By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There was an undercurrent of excitement, mixed in with some pessimism and anxiety surrounding Eagles’ owner Jeff Lurie’s State of the Eagles postseason address at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday afternoon.
Speculation ran rampant as to what Lurie might say, covering everything from the future of Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid, to the status of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, to nothing more of the same yadda-yadda fest of superfluous we-have-to-do-a-better-job shtick.
There were certainly plenty of things to discus about this disappointing 8-8 season. Like the five blown fourth-quarter leads, and the four blown fourth-quarter leads at home that established a new dubious NFL mark. There were the NFL-high 38 turnovers, and the positive way the Eagles closed the season, winning four straight against four non-playoff teams (Miami, New York Jets, Dallas and Washington).
There was the risky move Reid made by giving Castillo the defensive coordinator position, since Castillo last coached defense back in high school.
But a smiling Lurie walked behind the podium and spoke very candidly and terribly open about his own disappointment in Reid and his team this season, opening by saying, “This season was without question the most disappointing season since I’ve owned the team,” the Eagles’ owner said. “You’re only human and you go through all the range of emotions during the season, but the primary emotions I think are anger and frustration.
“You think you have – you’re coming off an NFC East championship last year, [playoffs] the year before, going to the NFC Championship Game the year before, so you’re not in any way thinking that if you’re aggressive in free agency, make a trade for a Pro Bowl cornerback, continue to implement and improve the team with good, young players, and [QB] Michael Vick coming off a season where he was second to Tom Brady as MVP of the league, there is no way that I don’t think anybody in this room or certainly myself that we’d be sitting here with the season already ended. It’s not only unacceptable, it’s very, very disappointing and anyone who in my mind both doesn’t feel the disappointment and anger is just not getting what we’re all about. We’re a team, and Andy [Reid] is a coach who has been in the playoffs nine out of the last 12 years, and it’s just completely unacceptable to be 8-8 and watching these other teams play starting next week. Incredibly, incredibly disappointing.”
And you got the impression that any moment, Lurie was about the drop a bomb and announce that Reid would be fired. Instead, Lurie backed his coach, 11 minutes into his address.
“Just unfathomable that we could have the record we have the first half of the season. Not only was it ludicrous to think that we were gaining ground on Green Bay and New Orleans, but we were losing ground to many other teams in the league. It was terrible. At some point I guess, we had some games that we played awfully well. You all saw what we hoped we could be. Looking back on the Dallas game in particular and looking back on a few others in the middle of the season, you just thought that maybe the team had gotten it together early enough and now the team would play ball the way we originally expected. That didn’t happen. It happened in different football games but there was no sustainment of that excellence whatsoever. Yes, the team clearly gelled and came together in the last month, but that’s too late. There are no legitimate excuses in my mind for this team to take that long to gel and come together. I think there is a lot of optimism to be gotten from that gelling, from the scheme finally working, from the players being utilized and reaching some of their potential.
“We proved we could dominate the last four games of the year against teams that aren’t that competitive. There is a lot to be said about the players coming together and the coaches keeping this together. It was impressive. To hold on to that and be completely optimistic is fool’s gold. I took a real hard look at the season, and I do it every year. This year was the most complicated of any season in memory. The differential between the expectation and the result was dramatic. So the big decision was what to do about the head coach and the coaching staff.”
And then you thought this would be it … Lurie was about to utter what many fans have been clamoring for and that’s the ouster after 13 years of Reid as head coach. But Lurie reaffirmed that Reid would be back, saying, “There was always this odd dynamic of having a practice that was terrific and daily practices that were outstanding with the motivation, focus, attention to detail, and adjustments going in. In the games, we might have the lead for two or three quarters but the consistent losing of games in the fourth quarter was bitter for me and bitter for all of us. With the coaches, you have to look at the head coach. Does he have the fire in his belly, and does he have what it takes to take a team far into the playoffs and have a shot at the Super Bowl? It’s a grueling profession as we all know, and Andy Reid not only has the love of the players and their respect, but he also has the fire in his belly to be the best.
“Attracting talent, having the energy to succeed and motivation in a huge way, having the anger to move forward – do our players and coaches have that anger? You have to have the anger, motivation, dedication, the focus and the talent. My answer to all those questions is yes. That’s why I want to see our team coached by Andy Reid next year, and I can’t wait to see that team play.”
Lurie also said Castillo’s future will come down to Reid, though there has been growing speculation the Eagles would go after former St. Louis Rams’ head coach Steve Spagnuolo, a former Eagles’ assistant coach and former Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. Spagnuolo would replace Castillo, and move Castillo back to the offensive line, assisting offensive line coach Howard Mudd.
Lurie made sure he positively spun his coach’s gruff, terse public persona during postgame press conferences by saying that Reid is very protective of his players, that Reid is far from arrogant and truly a very humble guy. The public Reid may come off harsh to fans and media alike, but it is an issue Lurie would like his coach to improve on in the future.
“It’s a tough media market, it’s a big market; when you can sacrifice your own popularity for your players, believe me it wins a locker room for a long, long time,” Lurie said. “And that’s what he accomplishes, but he loses his ability to communicate the way he does with all of us; he may one-on-one with you guys. But that’s what I face as the owner. I have a coach that handles press conferences and communicates with the media in a way that’s incredibly protective of his team and that creates a tremendous unselfishness on his part because he’s going to suffer in popularity, that’s the dynamic here. We all have to realize it. I think it’s one of the reasons why he’s been so successful, but it’s sometimes frustrating, and you know I can use a line of Andy’s and say Andy’s got to do a better job of that.”
Lurie confirmed team president Joe Banner will remain with the team, and Reid will continue having the final say with draft picks. To encapsule everything, it’s more status quo. And it could be for some time. Lurie seems set and there may not be any changing that, even after going 8-8 and enduring “the most disappointing season,” in the owner’s own words.