If you’re wondering how the Eagles went from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy a few years ago to a 4-11-1 record, firing the coach and trading the franchise quarterback, a new report from The Athletic gives plenty of answers.
The trio of Sheil Kapadia, Bo Wulf and Zach Berman reported and wrote a lengthy story exploring the inner-workings of the Eagles’ organization and the dysfunction that has seemingly created a less-than-ideal culture.
The whole story is worth your time, but here are a few of the most noteworthy bits and some thoughts on them:
A big theme in the story dealt with the way the front office — namely owner Jeff Lurie and GM Howie Roseman — treated Doug Pederson.
Pederson was the coach in Philly for five seasons before he was fired this past offseason. When the Eagles hired him back in 2016, it wasn’t a very popular decision, but Pederson went on to make the playoffs three years in a row and won a Super Bowl at the tail end of the 2017 season.
But the story from The Athletic paints a picture of the front office undermining Pederson quite often, especially when it came to his coaching staff. While we’ve heard some of this before, the story says that Pederson had to fight for Frank Reich to return after the 2016 season and also details his battle to keep Mike Groh and Carson Walch after the 2018 season. Pederson lost that battle and Groh and Walch were fired. According to the report, Lurie gave Pederson 24 hours to make the moves and Pederson would be fired if he didn’t.
Even this past offseason, a main disagreement that led to Pederson’s dismissal was over coaching staff. Pederson wanted to keep his guys and Lurie wanted to shake up the staff again.
Here’s one quote from the story:
“The fact that Doug had the success he did with all the s— going on in the building, sometimes I look at our Super Bowl rings, and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, I don’t know how we did it.’”
This offseason, the Eagles hired another young first-time head coach in Nick Sirianni. The details of Pederson’s time in Philly lead you to wonder how Sirianni will be able to find success in this environment. But it is worth mentioning that it appears Sirianni was given the freedom to hire all — or at least most — of his first coaching staff.
Lurie and Roseman
Another big theme from the story is about the relationship between Lurie and Roseman. Again, this isn’t completely new. And based on the fact that Roseman is still here, we know how close he and Lurie have remained.
But this tidbit from the story reflects the thoughts of many inside and outside the building:
According to multiple sources, the answer is that Roseman has made himself “essential” to Lurie. “This is a survivor,” said one source about Roseman. “This is someone who understands how to stay close with the most important person in the building.”
Through it all, Roseman has overcome doubts about his football bona fides to become one of the most powerful executives in the league, a de facto CEO who answers only to Lurie.
Those close to Roseman believe he was sincere in his effort to improve his interpersonal skills in the wake of his expulsion. He talks often about carrying with him the lessons from that time. But over the course of the past few years, as the team’s success waned, sources say some of Roseman’s worst instincts have returned.
There are also details in this story about Roseman trying incredibly hard to extinguish leaks from inside the building, stories that create a picture of paranoia inside the NovaCare Complex. While Roseman did put together a Super Bowl roster in 2017, he also has his flaws and they’re not limited to his draft record.
It’s also very interesting that many believe Roseman made a “sincere” effort to improve his people skills only to fall back into bad habits. Roseman learned a lot in his year away and one of the main things he always talks about was relationships and their importance.
Who is Alec Halaby?
One of the more interesting (and new) parts of The Athletic story is about Alec Halaby, the Eagles’ vice president of football operations and strategy. Basically, Halaby is the head of the Eagles’ analytics department. We don’t hear a ton about him on a daily basis, but he has an important role within the organization.
According to the story, a “rift” grew between Halaby and members of the Eagles’ coaching and scouting departments.
“Within the building, he’s perceived as Howie’s guy,” said one source. “That’s a problem. … No coach wants somebody around who they think is undermining the perception of how well they’re doing.”
To some, Halaby is something of an interloper. They say he carries influence with Lurie in part because of a close relationship with fellow Harvard grad Julian Lurie, Jeffrey’s son, who stands to one day take over the family business. To others, Halaby is “brilliant” and simply willing to fight for what he believes is right. The more nuanced opinion is that Halaby is in a “no-win situation,” boxed into a specific characterization by the non-traditional football background he shares with Roseman and a personality that makes him a “square peg in a round hole.”
The blurriness of Halaby’s influence on the final decision-makers created rifts throughout the organization and contributed to the iciness between departments. One source described the analytics team as a “clandestine, Black Ops department that doesn’t answer to anybody except the owner,” even though Halaby officially reports to Roseman.
During the 2017 season, Halaby and Pederson’s relationship soured to the point where Pederson berated Halaby within earshot of the rest of the office, according to sources. In the opinion of some members of the coaching staff, Halaby was not to be trusted.
There will probably always been some natural tension between analytics folks and old-school football people. That’s, in some ways, to be expected. But there has to be an effort to bridge the gap between those two sides. According to this story, Andrew Berry was brought to Philly with the expectation by some to do that. But Berry’s stay in Philly was short before he moved on to Cleveland to be their GM. And it appears that the rift remains. Analytics, by the way, aren’t going anywhere. Lurie is enamored.
Lurie loves the draft
Lurie has always been involved in football matters. In recent years, we’ve heard more about that involvement. Perhaps it’s true that he’s taken a more active role or perhaps we’re finally learning more about what he does. Maybe a bit of both.
On the Takeoff with John Clark podcast, former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah said Lurie was always very interested in the draft process (that was nearly a decade ago) and would question scouts and personnel members on the process. But there’s a difference in being involved and directly affecting the process.
And there appears to be a lack of transparency that bothers many inside the organization:
Those who have experienced that process acknowledge its murkiness. Often, there’s no explanation given when the team strays from an established draft board. Sometimes, as with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s selection in 2019, Lurie puts his thumb on the scale when the team was prepared to make another selection (in that case, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell).
But the virtual nature of the 2020 draft made things even less clear to the majority of the football operations staff. For the most part, last year’s decisions were discussed in a small virtual room consisting of Roseman, Lurie, Pederson and vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl. As a result, each of the Eagles’ first three selections — TCU receiver Jalen Reagor, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts and Colorado linebacker Davion Taylor — mystified some scouts and coaches watching along at home, just like everybody else.
In total, this is a pretty damning look into the Eagles’ organization. And reading all of it makes it hard to believe that the Eagles were able to win a Super Bowl a few years ago. Not to minimize any of it, but talent still trumps and dysfunction only gets the spotlight when things aren’t going well. If the Eagles are able to nail their draft picks in the coming years, get a QB and if Sirianni is a success, this dysfunction might not matter again for a while. We’ll find out soon enough.
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