On Saturday night before Super Bowl LII, Doug Pederson and Frank Reich presumably met in the team hotel, the Radisson Blu, for about an hour and a half for a last game-planning meeting.
This had become the ritual for the head coach and offensive coordinator during their two years together in Philadelphia.
The duo would sit in a room together with a call sheet and the first 15 scripted plays. "How good are the first 15?" became a little running joke between them.
Reich explained the ritual in late January: "Those are the little side meetings that if you don't enjoy working with each other and going through the ups and downs of a season — we'll sit in there and talk about the first 15, and he'll say, like he said to me the other night, 'Here's the 15, but I might insert this here or this there.'"
In the specific meeting Reich talked about, Pederson told him his whole philosophy was to be aggressive. Then the two talked about the importance of being aggressive without being reckless.
For the last two years, Reich, one of the most genuine people in the NFL, kept Pederson grounded. He was a sounding board and a trusted confidant to a budding offensive mad scientist. For two years, that relationship worked. But now it's gone.
Reich, 56, is the new head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Pederson is happy for him, but it's also a loss. This is an examination of what made their relationship so special and the importance of replacing it.
What would you say you do here?
At first glance, Reich's influence with the Eagles' offense might be pretty hard to pick up. After all, he's an offensive coordinator on a team with an offensive head coach who also calls the plays. But Reich did have a pretty important role with the team. When Pederson first hired Reich, he cited Reich's knowledge of the downfield passing game as a reason why. While both men said they shared a pretty similar offensive philosophy, Pederson thought Reich's knowledge of downfield passing would be a great complement to his base in the West Coast offense.
“He did an outstanding job there of really taking advantage of what our players did best, I think in the passing game especially," former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said about Reich in 2016 after Reich was fired in San Diego as the Chargers tried to find more offensive balance.
Together, Pederson and Reich formed the Eagles' offensive scheme and over the next two years the two men fine-tuned it, obviously, with Pederson taking the reins.
Just a few weeks ago, Reich was asked about his role in weekly game-planning and offered this:
"You know what, Coach has literally put together the best staff that you can possibly imagine and that's how we work. We work as a staff together," Reich said. "It's fun to do it that way. It's fun when it's ‘we.’ It's fun when we've got a head coach who shares that responsibility and who is — and as the role of offensive coordinator that's what you do: you coordinate. You take all the great resources that you have as far as the staff and our head coach, and you pile your ideas together and then you've got to narrow them down and that's what we do. And we get a lot of good input from a lot of different ways, and that's fun. I mean, it's fun to work with the guys we work with and have the players that run those plays."
Reich is a nice guy, genuine. That might not seem like a requirement to be an NFL coach — and it isn't — but that quality allowed him to coordinate ideas while with the Eagles. Plenty of coaches in the NFL have egos that don't fit in stadiums, but Reich doesn't. That's a helpful quality, especially for a coach around other smart and opinionated coaches.
Reich's mild-mannered personality served him well in his role as offensive coordinator and made his players love playing for him. Jeff Lurie made the term "emotional intelligence" and Reich, like Pederson, certainly has it. It's not a surprise these two grew so close and were able to work together.
Now, it's about finding that type of relationship again. Pederson might need to have that Reich-like voice to keep him grounded and he might need that type of sounding board. Can that be Duce Staley? Maybe. Can it be Mike Groh? Maybe. But that has to be a key.
Because what we learned about Reich's role over the last two years was that it became an incredibly important piece, not just to the offense, but specifically to the head coach, who grew into one of the best in the NFL.