In Defense of Andy Reid
Bill Barnwell [ARCHIVE]
December 14, 2012
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What sort of legacy is Andy Reid leaving behind in Philadelphia? At the moment, it doesn't appear to be a particularly positive one. Eagles home games have become rallies — worse, sparsely attended rallies — for weary fans to boo both a team that's given up on 2012 and a head coach whose 14-year tenure with the club appears to be coming to a close. It's as if Philadelphia fans know that they won't get a chance to boo Reid's decision-making after this year and want to make sure they get their last licks in before he leaves town. You can't blame season-ticket holders for thinking about the short-term, but how does Reid look if we put his long-term career with Philadelphia in context? How will those booing fans look back at the Reid administration? Was his tenure with the Eagles a success or a failure?

In truth, the Reid era isn't given its just due by either of those polarizing labels. Unlike most of the coaches who also had lengthy tenures with one team over the past 15 years, Reid's run was noticeably marked by brilliant highs and dour lows. Coaches like Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher, and Jon Gruden might have had higher peaks, but none had to traverse lower valleys or struggle with a steady amount of criticism. It would be impossible to talk about Andy Reid's legacy without mentioning some glaring missteps, but Reid is in many ways a model coach for this upcoming generation of NFL bosses. And, in most cases, the most pointed criticisms he has received are either misdirected or shortsighted.

It's fair to say that the Reid Era plays better on paper than it does in real life, but part of that is because the Eagles coach raised expectations to feverishly high levels during the beginning of his tenure and then kept his squad within distance of meeting those expectations for virtually his entire run. The numbers are actually rather impressive. With two games left to go in what is expected to be his final season, Reid has a 130-91-2 record as head coach of the Eagles, producing a .588 winning percentage that ranks sixth in the league across that time frame. The five teams ahead of him are your standard-issue best teams in football: the Patriots (a league-best .710), Colts (.674), Steelers (.636), Packers (.620), and Ravens (.602). Reid's Eagles sit well ahead of the seventh-place Titans, who are packed tightly in a group with the Giants and Broncos. Cynics will correctly note that the five teams ahead of the Eagles have each won the Super Bowl (and have combined to win eight of the 14 Super Bowls over that time frame), but I'll get to that in a second.

Reid's work in the playoffs was also very impressive. If his run finishes after this season, Reid's teams will have made the playoffs in nine of his 14 seasons with the team, including a Super Bowl run in 2004. Reid is 10-9 in playoff games, too, which is a .526 winning percentage that tops the percentages of the Packers and Jets (both .500) as well as the Colts (.474).

The playoff runs Reid made look even better when you compare them to what the Eagles did before he arrived in town. From 1970 (the AFL-NFL merger) to 1999 (at which point Reid took over), the Eagles played 30 seasons of football and only made the playoffs 10 times. Reid is one playoff appearance away from equaling that in half the time. Those Eagles teams went 5-10 in the playoffs, making the Super Bowl as frequently in 30 years (once) as Reid did in 14 years. Particularly bitter Eagles fans will argue that Reid needed to win a Super Bowl to justify his existence, but that argument doesn't carry a ton of weight these days. How many people have either mentioned or noticed without saying it that the most important thing about the NFL playoffs is merely getting in? The Giants have made a living off of limping through the regular season before dominating in two different postseason runs. If it is really that much of a crapshoot, shouldn't we be crediting Reid for gaming the system properly and getting as many cracks at the postseason as possible as opposed to lining up to attack him for only reaching the Super Bowl once?

Fourteen years is a long time in the NFL. It's enough to draft and develop a whole generation of talent, see them age, and then be forced to replace them with a second generation of talent, players who Reid drafted to replace guys he had drafted toward the beginning of his run who had either left in free agency or become too old to start. That takes a lot of skill and a lot of trust in your development process, a level of faith the Eagles deserved. Although their drafting slowed down some over the past several years, the early days of the Andy Reid–Joe Banner team produced a number of notable stars. Each of Reid's first seven drafts after he joined the organization produced at least one Pro Bowl player, with those first seven drafts producing 16 Pro Bowl appearances from eight players.

As with many long-running coaches, we commonly associate the coach with his most notable starting quarterback from the era in question. Belichick and Brady. Dungy and Manning. Gruden and … OK, it doesn't work for everybody. Reid is very clearly linked with Donovan McNabb, whose run with the Eagles seemed to mirror his head coach's. McNabb, perhaps unfairly, served as the calm spokesperson for controversial team decisions in the media. After the 2004 season and the fallout from the Terrell Owens disaster that began to sprout up in 2005, McNabb's job security and long-term status with the team were questioned far more regularly than those of other quarterbacks of his stature. Eagles fans actually spent time debating whether a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback should be benched for the likes of Mike McMahon or A.J. Feeley, arguments that seem almost comically naive in hindsight.

In fact, Reid's ability to handle his quarterbacks and know exactly when to move along serves as one of his biggest strengths. In virtually every case, Reid dealt a quarterback available to him away at exactly the right time, commanding a larger-than-deserved bounty while giving up a player who struggled mightily elsewhere. Feeley threw 168 middling passes with the Eagles before the Dolphins gave up a second-round pick for him; he lasted half a season there before being benched and let go. Reid dealt McNabb to the Redskins for a second-round pick, and he didn't even last a full season as the starter in Washington. He made it to Minnesota and got six starts there before being benched. That opened up an opportunity for Kevin Kolb, but when Kolb got hurt and lost his job to Michael Vick, Reid extracted a second-round pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who has been Philly's best defender this year. And, yes, he signed Vick off of the scrap heap for nothing and turned a quarterback who had been wildly inefficient in Atlanta into one of the league's most valuable properties until the bottom fell out...
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