"Doug is very genuine, man. He knows everybody on this team," defensive end Vinny Curry said. "First name, last name, what college they went to, how many brothers you've got, how many sisters you've got. It's crazy 'cause it's only his second year. He really cares about his team, who's on his team and who's playing for him."
That level of care and attentiveness resonates with Eagles players. Pederson is as real as it gets, they said. He's a players' coach whose drive to see his team be successful on the field is matched by his desire to see his players be great men off it. And he's a lifelong football man whose nice-guy demeanor and unbridled passion for the game is as authentic as his well-documented affection for ice cream.
"Now I'm not saying he's that nice that, if you mess up, he ain't going to curse your ass out," Curry said, smiling. "He's going to let you have it."
Super Bowl LII will pit the Eagles, this postseason's underdogs, against one of the NFL's greatest dynasties, the defending champion New England Patriots. But while much of the talk this week has centered on Philly's backup-turned-starter Nick Foles facing future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, Sunday's showdown at U.S. Bank Stadium will juxtapose the coaching styles and résumés of Bill Belichick, the architect of the Patriots' reign over the AFC, and Pederson, a 14-year NFL veteran who primarily served as a backup quarterback before becoming an NFL coach many were quick to criticize.
Their coaching records are the same this season (15-3), but Belichick is 250-118 (a .679 winning percentage) in the regular season and 28-10 in the playoffs. He also has won five Lombardi Trophies with Brady by his side, and Sunday will mark Belichick's eighth Super Bowl appearance, the most for a head coach in NFL history. Pederson — who began his coaching career in 2005 at Calvary Baptist Academy, a private high school in Shreveport, La. — is 20-12 (a .625 winning percentage) in the regular season and 2-0 in the playoffs.
Belichick has the experience, the decorated career and, perhaps most important, the star quarterback who lives for big moments and thrives under scrutiny. On paper, it's a coaching mismatch. But the Eagles are quick to remind outsiders not to make the mistake of discounting Pederson again.
"He's arguably the coach of the year," said running back LeGarrette Blount, who signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in May, just months after winning his second Super Bowl with the Patriots. "He's done a lot of things that nobody expected him to do, and he hasn't derailed from the plan at all, despite everyone saying eventually he's going to fall off or eventually the Eagles are going to blow it."
Little was known about Pederson, a former starter for the Eagles and Cleveland Browns, a backup to Dan Marino and Brett Favre, and a student of Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and Andy Reid, when the Eagles hired him in January 2016. But behind closed doors, Pederson has proved himself to be a lovable goofball as well as a disciplinarian with Belichick-level intensity.
Watch Pederson in practice, and you'll see a coach who's relatable, engaged and fully invested in his players' well-being. Listen to his conversations, and you'll realize how much he sees himself in his players, and how for so long he, too, was an underdog.
"After the first couple of seasons, you kind of see how your role is going to go in the league," he said of coming to terms with being a backup for so many years, including to Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. "Do you want to play? Yeah, you want to play. You want to be out there on the field, especially at the quarterback position. You know there's only one guy and, in my case, I understood I was on a couple of teams where the starters were already in place — and that was Dan Marino and Brett Favre. And you're not going to beat those two guys out. . . . After a couple of years, you kind of embrace that role, and you become the best role player you can."
Pederson was underestimated as a coach, too. Pundits and former NFL executives criticized the hiring publicly, citing his lack of NFL experience. But in just two seasons, he has done more than prove people wrong. He has shattered expectations.
"You know when you're fresh out of college and you're trying to get a job, but people won't hire you because you have limited experience?" wide receiver Torrey Smith asked. "But then you're like, 'Man, if I get this job, I know what I'm doing?' Well, that's kind of how it is with coach Pederson. People are like, 'Oh, he's not qualified.' Well, he's been a great leader, and he's been a great coach. It all shows right now that he's ready for the moment. We wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for his leadership."
Pederson was one of seven coaches hired during the 2016 offseason, along with Chip Kelly, Ben McAdoo, Mike Mularkey, Adam Gase, Dirk Koetter and Hue Jackson. Kelly, McAdoo and Mularkey have already been fired, and the other three are a combined 31-66 over the past two seasons. Still, Pederson is a coaching neophyte compared with Belichick, whose surliness and visible disdain for answering questions is as much of a trademark of his mystique as his dogged pursuit of excellence. Pederson's disposition and résumé couldn't be any more different, but he has proved to be an aggressive play-caller when opponents least expect it.
The Eagles had the second-most fourth-down attempts in the NFL during the regular season (26), behind only Green Bay (28), and had the most conversions (17) of any team. And with a 24-7 lead in the NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings, Pederson called a flea flicker on the Eagles' first possession of the second half. The result: a 41-yard touchdown pass from Foles to Smith.
Pederson isn't the least bit unnerved about matching wits with a future Hall of Fame coach. And neither are his players.
"I don't think he has to try to go out and be King Kong," Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said of his coach being the underdog against the Patriots' mastermind. "He's not going to say, 'Oh, this is a Belichick-beater.' He's not going to do anything out of the ordinary, 'cause he wouldn't want us to do that. His mentality is to be aggressive at all times."
Read more on the Super Bowl: