By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Three days shy to a year Jeffrey Lurie stood in the same place at the NovaCare Complex he occupied Monday afternoon when he issued the edict, “8-8 is unacceptable.”
As Lurie spoke almost a year ago, the seeping feeling was that he was about to call an end to the Andy Reid era then and start anew.
This time, the contrite, somber Eagles’ Chairman and Chief Executive Officer finally blurted out the news Black Monday what every Eagles’ fan has actually known for months when he officially said that Reid would not be returning next season as the head coach.
“I feel the pain, I feel the pain so much that sometimes I wonder, because it’s harder for me to lose, than to win a game,” said a teary-eyed Lurie, who was very complimentary of Reid’s whole body of work. “I still play over, just to give you a feel for it, I will go back and go through a red-zone series in New Orleans in a playoff game that I can’t get it out of my mind. Or it could be a pass that’s underthrown in a playoff game here against Green Bay a few years ago. Or an early pass in the Super Bowl with a guy open that got intercepted. I don’t get it out of my mind.
“So when we have a season like this year, it’s embarrassing to me, it’s personally crushing, really, it’s terrible. Our fans, they’re the best fans in the country. We say that a lot. These fans deserve the very best, and this year, they got a team that was not very good at all, and I feel terrible about that. I don’t speak a lot, but I care deeply, no one wants to win more than I do.”
Lurie said he was leaning toward making the move when the Eagles fell to 4-8 this season.
“The final decision to fire Andy was today, there’s been a lot of leaning in that direction over the last month, when we were 4-8 and I faced up to the fact that we weren’t going to be improved over last year at all, that I was heavily leaning in that direction,” Lurie said. “I literally informed Andy this morning at nine in the morning. I really believed this season with our talent, I thought we would be a double-digit win team.
“Where did it go wrong, it’s a great question. If you had point to anything, it’s when you’ve had as much success as we’ve had, and are so close to winning a Super Bowl. At some stage, you have an opportunity to think that the next move, even if it’s not consistent with all of your previous moves, will be the one that gives you the chance to win the Lombardi Trophy.
“I think that in the last year or so, the last couple of years, we’ve done things that have not been as consistent. They’ve been more scattered in terms of decision-making. You notice with any organization that’s had a lot of success, that you will start to reach thinking, that’s the player, that’s the method, that’s the mechanism, that’s the coach, that’s the thing that’s going to put us over the top.”
With Donovan McNabb, the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, descending, Reid began taking chances out of the box, like making Juan Castillo the defensive coordinator, and bringing on Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn’s Wide-9 defensive scheme.
“I think we lost some of the exact nature of the method we have all shared that created the success, which was discipline, strategic thinking, don’t do what’s popular, but do what’s right, and it’s a human thing, and I take some responsibility for that, because I was right out in the forefront of let’s do anything we can to try and win a Super Bowl for the city and our fans,” Lurie said. “At times, you had to be a little self-disciplined and say, doing that, injecting that into the locker room, affecting the chemistry of the team maybe in some way, that’s not the best thing to do. When you start to reach for short-term solutions that are not consistent with your culture and your football program, that’s when you end up 4-12.”
Reid met with Lurie Monday morning, and then the team in the NovaCare Complex auditorium. An emotional Reid told his team he loved them and every minute he had the chance to coach them. The team stood up and gave Reid a standing ovation. A funeral pall fell over the Eagles’ locker room as several of the Eagles spoke in an almost surreal way about what unfolded.
“When he had told us, that’s the first time I had found out,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “I was hoping that’s not what he was going to say; just kind of like last year, when he came in and told us let’s get ready for the offseason. That’s what I was hoping for. You obviously have to hope for the best and expect the worst. I have a great deal respect for him and his family and what’s he’s done not only for this team but my family. I wish him the best.”
Said LeSean McCoy: “It hurts a lot. I just know the type of potential we had as a team under Coach Reid. He’s a good coach, he’s a winning coach. We had a couple of bad years and it’s what cost him. A guy like that, you build a relationship with him, I thank him so much for the career that I’m having so far. Tons of guys [let him down]. You hear the rumors and don’t realize how serious they can be, the lack of focus, the lack of heart in certain games and certain situations, it’s in full effect now. You might feel sorrow for coach. It all comes down to your performance, so you should have probably thought about that during the season, and during games. I will say this, bringing in a new coach, things will be different.”
Lurie and Reid part ways after a 14-year marriage, five NFC championship game appearances, 140 victories, nine playoff berths and one Super Bowl appearance. Reid resurrected a dismal franchise that had struggled to a 3-13 finish in 1998 and in doing so made Lurie’s $195 million investment he paid on May 6, 1994 to Norman Braman into a billion-dollar brand.
It was the most difficult press conference Lurie ever had in his 18-year ownership of the Eagles—and that was visible in Lurie’s words and expressions. He was releasing a confidante, a friend, and a trusted employee. But it was move Lurie felt compelled to make, after the Eagles finished 4-12 this season, losing 11 of their last 12 games, culminating with the horrid, dog-bone 42-7 thrashing in the season finale to the New York Giants on Sunday.
Lurie said himself, general manager Howie Roseman and team president Don Smolenski will serve as a three-panel board in selecting the next Eagles’ head coach, with the ultimate decision being made by Lurie. Lurie said that the team has formed a list of potential candidates, though stressed “it’s better to make the right decision than the fastest one.” Lurie said no interviews have been scheduled yet.
Almost a year ago, a candid Lurie said then, “This season was without question the most disappointing season since I’ve owned the team. 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.”
This season was far worse. It left no doubt. A change had to be made.
“I’m very confident this is the most attractive place for a head coach to work in the National Football League,” Lurie said. “Other teams can argue the same thing. I’m very confident have an incredible fanbase. There are incredible fanbases in a few other cities, maybe many other cities. This one is amazing. They want what we want. That’s an obsession not just to be good but to be great. To come into an organization that’s used to winning, that’s used to winning big, and is part of the mantra and that culture, that’s huge. When Andy came, we had to change the culture, turn it around. That’s a much harder job. This job is taking a culture that exists, there’s been some negative turns in the performances of the team, especially this season and last. I think this is ripe for a really smart, forward-thinking coach who wants to get his hands on a great situation. To me, this is the best situation for a coach.”