Quintin Mikell, going into his third year as starting strong safety and second as the emotional leader of the defense, had some choice words, via Reuben Frank, for the players the Eagles cut:
“There was just a lot of negativity. A lot of people weren’t putting the team first… We’ve never had that before, since I’ve been here. We’ve never been a selfish team, where guys were more worried about what they did individually than how we did as a team. But we had guys who were more concerned about how the game plan affected them. It was, ‘How am I going to get my sacks if we’re doing this,’ instead of, ‘Hey, let’s go out and do whatever it takes to win the game.’ “
Ouch. He continues:
“It was, ‘Well, we had to keep going out there (because the offense wasn’t getting first downs),’ or, ‘They had great field position,’ or whatever. I don’t care if we have to go out there 20 million times, let’s go out there 20 million times and stop the other team… Sean’s a good coach, but as soon as things started going wrong, people started doubting him and second guessing him. If we had a bad game, it was like, ‘Why did he make that call? I could have gotten a sack if he made a different call.’”
That sounds pretty bad. You can’t have that kind of outright dissention in a locker room, especially with a rookie coach. Just unacceptable. Quintin made it clear that losing Sheldon Brown and Chris Gocong is “tough,” so they aren’t the culprits. That leaves veteran back-ups like Chris Clemons, Darren Howard, and Sean Jones.
But there’s more to this. These statements are part of Quintin reasserting leadership of the defense. As much as he blasted players, he didn’t name anyone in particular and said that everyone he was referring to is already gone. Somehow I doubt that second part. Maybe some of these guys the Eagles got rid of were quiet cancers in the locker room, but I think it’s also easy to read this as a shot across the bow of any defensive player who (still) tends to question or defy his assignments (see: Samuel, Asante).
Truth is, what Quintin said is just a more specific version of what Sheldon Brown talked about when he got to Cleveland:
“I just think, we as a defense in Philadelphia, you just have to believe in what coach McDermott preaches and follow the plan. You know, sometimes I look back at last year, the season, I feel that we had some players that really was questioning some of the things that were being done. And [we] never had that situation since I’ve been there. And first and foremost, you have to believe in the system, believe in the plan, or you lose before you even go out there. And if the guys can remember to do that, stick together, they’ll be fine.”
We were unsure how to take those words right after Sheldon was unceremoniously shipped away, but now we understand that they were just a frank assessment of the locker room in Philly. And at the time, we assumed he was talking about Asante. Clearly there were more players we never heard about, but that doesn’t mean Asante wasn’t also a problem.
More to the point for this blog though, is it possible that Quintin is also referring to Donovan, at least implicitly?
“When we lost, instead of looking at themselves and asking what they could have done better, there were some guys who were questioning the coaches and the game plan. But you can’t bring that negativity to the team, especially when you have a young locker room like we have. Because then the young guys hear it and it spreads, and you can’t have that and be successful.
Mikell tended to couch his comments towards the defense, but this one was ambiguous. At times last season you could see Donovan doubting the play call — he was even caught on camera yelling at Andy Reid/Marty Mornhinweg to run the ball in the red zone. When you take Donovan’s actions into account (even if overall he was the same solid role model) the locker room split doesn’t seem so unlikely. I don’t know how you can have the longest-tenured veteran question coaching decisions outright and still keep control of the locker room.
Maybe tearing things down and starting again with young players was the smart move.