PHILADELPHIA -- It was toward the end of his news conference here Monday afternoon that Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie crystallized the challenge in front of him. Having fired Andy Reid after 14 years as head coach, Lurie now sets himself to the task of finding a new Eagles coach. And after taking questions about it for a while, Lurie offered a moment of abject honesty.
"There's no guarantee I'll make a great decision," Lurie said. "Though I'm confident I will."
The Eagles are heading into uncertain times. There's no disputing the idea that it was time for Reid to go. He's 22-27 over the past three seasons, and as great a coach as he was and still may be, nothing lasts forever. Lurie spoke of the "scattered decision-making" of the past couple of years, and his assessment is accurate. Reid was no longer performing at a high enough level, and it is unquestionably time for the Eagles to move on with a new voice leading the roster and a new face fronting the organization. But the uncertainty about who that will be takes center stage now, arm in arm with the realization that different doesn't always mean better.
"Andy Reid is a gem of a person who was incredibly dedicated to making the Eagles the organization we have been," Lurie said. "He had the love and respect of every individual in this organization, and I look forward to the day when we will welcome him back and introduce him as a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame, because that's inevitable."
So, yeah, all you would-be Reid successors out there: No pressure or anything.
In all honesty, Lurie's job here is about more than finding a new football coach. To effectively replace everything Reid meant to this organization would mean hitting the lottery twice in two decades. Reid helped establish a culture of winning in Philadelphia -- helped build a team and a structure that, for a very long time, was a virtual guarantee every year for 10 or 11 wins and a playoff appearance. He did it, according to the owner, while garnering universal love and respect around the building. These are not small accomplishments, and on a day when seven head coaches and five general managers were fired before the sun went down, it's worth remembering that coaching the same NFL team for 14 years takes something and someone pretty special. And that you don't find that kind of person every single time you make a hire.
So into this breach of uncertainty go Lurie and the Eagles for the first time in 14 years. Lurie spoke about a new organizational structure that grants more control to GM Howie Roseman. Asked to justify this, Lurie spoke of the "voluminous notes" he keeps about past drafts and player evaluations and indicated that he tracks not just which moves the team made but which unmade moves were supported by which of his decision-makers. Effectively, he seemed to be saying that he'd gone back over previous drafts, checked which players Roseman liked against the players the Eagles took, and decided Roseman was generally making good evaluations. This could be interpreted as a dig at Reid or at former team president Joe Banner, but Lurie was certainly hoping it would be received as grounds for faith in Roseman going forward.
"The mistakes that were made in the 2011 draft have little or nothing to do with Howie's evaluations," Lurie said, while explaining that he'd "streamlined" the decision-making process prior to the 2012 draft and believed that one had gone well under Roseman's guidance.
What this means is that the next head coach likely won't have the same amount of control over personnel decisions that Reid had -- that whoever it is must be comfortable working with Roseman while reporting directly to Lurie. This is new, and different, and Lurie can't be certain that it will work. He seemed to sense this as he offered up what amounted to an impassioned recruiting pitch to potential coaching candidates. He said he's got a "very, very defined list of candidates" on which he's been working since the Eagles' record dropped to 4-8, and he spoke of his belief that the Eagles' head-coaching job is the most attractive in the NFL.
I'm not so sure he's right. Whoever comes in to coach the Eagles will have to figure out the quarterback position, where Michael Vick is on the way out, Nick Foles is unproven and this year's draft doesn't appear to offer the kinds of quick-fix solutions last year's did. Whoever it is will be dealing with an organizational structure that's new and untested, supposedly working hand-in-hand with Roseman on talent evaluation. Whoever it is must deal with the nearly impossible expectations of one of sports' most impatient and angry fan bases. And whoever it is will be succeeding the greatest coach the franchise has ever had -- a man who managed to hold the job for 14 years in an era in which few make it as many as four. People will want the job, of course. It will pay beautifully and offer big-market opportunity to succeed. But it's not certain to be the most desired opening out there this offseason. Especially for the kind of guy Lurie hopes to find. Again.
"Someone who is completely comfortable in their role and who they are as a person," Lurie said when asked what he was looking for in a coach. "It's better to find the right leader than it is to make the fastest decision."
This sounds like a man who knows what he's up against here -- one who understands that, due to the standard set by the man he fired Monday, this is both an important and very difficult decision to get right. The Eagles will find a new coach, of that you can be certain. But replacing Andy Reid and all he brought with him might prove to be a different story.