Doug Pederson put on a season-long coaching clinic
By Joseph Santoliquito
It seemed to be Philadelphia’s favorite parlor game last summer: Let’s question Doug Pederson’s head coaching ability. Everyone played. Fans, sportswriters, talk show hosts, even former NFL general managers who were trying to remain relevant cashed in on the doubt surrounding Pederson. Adding to that fodder was a story before the season that Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was usurping Pederson with designs on becoming the next Eagles’ head coach.
In the end, the one holding aloft the Vince Lombardi trophy amid a whirlwind of flying confetti was Doug Pederson. In the end, the 50-year-old from Bellingham, Washington, galvanized a storied franchise hungry for the ultimate prize, a team that entered the season full of doubts, and awarded a demanding fanbase with a lifetime treasure trove of memories.
In the end, Pederson, the coach no one interviewed but the Eagles, can hold up another honor, as the 29th Greasy Neale Professional Coach of the Year Award winner. He becomes the third Eagles coach to win the Greasy Neale Professional Coach of the Year Award, joining Chip Kelly (2013) and Andy Reid (2010). Pederson is also the third Eagles coach to lead the team to the Super Bowl, joining Reid (2004) and Dick Vermeil (1980), and is the only Eagles coach to lead the team to a Super Bowl championship, where he’s complied a 23-12 record, including playoffs, which is the best two-year start of any coach in franchise history.
He also became part of a select group that won Super Bowls as both a player and coach, joining Mike Ditka, Tom Flores and Tony Dungy.
Pederson did it by overcoming the grave injury losses of perennial Pro Bowler and future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters, who was having one of his best years, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, a game-changer with a penchant for creating turnovers, special teams staple Chris Maragos, running back Darren Sproles—and then the heart and soul was cut out when Carson Wentz was lost in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in early December.
Hope seemed gone.
Not to Pederson. Not to the Eagles.
The Eagles’ resounding 41-33 Super Bowl LII victory over the New England Patriots is the hallmark, so far, of Pederson’s young head coaching career, outdueling one of the true masters of the game, Pats’ future Hall of Fame head coach Bill Belichick, on the NFL’s grandest stage.
Pederson always appeared to be a step ahead. What’s more is Pederson stayed true to himself. When other coaches outthought themselves in trying to outsmart Belichick, the results were usually disastrous.
In Super Bowl XLIX, Seattle Seahawks’ coach Pete Carroll outwitted himself by going with that pass near the goal line that the Patriots practiced against all week, instead of just pounding Marshawn Lynch into the end zone. Last year, in Super Bowl LI, against Atlanta, then-Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, thought he would be one step ahead of Belichick and Patricia when he decided to pass with the ball at the New England 23 with less than four minutes to play.
A field goal would have guaranteed the Atlanta Falcons a Super Bowl championship. Instead, Shanahan called a pass, thinking New England was expecting run. Matt Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss, and the following play Atlanta was called for a 10-yard holding penalty. Atlanta went from sitting at the 23 to the New England 45 in a blink. Ryan then was forced into throwing an incompletion. The Falcons had to punt and the Patriots rode off into history with the first overtime Super Bowl victory.
The play that exemplified what Pederson is about was the “The Philly Special.” On fourth-and-goal at the New England 1-yard line with :34 left in the half, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles looked like he was giving instructions to the offensive line when the Eagles fired a direct snap to running back Corey Clement, who then flipped the ball to tight end Trey Burton, a former college quarterback, swinging around from the left. Burton lobbed a creampuff to a wide-open Foles in the end zone for a 1-yard TD pass, a 22-12 Eagles’ halftime lead—and a shocked Patriots’ sideline.
Trailing 33-32 in the fourth quarter, Pederson did it again. He opted to go for another fourth-down conversion, which could easily be the second-most important play of the game, behind Brandon Graham’s forced fumble. A gutsy call to tight end Zach Ertz prolonged the Eagles’ go-ahead drive with 5:39 left to play at the Eagles’ 47. More importantly, it led to Ertz’s 11-yard touchdown reception that gave the Eagles a 38-33 lead.
“It’s why we love playing for Doug,” Eagles’ All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson said. “We believe in what Doug calls and we love the fact he believes in us to execute the plays. When you have that kind of mutual trust in one another, it’s tough to stop.”
Pederson said it’s really the players that allowed him to be aggressive.
“The coaches trust the players and it’s an example of winning [the Super Bowl],” Pederson said. “We didn’t doubt Nick, he didn’t doubt us. It was a matter of everyone getting on the same page. We have had that ‘Philly Special’ in the last three or four weeks.”
Frank Reich, the Eagles’ former offensive coordinator and now head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, knows Pederson well. None of Pederson’s success surprises him.
“It’s because Doug is all about attacking, and that was his vision from the very beginning. He was going to be aggressive, and the reason he was going to be aggressive was he believes in the players,” Reich said. “Doug let the players know that, feel that, and let them respond to that. It wasn’t instant. It took some time, two years, to prove it. And Doug proved that the plays he designs have worked over and over again.
“The guys couldn’t wait to run the ‘Philly Special,’ because there was acting involved. They believed it would work — and it did.”
Like everything else Doug Pederson touched in the Eagles’ Super Bowl-winning season.
Winner: GREASY NEALE AWARD -Philadelphia Eagles