BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (973espn.com) - Bill Belichick gave a shout out to his old friend Mike Lombardi on Thursday at the Mall of America.

Asked what shaped him as a personnel evaluator, the Patriots coach pointed toward the former NFL general manager turned media member:

"I'd say a lot of that was really developed in Cleveland with Mike Lombardi," the future Hall of Fame coach said.

From there you don't exactly have to play six degrees of separation to get to Eagles mentor Doug Pederson.

Before this season Lombardi infamously said Pederson “isn’t a head coach” and he “might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.”

Since that point, Pederson has taken the high road for the most part when asked about the criticisms preferring to let his actions answer in the form of a 15-3 season and a berth in Super Bowl LII during only his second season in charge.

The narrative has changed drastically these days and Friday on Radio Row at the Mall of America proved to be almost a series of valentines directed at Pederson with former Eagles and Chiefs receiver Jason Avant, SiriusXM's Adam Caplan and long-time Eagles beat reporter Geoff Mosher all directing effusive praise at a coach nobody wanted when he was tabbed before the 2016 season after Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo went in different directions.

Fast forward and McAdoo has already been blown out in New York and Gase is coming off a disastrous season in Miami while Pederson has entered the conversation as perhaps the best coach in the game not named Belichick.

His offensive coordinator Frank Reich has called him an unorthodox and aggressive play caller while his quarterbacks coach, John DeFilippo, labeled Pederson as the most natural play caller he's ever seen.

Avant, meanwhile, claimed the difference between Pederson and his mentor Andy Reid as a play caller is night and day with the latter relying solely on his vaunted preparation while Pederson approaches things as almost a living organism which shifts depending on the needs of a particular game.

If you want to know the secret to Pederson's success as a coach, however, the X's and O's, impressive as they've been, take a back seat to something once used as a punch line to mock Jeffery Lurie.

The Eagles owner coined the term "emotional intelligence" when he moved on from Chip Kelly, a knock on his former coach's inability to handle people and personalities.

"Chip thought this was a coaches league," Caplan explained on radio row at the Mall of America Friday. "It's not. It's a players league."

With 14 years under his belt as an NFL quarterback, Pederson may have walked back into the NovaCare Complex as a first-year head coach but it was a rookie mentor who really understood what the NFL is about.

"At end of the day, you have to have players," Pederson admitted. "Players, players, players. This league’s about players. It’s hard to put a percentage, but I would say put 98 percent talent in the room and two percent coaching. But the coaching needs to be 100 percent of the two percent."

In other words -- you can't win without talent but the great coaches are able to maximize the gifts of those players by turning them into a finished product.

"If we’re not teaching the details and the fundamentals of this position and this game - I’m not saying it’s the same everywhere - I just know what’s going on right here and you’re seeing the technique, the fundamentals and the details what these coaches are teaching these guys and you’re seeing it being executed during games," Pederson explained. "That’s what you want. That gives our players with talent even much greater success during these games."

-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen