Pressure is on Reid and Eagles in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- Andy Reid had been trying to get away from it all. The Eagles head coach was on summer vacation, just about to set sail for some fishing with his youngest son, Spencer, on Strawberry Lake, a massive reservoir just east of the snow-capped Wasatch Mountain range in north central Utah.

And then his cell phone rang.

"I had actually been having trouble getting service," Reid remembered. "My wife had been trying to get a hold of me."

It wasn't his wife, Tammy, on the other end of the line. It was a voice from the not-so-distant past -- linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who two years ago had angrily parted ways with Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins had just cut Trotter and he was looking for his old job back.

Spencer Reid waited while his father listened to Trotter, who tried to make amends. The wayward son apologized to Reid. And that was all it took. Thin at linebacker and perhaps desperate for some good kharma, Reid re-signed Trotter, who has re-claimed his spot as a boisterous leader in the Eagles locker room.

This is what it's been like for Andy Reid this offseason. After three straight losses in the NFC Championship Game -- including the last two at home -- Big Red has been making room in his Big Tent, turning suddenly hospitable and somewhat unpredictable in his quest for a berth in the Super Bowl.

As the only one of his peers in the NFC East with the title of executive vice president for football operations, Reid opened up his wallet and spent uncharacteristically and lavishly on the volatile Terrell Owens to finally give Donovan McNabb a Pro Bowl battery-mate.

Reid also cracked open the cash drawer for pass-rushing defensive Jevon Kearse. And, when another Philly refuge was cut -- this time defensive end Hugh Douglas released by Jacksonville -- Reid moved unusually quickly. He brought Douglas back to Philadelphia while the locker room was still buzzing with anticipation.

"He was a guy that was well-liked on this football team," said Reid. "He's a funny guy. He has a great sense of humor."

That's not very insightful stuff, except when you consider this: In his six years in Philadelphia, Reid has never talked about pleasing his players, nor his public. In the face of withering criticism on talk radio and not-to-so quiet grumbling at One NovaCare Way, Reid has shown the door to Trotter, Douglas, Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent and Duce Staley. All of them were very popular in and out of the locker room.

So, the acknowledgement alone of Douglas' place and his personality is a signal from Reid that there has been an ever-so-subtle change in the stoic -- some would call stubborn -- head coach.

After all, this is a guy who with a straight face insisted for years that James Thrash was going to be a highly productive X receiver in the West Coast offense. Just the act of bringing in Owens to replace Thrash was a sign Reid had to do something different.

But that's all you'll get in the way of introspection. This is not an invitation to start searching for Reid's inner demons or his feminine side. There will be no great session on the couch of sports talk radio. Even those who know him best don't expect that.

Just ask Bob LaMonte, Reid's agent. LaMonte represents six head coaches in the NFL, that's almost a fifth of the league. Reid, he admitted, is the most difficult to read. "Of all the coaches I have, Andy is the most difficult to see any discernible change in," said LaMonte, whose book, "Winning the NFL Way," was just published by Harper Collins.

"Of all the guys I have, he talks the least about winning a championship to vindicate his record," said LaMonte. "He doesn't think that's how he should be measured."

A startling admission. So, here's what the record says: Reid has won 46 games over the last four years, which is more than any other NFL head coach. During that time, no coach has had more playoff appearances (4) and no coach has had more division titles (3).

Reid, a two-time coach of the year, has had five playoff wins, too -- which leads us to a somewhat dubious distinction. Since 1967, only one coach has had more playoff wins without an appearance in the Super Bowl. That would be Chuck Knox, who has a 7-11 playoff record. Marty Schottenheimer is 5-11 in the playoffs.

Reid is 5-4, and, surely, when his time is up he will not be happy to be compared to Knox and Schottenheimer. No matter what those around him say, only a Super Bowl appearance or victory will seal his legacy.

Currently, despite winning three straight NFC East titles, Reid is the lowest-paid head coach in the division. Under contract through the 2006 season, Reid makes $2.5 million per year. In Washington, Joe Gibbs is good for about $6 million. In Dallas, Bill Parcells is pulling down about $4.2 million. But they have been to a combined seven Super Bowls.

Still, in New York, even head coach Tom Coughlin makes more -- about $3 million.

There had been earlier discussions about giving Reid an extension and a raise. But those talks quietly discontinued in late February, according to an NFL official with knowledge of the situation.

Given the way Reid reacted when Trotter refused the franchise tag and wanted more money than the Eagles offered, and the way other veterans have been shown the door before they've been shown the money, tabling the contract talks with Reid right now was probably a good public relations move.

And that's clear at a time when this organization needs a PR lift. No team in the league has had so much success in the last four years and yet served up so much heaping helpings of frustration. When you close out one stadium (the Vet) and open another (the Linc) with losses in the NFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons, you're asking your fans to endure beyond the call of duty.

But the loyalty here appears to be limitless. Record crowds chanted "T.O.! T.O.!" at training camp in Lehigh. The Eagles are one of the league's top revenue producers. And, with the Phillies' sliding into oblivion, again, the Eagles are still the Philly faves.

Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who has been the victim of the Philadelphia vitriol for many years, once put it this way about Reid: "Andy's the perfect fit for the city of Philadelphia. He has the right demeanor for the job and doesn't let things affect him. He has strong convictions, believes in what he's doing and doesn't waver."

This offseason, Reid may not have wavered from his convictions -- about his players and his plans. But he has wandered a little bit from some of them. For Reid, bringing back Trotter and Douglas, signing Kearse and Owens, is what amounts to a walk on the wild side.

And that raises two questions: Is it enough or is it too late?

Sal Paolantonio, who covers the NFL for ESPN, wrote about the Eagles for the Philadelphia Inquirer during 1994-95.