You don’t see too many coaches taking Gatorade showers in Week 1. After the week Doug Pederson endured, you can understand why some Eagles players probably felt he deserved it following the team’s 30-17 win in Washington on Sunday.
Pederson has never enjoyed tremendous support among Eagles fans or in the local media, even going to back to his lone season as the club’s starting quarterback. There were concerns regarding his credentials and speculation about his job security from the moment he was hired as head coach. To this day, it often seems as though every decision Pederson makes is at risk of being picked apart.
No need to shed a tear for Doug. Such is the life of many an authority figure in Philadelphia sports. However, the narrative took a turn for out of bounds last week when several anonymous sources suggested defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is actively angling for Pederson’s job.
Let’s back up for a moment. This all started when ex-NFL scout and general manager Mike Lombardi suggested Pederson might be the least qualified head coaching hire of the past 30 years. Most of Lombardi’s front-office career was spent with moribund franchises, and he’s out of the league now, so there was some debate as to whether Lombardi’s comments merited a larger platform. Naturally, reporters felt compelled to ask Pederson about those comments anyway, cementing Lombardi as a story.
When Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to hold an impromptu press conference last week, many speculated it was specifically intended to discuss just this issue. When the question finally came up, Lurie was ready.
“I have a strong endorsement of Doug,” Lurie said. “Those comments, you guys call it ‘click bait’ or ‘hot takes.’ That's how I saw that.”
Pederson also dismissed Lombardi’s comments out of hand, as did many players, so the story seemed to be over. It was a ridiculous assertion anyway, because while the jury is still out on Pederson long-term, he proved qualified enough to lead the Eagles to seven wins in 2016 with a rookie quarterback and retooling roster. Most everybody was ready to move on and evaluate the coach’s performance, rather than debate his resume.
That is until one day before the start of the regular season, when Jeff McLane for The Philadelphia Inquirer was able to resuscitate the dead horse. According to McLane, an anonymous Eagles staffer indicated it is widely believed among the team’s assistant coaches that Schwartz is “trying to undercut” Pederson, while three anonymous players claim it’s “well-known in the locker room that Schwartz is waiting to usurp power.” No names on the record, besides Lombardi – who praised his buddy Schwartz – and only one quote from anybody inside the NovaCare Complex.
“He walks around the building like he thinks he’s the head coach,” one player said.
Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to that line. Schwartz is the visibly confident type, he’s been an NFL head coach before, and he essentially is the head coach of the Eagles' defense, with the same level of autonomy once afforded to Jim Johnson in that role. The idea that Schwartz walks around like he’s the head coach, well, he is a very influential figure in the organization, and he will likely be a head coach again in the future. Why should anybody be surprised?
As for the rest of the report, an Eagles staffer could be just about anybody, and there’s little context for the players’ reactions. Which is not to say the story is inaccurate or untrue, but if there is a power struggle on the coaching staff, many players don’t even want to hear about it.
“There was a lot of hoopla with the article that came out before the game, which was very unfortunate, that it came out the day before the game like that,” Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said postgame.
Whether Schwartz is scheming for Pederson’s job behind the scenes or not may be irrelevant. For one thing, the locker room has the head coach’s back. As long as the team continues winning, players almost certainly will continue to dismiss any innuendo out of hand.
“We love playing for Doug,” Ertz said. “We don’t care what outside people think. Guys love playing for him. We gave it our all for him. I love playing for Doug, that’s all I can speak for. He’s an amazing coach, he’s an amazing play-caller.”
That much couldn’t have been clearer Sunday. Despite any attempts from outside NovaCare to create internal strife and derail the Eagles’ season, the team won on Sunday. The Eagles went on the road, where they really struggled last season, went up against NFC East rival Washington, which owned a five-game winning streak in the series entering the game, and are now sitting at 1-0.
Whatever interoffice politics might be pitting Schwartz against Pederson, whatever anybody thinks about the man’s qualifications, that’s not what played out on the field. Both the Eagles' defense and special teams outplayed the Eagles' offense in Washington, yet it was Pederson that was wearing the Gatorade postgame.
“It's everything that I've been telling you guys,” Pederson said. “Just ask the players how they feel about me. I give this win to all the players in that locker room. They battled. They hung in there through adversity, and we pulled the game out.”
For what it’s worth, winning is good for everybody, while not winning typically isn’t good for anybody, in terms of job security. If Schwartz wants another head coaching job in the NFL, the best way to go about it is to be successful in his role. But after 25 years in the league, he probably already knows that.