McMullen: Eagles Settled Their Way into a Super Bowl
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Think about how tough it is for modern NFL coaches.
Just as technology has further eroded what was already the short attention spans of the younger generation, the 2011 CBA drastically cut back the time mentors were given to teach those checking their cell phones every minute or so.
It's almost a cruel joke but the savvy in the NFL have always understood one thing -- everyone in the league operates with the same hurdles in front of them so there is little use in complaining about it. The best are defined by one simple trait -- they do more with what is at their disposal.
In his particular profession, Doug Pederson has had a rocket attached to his posterior, shooting to the top in record time. He was once a much-maligned Plan C (perhaps even Plan D if you really believe the Eagles were interested in Tom Coughlin before the 2016 season) morphed into a Super Bowl-winning coach in his second season in charge of the Eagles, the first Lombardi trophy in franchise history and something even Pederson's highly-regarded mentor, Andy Reid, could never accomplish.
Just 12 months ago this very writer was being inundated with questions on radio shows from across the country on whether or not Pederson could survive 2017 after a 7-9 campaign marred by rookie mistakes especially with Jeffrey Lurie favorite John Harbaugh looming down I-95 with a shelf life about to expire in Baltimore.
That narrative seems so laughable now and while Mike Lombardi is the one vilified for verbalizing a feeling that was rooted locally, only revisionists will deny Pederson was an incredibly unpopular choice after the Eagles struck out after flirting with Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo.
Pederson "lost" every press conference when compared to his predecessor, the always quick on his feet Chip Kelly, and was chuckled at when it was revealed that he didn't have a complete understanding of the league's game-day communication system months before he even had to.
No one understood what made Pederson different back then and most still don't.
The current spin is that Pederson's ahead-of-the-curve aggressiveness sets him apart, something easily duplicated in a copycat league foreshadowing a regression to the mean when others do react.
Others were at least closer to the bull's eye while pointing to Pederson's lack of ego and willingness to pick and choose from what works whether it's Kelly's RPOs or Chicago's trick play, which turned into the "Philly Special." But, even someone with the ego of Kelly understands everything in football has been done before.
"None of us were in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne when this game started, so we all stole it from someone else," Kelly recently told Sports Illustrated. "Who cares where it came from? We didn’t get into coaching so everyone would say, ‘We run plays or implement things so everybody will say I invented this.’ I mean, if you think you invented it, you’re kinda full of crap."
What actually sets Pederson apart from most of his peers is far simpler than any of that -- he's comfortable in his own skin and understands how this league works at the highest level after interning with coaches like Reid, Don Shula, and Mike Holmgren and playing second-fiddle to quarterbacks like Brett Favre and Dan Marino.
The current thinking with league executives is to hire the best and brightest younger coaches and hope they have the magic wand which enables them to communicate effectively. Sean McVay in Los Angeles is a perfect example of that and the early returns have been spectacular. In other places that mentality has failed miserably (see Josh McDaniels in Denver and Gase in Miami.)
Lowering the age gap isn't the key, though. Finding a way to reach anyone starts with respect and Pederson carries a certain cachet with his players because he's walked the same path successfully. Couple that with the understanding of the X's and O's and how they translate to the field and you have a tough combination to beat.
Then when you sprinkle in the wherewithal to comprehend the limitations of passing on that information to so many different personalities and a Super Bowl-winning coach slides out of the oven.
"The only thing really that I've talked to my staff about is you know don't keep the guys in a room," Pederson explained. "Give them breaks. Give them a chance to check their phones, clear their head, go to the bathroom, whatever it might be because, you know, attention spans are not that long and we are an environment where they are obviously taxing their body to so they are tired and they are fatigued. ... As coaches, teachers -- one of our jobs is to find out how each one of our players learn and learn the best."
Once that becomes the definition, the goal becomes maximizing each individual, not the unreachable ambition of getting everyone to the same finish line.
"... They all got cell phones, [some are] visual learners. They can see it," Pederson explained. "Some of them have to hear it and see it. Some of them, they've got it so they can just walk out on the field and do it and practice it. Others need a little more coaching that way."
Remember intelligence is always on a sliding scale, wisdom is not. No matter how smart you may be in your 20s or 30s, life is going to teach you a thing or two along the way and even the most self-centered, narcissistic and entitled among us have something in their DNA that understands that.
Pederson has lived in NFL locker rooms which have won at the highest level and he's done his best to re-create that at the NovaCare Complex. Among his constituency he returned to Philadelphia with a presence Gase and McAdoo could never have matched and it resulted in a Super Bowl LII championship coupled with a pragmatism to do it all over again.
"Hopefully one of the things you guys have seen and noticed from me is that I'm going to be the same," Pederson said. "I don't want it [the Super Bowl] ever to change me. I don't want it to like define me."
Imagine not wanting to be defined by the ultimate goal of your profession.
That, more than anything, describes the greatness of Doug Pederson.
“I think the things that can define me is that I’m going to be honest, I’m going to be transparent, I’m going to be as open as I can. I’m sort of a father figure to a lot of these players," Pederson said. "Kind of what you see is what you get. There’s no fluff anywhere. I don’t try to come across that way, and I basically just want to do my job. That’s what I was hired to do and that’s what I want to do is coach football."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen