Commentary

Is there a need for more Reid?

Eagles coach's contract extension talk stirs fan debate

Originally Published: October 12, 2009
By Sal Paolantonio | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- As with anything in this sports-mad city, the news that the Philadelphia Eagles have begun discussions with Andy Reid's agent to extend his contract as coach has generated volatile, nonstop debate -- even temporarily eclipsing the dispute over whether Brad Lidge should be the Phillies' postseason closer.

Those should be no-brainer questions, right? Well, on both counts, no. After all, this is Philly -- the town where the baseball team suffered 10,000 losses before last year's championship and the football team has never won the Super Bowl.

Reid's 11-year run with the Eagles has had enough spectacular success and inexplicable failure that fans here have grown impatient while they celebrate these glory years.

Sounds Sybil-esque, doesn't it? Well, consider this: On Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Reid won his 100th regular-season game, making him the winningest coach in franchise history. But Reid is sixth all time among NFL coaches who have coached the most games with one team without winning a Super Bowl. He has gone 164 games without hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and he will pass Jim Mora Sr. (167) this season to become fifth on the list, which is topped by Hall of Famer Bud Grant (259).

So, is Reid closer to Mora, who never coached his team to a Super Bowl, or Grant, who lost four? Eagles fans want no part of either comparison.

"There is a certain fatigue in the fan base with Andy Reid," said Glen Macnow, a longtime Philadelphia sports talk radio host and author of numerous books on the city's sports scene.

"That doesn't mean you get rid of him, but a lot of people are asking: 'What's the rush?'"

Macnow said his callers are split 50-50 on the issue, with many wondering why team president Joe Banner doesn't let the 2009 season play out, then reassess in the offseason. The contracts for Reid and franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb both expire in 2010.

A source with knowledge of the discussions told ESPN.com this weekend that neither side wants to wait that long.

"Now would be the time to do it," the source said, "because Andy does not want to be a lame duck in 2010."

Why wouldn't you extend Reid? He has built a foundation of success that is unprecedented in franchise history. Despite the maelstrom of his family life -- his two eldest sons have been in and out of jail on drug charges -- Reid has remained a model of rock-solid stewardship in a town that is particularly unforgiving.

His agent, Bob LaMonte, was asked recently whether Reid wanted to stay in Philadelphia despite the ambivalence about his accomplishments.

"Yes, he's told me he loves Philadelphia and wants to stay," said LaMonte, who would not confirm that talks on an extension have begun.

Banner declined comment. But he did tell Comcast in a recent interview that he thought Reid's contract would be extended before the end of the year.

"We have a phenomenal relationship with him," Banner said. "We view him as in the top couple of coaches in the league."

Inside the Eagles organization, the comparison is quietly made between Reid's tenure in Philadelphia and that of Bill Cowher's in Pittsburgh. Cowher, hired in 1992, took 14 years to deliver a Super Bowl title to Pittsburgh, winning on his second trip to the game in capping the 2005 season.

But Steelers fans could afford to be patient with team ownership. The Rooney family already had delivered four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s. The family's reputation and legacy were undeniable. Jeff Lurie bought the Eagles in 1995 promising multiple Super Bowls and hasn't delivered. Reid and the Eagles won the 2004 NFC title but lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the New England Patriots, 24-21.

Although Reid and McNabb have been to five NFC Championship Games, losing four of them (three of which they were favored to win), the Steelers have won two Super Bowl titles with different coaches: Cowher and Mike Tomlin.

Those who support Reid say it's important to look at his body of work: a winning percentage of .613 (100-63-1) and the fact that he has drafted a nucleus of young offensive talent to carry beyond the tenures of McNabb and halfback Brian Westbrook, the workhorses of the past decade.

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
Barbara Johnston/US PresswireAndy Reid is the winningest coach in Eagles' franchise history.

But in the past four seasons, Reid has a winning percentage of just .520 (33-30), having only one campaign in the past four with double-digit victories. This year, Philadelphia is off to a 3-1 start, but the three teams the Eagles have beaten have a combined record of 1-13.

Banner, however, chooses not to focus on the recent fluctuations in the team's record.

"Andy could have a bad week, have a bad year, and that wouldn't change the fact that he's in the upper echelon of coaches in this league," he told Comcast. "And we feel we're lucky to have him."

But many fans calling into sports talk radio wonder why Reid seems to have the job security of a Supreme Court justice.

"We've seen this story before," Macnow said. "Maybe Andy Reid is a good coach who only gets you so far.

"Maybe he's like Tony Dungy in Tampa -- a good coach who is not a finisher. Maybe Andy Reid is not a finisher."

After six somewhat successful years in Tampa, Dungy was replaced with Jon Gruden, who promptly won a Super Bowl in this first year with Dungy's Bucs roster. Dungy won a Super Bowl four years later with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.

Do you bring back Gruden, who was the Eagles' offensive coordinator under Reid's predecessor, Ray Rhodes? What about exploring one of the four other Super Bowl winners now sidelined -- Cowher, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan or Mike Holmgren? Perhaps one of them could finish what Reid couldn't.

And Reid has had the players to get the job done. Under former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who died in July, the Eagles surrendered an average of just 17 points per game from 1999 to 2008. Some say that if you combine that with the five Pro Bowl seasons from McNabb, the Eagles should have won at least one Super Bowl title.

Indeed, there are those who are in the extreme end of the Reid debate. They contend that he has held this team back from winning it all -- an overreliance on the passing game, poor personnel decisions that have left the Eagles short on big-play receivers. They also cite indecisive game management, particularly in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.

In fact, Reid is fourth all time in winning percentage without a Super Bowl title. George Allen is first (.712), followed by Grant (.622), Marty Schottenheimer (.613) and Reid (percentage points behind at .613). Allen, who never had a losing season as head coach, was voted into the Hall of Fame posthumously. Grant is in Canton, too -- but his four Super Bowl appearances qualify him. Schottenheimer is not and won't be. Without at least one Lombardi trophy, Reid probably will not make it either.

Those who know Reid well say he's very aware of all this -- that his legacy in Philadelphia is unfinished business. And that's why he wants so badly to stay.

"He's seen Charlie Manuel win it across the street," said a close friend, referring to the Phillies' once reviled, now beloved manager. "Andy sees it happening for him, too."

Sal Paolantonio, who covers the NFL for ESPN, is the author of "How Football Explains America" (Triumph Books).

Sal Paolantonio

SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
Sal Paolantonio joined ESPN as a SportsCenter correspondent in August 1995, primarily reporting on the NFL. Beginning in 2004, he also served as host of NFL Match-Up, a weekly "Xs and Os" football show produced by NFL Films.

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