In less than five years, Doug Pederson has gone from a mostly unpopular coaching hire to being considered one of the top head coaches in the league.
Earlier this week, NFL.com ranked Pederson as the fifth-best coach in the league. And after the last two years, that’s hard to argue.
A big reason folks were so skeptical of the hire back in 2016 was because of Pederson’s relative inexperience. Ten years earlier, he was coaching high school ball, he had been an offensive coordinator for just three seasons and a play-caller for minimal time. But even as he enters Year 4, Pederson still isn’t a finished product. He’d be the first to admit he has more to learn.
But before his team broke for summer, Pederson was asked about where he’s grown most as a head coach in his first three seasons on the job.
He named three areas:
“Situational football, you know, in the last three years has really been a top priority of mine. I think I've learned a lot from in-game decisions and different third-down decisions, fourth-down decisions, when to go for it on two-point conversions, things like that. And listen, I've got help in that area, but I think I've become better educated, I've studied that a little bit more, I've grown in that area, quite a bit.”
My take: If you’ve been paying attention to Pederson’s press conferences, especially during teaching times in minicamps and training camp, you’ll already know how important situational football is to him. We’re talking about third downs, fourth downs, red zone, backed up. Success in these situations is paramount to overall success and Pederson realizes it. This is where experience helps and there’s no expediting the process of acquiring it. Remember, Pederson didn’t have much time as a play-caller in K.C., so he’s been learning on the job and doing it well.
We all know the Eagles use analytics, but some of it comes down to Pederson’s gut, too. He’s managed to find a real balance of the two over his first three years. What’s been most impressive is that in three years, Pederson managed to find his aggressive style fairly quickly. He knows the type of coach and play-caller he wants to be and backs it up with gutty calls all the time. In his first three seasons, the Eagles have gone for it on fourth down 76 times, the most in the league. The next closest team (Green Bay) has 65 attempts. The average of the other 31 teams during the three-year span is 46.
“I think just overall managing the football team with a lot of the different personalities that kind of come and go with your team and, you know, being able to handle the LeGarrette Blounts and Jay Ajayis and now DeSean Jackson back on your team and guys that are unique personality types and profiles, I mean, just being able to manage all that and listen to the team. I think I've had a pretty good handle on just listening to the guys and understanding where they are.”
My take: You’ve heard the cliche, but it’s true. The locker room really is a melting pot. This is where we get back to Jeff Lurie’s “emotional intelligence” comment during the coaching search of 2016. Pederson has emotional intelligence and his time as a player in the league has informed his knowledge about the variance of personalities in a locker room. He holds his players accountable, but he doesn’t treat them all the same; they’re not. Treating players the same is a high school/college mentality that doesn’t seem to fly when you’re coaching professional athletes who are making a ton of money and are at varying stages of their careers and lives. This is something Chip Kelly never seemed to understand.
One of the most important things Pederson has done was when he set up his veteran council to report back to him with concerns of the whole team. Pederson immediately understood the more players are listened to, the more invested they’ll be, which can never be a bad thing.
Building a staff
“And then I just think building a staff each year, because coaches are going to come and go, and being able to replace them with quality guys and teachers. And I think that's another area where I've gotten better in the last four years.”
My take: This is important for a team that’s having success because coaches will leave for promotions. I think it’s fair to question some of these decisions — promoting Mike Groh, hiring Gunter Brewer — but overall, the Eagles have so far been able to remain successful from a coaching standpoint. Promoting from within is something always stressed by Andy Reid and Pederson seems to feel the same way. Pederson got off to a good start in 2016 by bringing on Jim Schwartz and then having the humility to keep a bunch of good coaches from Kelly’s staff. Pederson thinks he’s grown in this area, but it’s hard for us to judge this just yet. We’ll learn more about this skill in the coming years. But Pederson’s willingness to listen to his coaches makes finding quality coaches to surround him even more important.
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