Andy Reid looked spent after another loss, but maybe this is just what an ending looks like.
The Philadelphia Eagles coach tried to explain how a talented team had lost its fifth consecutive game, how a proven quarterback might be entering his career’s twilight, and how Reid’s own future is in peril.
“Right now,” he said, “we are what we are.”
What the 3-6 Eagles are is a team at the center of widespread turbulence, and if they lose this week to the Washington Redskins , they’ll be alone in last place in the NFC East.
This past Sunday, in a 38-23 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick injured an eye, suffered a concussion and might have permanently lost his starting job to rookie Nick Foles. Reid, the league’s longest-tenured head coach, moved closer to validating the growing belief that he’ll be fired.
“Listen,” most of Reid’s answers began, impatience and an inability to find answers coming through clearly.
A few months ago, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said that another 8-8 season wouldn’t be good enough to give Reid another year in Philadelphia. The Eagles finished with a .500 record in 2011, after a free agent spending spree elevated expectations and former quarterback Vince Young called them a “dream team.” This season has been an all-around frustration.
“This organization is not used to it, individual players aren’t used to it, this team isn’t used to it,” Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “Last year was pretty rocky, but to be sitting here 3-6 is not what anyone envisioned or planned.”
Reid’s 14-season run has been remarkable. He had never been an NFL coordinator, let alone a head coach, when he moved into the position in 1999. He guided Philadelphia to five appearances in the NFC championship game and one in the Super Bowl.
But perhaps more impressive is that Reid has survived in one of the NFL’s most difficult divisions, where the competition is fierce and the media scrutiny intense. The division doesn’t so much test coaches as it consumes them; since Reid’s first year, the Redskins (seven), New York Giants (two) and Cowboys (five) have combined to employ more than a dozen coaches. That means more than a dozen new systems, schemes and philosophies.
Reid is hardly alone in coping with turmoil and doubts about his job. Dallas’s Jason Garrett and Washington’s Mike Shanahan aren’t guaranteed to return in 2013. New York’s Tom Coughlin has continually battled questions about his future, with only two improbable Super Bowl championships keeping him safe.
Reid has moved forward while blending on-field challenges with off-field drama. In 2005, quarterback Donovan McNabb and wide receiver Terrell Owens clashed, leaving Reid to coach and officiate a series of public sparring matches. Reid also has dealt with his two sons’ personal issues, including the death of his elder son, 29-year-old Garrett, who was found dead in his dormitory room at the team’s training camp complex last summer. The autopsy report, released last month, revealed that Garrett Reid, who had been working with the Eagles, died of a heroin overdose.
Andy Reid returned to the team a day after his son’s funeral, saying at the time that it was the “right thing to do.”
“I’m a football coach,” Reid said then.
If the game offered solace and a sense of belonging, the season itself has presented little peace. Assuming Vick is able to play, Reid will be faced this week with a decision that will determine his future: Who will be his starting quarterback?
Vick, 32, offers the best chance to win, but Foles represents an inevitable look toward the future. A few more losses with Vick in the lineup, and Reid’s fate likely will be sealed, but at least he would be able to tell Lurie that he never gave up on the season. Moving permanently to Foles, who is expected to start Sunday, almost surely would guarantee growing pains and more losses, but Reid then could insist that, as a former quarterbacks coach, he’s the best man to shepherd the youngster’s future.
These are the types of decisions that Reid has gotten right for so long, regardless of other distractions, but never under such pressure. It’s intense enough now that players are being pulled into the vortex, trying to deflect blame from their coach.
“The things we do cause these situations,” said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. “If we make the plays we are supposed to and do all of that, this talk is not happening. It’s tough as a player because you feel as though you are not holding up your end of the bargain.”
Tight end Brent Celek agreed.
“Andy is a great coach. I want to play for him more than anything,” he said. “I want to win for him, especially with what happened earlier in the preseason. To see how we are playing right now, this is not a reflection on Andy. I know it is because he is the head coach, but this is not his type of team right now. . . . I just feel bad for him.”
The way things play out Sunday against the Redskins will provide the next indication of the future of a coach who has been a Philadelphia and NFL mainstay for so long. For his part, Reid said he’s hopeful his team can turn around its fortunes and reach the playoffs.
“I take full responsibility for our play,” he said. “So I’m going to do a better job, [the players] are going to do a better job. And we’ll get it right.”