Embarrassing losses put Reid on hot seat

10/12/2007 - Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- If you are a monomaniacal NFL head coach and your team has free fallen to the basement of the NFC East, you probably don't have too much time during the bye week to troll through the blogosphere.

"I'm not sure what a blog is," joked Eagles head coach Andy Reid at a news conference Wednesday.

He knows now. While "self-scouting" -- as he put it -- Philadelphia's unexpectedly lethargic 1-3 start, and getting ready for the New York Jets at the Meadowlands on Sunday, Reid admitted that he was forced to extinguish the rampant Internet speculation that he was about to resign.

"I don't know where this information has come from," Reid said. But he acknowledged that the rumors not only found a home on the Internet but had invaded his own locker room.

"Whoever wrote that just happened to pick the time when players were leaving me, so I had no access to stand up in front of the team and tell them this isn't true," Reid said. "I made that statement so my team would understand that there is nothing to it."

Reid and the rest of the team's front office seemed to be perplexed about how the speculation germinated. But it's easy to figure out. In two of the Eagles' losses, the team suffered embarrassment that can be directly tied to decisions Reid made, creating questions about whether he was fully engaged.

In the opener in Green Bay, the team was caught without an adequate punt returner -- two muffed punts later, the Packers stole a 16-13 win. In a Week 4 Sunday night loss to the Giants, quarterback Donovan McNabb was sacked 12 times. Reid watched helplessly from the sideline as his inexperienced left offensive tackle -- Winston Justice, replacing the injured William Thomas – was beat repeatedly by the Giants' Osi Umenyiora.

So, the questions began: Is Reid so distracted by his tumultuous family life that the team's game preparations are suffering?

"The speculation is understandable," said Glen Macnow, a longtime host on the Philadelphia sports talk radio station, WIP-AM. "Reid has done a poor job of coaching the Eagles so far this season, at the same time that his personal life is going through turmoil. His uncharacteristic gaffes give the impression that he has lost some of his razor-sharp focus on coaching."

Making matters worse? Reid's refusal to discuss a turbulent home life that has spilled into the public domain. His two oldest sons, Britt and Garrett, await sentencing on multiple criminal charges stemming from two separate traffic accidents in January and another incident this summer. Reid took a month-long leave of absence before the college draft to help his sons go through rehab. But he has refused to address the subject publicly.

Until this past weekend. He said he found himself forced to make a brief telephone call to a Fox Sports reporter. "The only thing I've learned from this is I'm not alone here," he is reported to have said. "You have people that run companies, they own companies, they have family problems, they have issues and they don't walk away from their job. I'm not going to walk away from my job, either."

That sounds a lot like what team president Joe Banner peddled to the Philadelphia Daily News a few days after the embarrassment in the Meadowlands -- before the speculation of Reid's resignation reached the internet.

"There are really strong people out there -- CEOs of massive companies, doctors, lawyers, coaches, players, cabdrivers -- who are able to both deal with the challenges they face in their life and still continue to be excellent at what they do," Banner told the newspaper. "Working with him every day, seeing him every day, that's the category he's in for me."

Two thoughts occur. First of all, Banner's characterization that Reid has been "excellent" at his job seems, at this juncture in the season, to be charitable at best. What happened in Green Bay and New York, and the 1-3 start, is not anybody's consensus of an excellent performance.

Secondly, and here's the key, while Banner has the benefit of being Reid's boss and seeing Reid work every day, the public does not. So, they begin to wonder what's going on, especially since the coach has been reticent -- indeed, at times, belligerent -- about staying silent on the issue of his family's problems and their impact.

Indeed, in August, the day after 22-year-old Britt was arrested a second time for failing a sobriety test after driving his truck into a shopping cart in the parking of lot of a sporting goods store, Reid had this warning for reporters:

"If you can stay away from questions on my family, I'd appreciate it," he said. "This is about football and our football team. If you decide to go in that direction, then I'm going in that direction [he pointed to the exit]."

Vai Sikahema, former Eagles punt returner and now a local TV reporter, said Reid's refusal to talk about it has made things worse.

"No one expects him to lay out his dirty laundry in front of the media," said Sikahema, "but a few simple statements, in my opinion, would go a long way to disarm the rampant rumors that will continue incessantly until he steps down voluntarily or by mutual agreement with the Eagles."

Like Reid, Sikahema is Mormon. He has been a bishop in the church and spent many hours counseling families.

"I would have told Andy, 'People want to empathize and connect with you," said Sikahema. "The irony is the no-comment policy is forcing the Eagles to stamp out brushfires."

Said Ray Didinger, a former writer for the Philadelphia Daily News who has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: "He went about it the wrong way. First of all, calling an out-of-town reporter. He obviously was concerned about the rumors. He should have called a press conference in front of Philadelphia reporters and laid it all out on the table."

On Wednesday, Reid chose to be glib. "Obviously, I received a lot of phone calls," he said, smiling. Then he played dumb about the blogs that speculated he might be stepping down.

Reid is paid through 2010 on a contract that averages about $5 million a season. "If [owner Jeffrey] Lurie wants me here, I'll be here," he said.

This week, players who are supposed to be focused a poor start were forced to publicly discuss the whispers circulating about their head coach.

"I haven't seen a distracted Andy," McNabb said. "I've seen a guy who put in a lot of time and effort, just like he's been doing the previous years."

After the Week 4 disaster, Reid again blamed himself. It was the 16th time in his nine seasons in Philadelphia that Reid took a fall for his team's failures, claiming that he has to be better at putting the players in a position to win. Sixteen is a season's worth of losses.

But repeatedly putting McNabb in harm's way -- in a season when the franchise quarterback is trying to return from a torn knee, is slower moving out of the pocket and just jettisoned a cumbersome knee brace -- seems to be a case of serious mismanagement, or a coach who is just not paying attention.

Indeed, as the NFL begins Week 6, 12 of the 32 teams -- more than a third -- have lost their starting quarterback because of injury or poor play. It would seem that putting your quarterback in a position to succeed -- or at least keeping him upright -- must be the first item of business when putting the game plan together.

Knowing the team was without Thomas and its premier offensive threat -- running back Brian Westbrook -- against the Giants, the Eagles still passed 31 times and ran only 23 times, even though Philadelphia averaged five yards a carry.

Against the Jets, Westbrook is expected to be back in the starting lineup. Coming into the Giants game, he accounted for an unhealthy 47 percent of the team's offense. Using backup running back Correll Buckhalter, who averaged 6.1 yards a carry against New York, would be the perfect way to keep Westbrook fresh, especially since Westbrook has been battling a stomach pull the past three weeks.

Sal Paolantonio, who covers the NFL for ESPN, is the author of a new book: The Paolantonio Report, the Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches & Moments in NFL History.