Monday, October 15, 2012

Andy Reid and the Eagles' organizational demise

In press conferences, Andy Reid has long held that any failure on the part of his team is really a failure of his own doing--to prepare, to scheme, to motivate. Any post-game interview following a loss is sure to start with the words, "I take responsibility."

That response was often laughable, when individual players' deficiencies or mistakes had clearly been the culprit for this or that particular play that contributed heavily to a loss. But now, those words ring much truer. Andy Reid has finally uttered them so many times that they've become reality.

Andy Reid has become the problem.

The book on Andy Reid is out, and has been for a while. He can't balance the run with the pass. He can't control the use of his timeouts. He can't manage the clock to save his life, particularly at the end of a close game. But the issues have progressed beyond those that we've learned to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Andy Reid, who has been the Eagles' coach since 1999 and in charge of their football operations (read: general manager) since 2001, has presided over a slow organizational slide from elite team to mediocre team. Let's explore how we got there.

First, let's give Reid his due. Among coaches with at least 100 games of experience, Reid's .609 winning percentage ranks 11th all-time and second among active coaches, behind Bill Belichick. Since Reid began coaching in Philadelphia, no other franchise has made as many divisional round playoff appearances (7), or had players appear in the Pro Bowl as many times (44). Reid holds Eagles franchise records for total wins, winning percentage, and playoff victories.

But breaking Reid's tenure into pieces tells a slightly different story. From 1999 to 2004, the year in which the Eagles peaked at 13-3 and went to the Super Bowl, Reid compiled a 64-32 record and seven playoff wins. Since then, from 2005 through week six of the 2012 season, Reid's teams have gone just 65-52-1, with three playoff wins. They've been eliminated twice in the wild card round of the playoffs, something no Reid team had ever done prior to 2009.

The Eagles' statistics tell a similar story. In those first six seasons, Reid's teams achieved an average seasonal point differential of +90.5. From 2005 to 2011, that number dropped to +53.9, a 40 percent decrease.

That drop is almost entirely attributable to the messy decline of the defense over that time, and can particularly be traced to Jim Johnson's death (and, depending on how much credit you want to give him, Brian Dawkins' departure).

From 1999 until Johnson's retirement and passing following the 2008 season, the Eagles' defense ranked outside the top nine in points allowed just three times, and finished in the top five in points allowed an astounding five times in ten seasons. In the three full seasons since, under Sean McDermott and Juan Castillo, the Eagles have finished 19th, 21st, and tenth in points allowed, and are pacing for 14th this year.

Part of the issue has been an unwillingness by the organization to bring in fresh eyes in coaching and talent evaluation roles. When the team appointed a general manager for the 2006 season, it chose Tom Heckert, who had been with the organization for five years. When Heckert left to become the Cleveland Browns' general manager in 2010, he was replaced by Howie Roseman, who had been with the Eagles since 2000. Of course, both of those men were subordinate to Reid, who maintained full control of football operations.

On the coaching side, when Brad Childress left the Eagles in 2006 to coach the Minnesota Vikings, Reid replaced him as offensive coordinator with Marty Mornhinweg, who had been with the team for three seasons. After Johnson's death, he was replaced as defensive coordinator by Sean McDermott, who had been with the Eagles in various capacities since 1998. This organization loyalty reached its hilarious, depressing peak when Reid tabbed Juan Castillo to replace McDermott after the 2010 season. Castillo, of course, had been the Eagles' offensive line coach since 1998 and hadn't coached a defense since 1989, when he served as defensive coordinator for Kingsville High School in Texas.

Organizational stability is a very good thing. However, the lack of meaningful organizational turnover has also meant that the same eyes have been watching the same players for years. The stagnation in scheme is likely partly due to the dearth of new ideas surrounding game-planning and personnel evaluation, though of course Jim Washburn brought his controversial wide-nine scheme to town during Castillo's first year as head coach.

How has that constancy in player evaluation affected the Eagles' personnel moves over the years? We can get a sense of the roster's talent and performance over time by looking at Pro Bowl appearances and draft picks.

First, a general look at Pro Bowl appearances: Breaking Reid's tenure into the same periods we analyzed before, we see that Eagles players made 38 Pro Bowl appearances between 1999 and 2004, and just 28 between 2005 and 2011. That means that Reid's Eagles featured more than six Pro Bowlers per season prior to 2005, and just four per season since.

The following table shows each player that appeared in at least one Pro Bowl under Reid, and when those appearances occurred. Players in bold were drafted by Reid, and players in italics were acquired by Reid from outside the organization. All other players were inherited by Reid at the beginning of his tenure.

As we noted before, the Eagles sent far more players to the Pro Bowl in the first part of Reid's tenure. But what's really telling is how high a percentage of those appearances came from players who were not brought into the organization by Reid. 21 of the 38 total Pro Bowl appearances prior to 2005 came from players that Reid inherited when he took the job, like Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, Tra Thomas, and Jeremiah Trotter.

It's unreasonable to think that many of the Pro Bowl players from the first part of Reid's tenure would have been draft picks, since many of his draft picks would be very early in their careers. However, even in the second part of Reid's tenure, from 2005 to 2011, just ten of the 28 Pro Bowl appearances came from players that Reid drafted. Half of the 28 came from players Reid acquired, and the rest came from Dawkins and Trotter.

In fact, of the 19 appearances over Reid's entire tenure that came from players he personally drafted (representing just 29 percent of the total appearances during that time), six belong to just one player: Donovan McNabb. No other player drafted by Reid has ever appeared in more than two Pro Bowls, though  Trent Cole, LeSean McCoy, and perhaps DeSean Jackson seem like possible candidates to reach more than two.

Reid has drafted 116 players since 1999. Of those, 32 have been a primary starter for the Eagles for at least two years, and nine have made at least one Pro Bowl. The percentage of picks that turned into multi-year starters is actually consistent between the two eras we've been studying. However, the caliber of those starting players compared over different periods speaks volumes about the quality of the roster and its deterioration over time.

Between 1999 and 2004, the worst two-year (minimum) starters the Eagles drafted were probably Damon Moore, whose promising career was cut short by an ACL tear, and fullbacks Cecil Martin and Thomas Tapeh. Besides those three, the only other starters the Eagles drafted that did not make at least one Pro Bowl were John Welbourn, Todd Pinkston, Sheldown Brown, and L.J. Smith, all of whom started at least four seasons for the Eagles. Six other Eagles draft picks from that period made at least one Pro Bowl.

For players drafted between 2005 and 2011, we need to qualify our analysis a little bit because many of those players are still in the midst of their Eagles careers. However, 69 picks have yielded just three Pro Bowlers so far, and more tellingly, a number of those picks have started for at least two years and already moved on. Reggie Brown, Sean Considine, Winston Justice, Chris Gocong, Max Jean-Gilles, Omar Gaither, and Stewart Bradley were all chosen between 2005 and 2007, started two or more seasons for the Eagles, and have since moved on.

We can even judge some more recent drafts than that. Eighteen picks in 2008 and 2009, for example, yielded three excellent starters: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy. Besides those three, only Mike McGlynn and Moise Fokou ever started for the Eagles, and both have moved on to other teams. Of all the other draft picks, only King Dunlap remains with the Eagles.

Add it all up, and it's clear that Reid's player development history is much, much spottier than the team's record during his tenure would suggest. A huge amount of the success the Eagles found during Reid's early years came from players he inherited and one player he drafted: Donovan McNabb. Since then, while his drafts have been hit or miss, they've certainly declined in quality over time, producing fewer Pro Bowlers and fewer long-term starters. Recently, an increasing number of mediocre draft picks have been plugged in as stopgap starters, only to be replaced after a short period of time.

Reid's long term difficulty in filling certain positions after key players' departures is another example of his personnel struggles. Middle linebacker was a black hole for years following Trotter's departure, only recently filled by trade acquisition DeMeco Ryans. Pending Mychal Kendricks's development, it's not a stretch to say that the Eagles' best outside linebacker during Reid's tenure may have been Carlos Emmons, many years ago. After Tra Thomas left, the Eagles struggled to find a right tackle until they moved Todd Herremans over from left guard. Following Jon Runyan's departure, the Eagles had to bring in Jason Peters from outside the organization. The Eagles have had a revolving door at center, moving from Bubba Miller to Hank Fraley to Jamaal Jackson to Mike McGlynn to Jason Kelce, though Kelce looked like a long-term solution before his ACL tear. At strong safety, the Eagles have cycled through Damon Moore, Blaine Bishop, Michael Lewis, Sean Considine, Quintin Mikell, and now Kurt Coleman, with none spending more than a few years with the team.

The quality and depth of the roster has declined during Reid's time with the team. While he's managed to cover up some of his draft shortcomings with imports like Jason Peters and Asante Samuel, fewer players are making fewer Pro Bowls, and the team is cycling through its starters more quickly. Without the benefit of new eyes to analyze the roster and adapt schemes, it's unlikely we'll see an increase in effectiveness in personnel evaluation in the future.

As the roster has deteriorated, so has the team's record. Even more scary is the thought of what would have happened had the Eagles not lucked into a resurgent Mike Vick in 2010. For all his warts, Vick is still probably a league-average quarterback, and certainly better than Kevin Kolb or whatever other detritus the Eagles would have lined up behind center in his absence. The post-McNabb years could easily have been much more painful than they have been.

But either way, it's time for the team to move on. There seems to be this overriding sense of caution and pessimism among Reid's defenders, few though they are in Philadelphia, that whoever the Eagles hire to replace Reid couldn't possibly do as good a job. And it's true that any new head coach would have huge shoes to fill--that's what happens when you replace the winningest head coach in a franchise's history.

But that's a fallacious argument for a few reasons, in particular because there are better coaches in the NFL, and those coaches were once new hires themselves, and also because we've seen Reid's ceiling. He took some borrowed stars, an elite quarterback, and a defensive coaching genius as far as he could, and they fell short in Super Bowl XXXIX. Since then, it's been all downhill.

He's never been an elite game-planner or revolutionary schemer, so Reid has trouble making up for deficiencies in his roster. And it's unlikely, given his current rate of return on draft picks and his loyal-to-a-fault internal promotion practices, that the Eagles will ever end up with another team as good as the 2004 model as long as Reid remains coach and general manager.

It's been a great ride, but all good things must come to an end. Mike Shanahan was fired by the Broncos, Jeff Fisher was let go by the Titans. It happens, often, particularly in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league like the NFL. It's time for Reid to move on from the Eagles, either by his own accord or with a nudge from Jeff Lurie. At least we know, when Reid's tenure finally comes to an end, that he won't be taking any of his timeouts with him.

1 comment:

  1. Andy has needed to go for years. I would say that the draft is mostly a crap-shoot, so it's a bit difficult to place a ton of blame on his drafting. Consider that all the pundits said our draft this year was excellent, but no one has any clue until these players perform. The blame has to be placed on Andy for his stubbornness, his need to try and make running QBs into pocket QBs, his insistence on not committing to the run, his general lack of focus on the LB and safety position, his complete lack of clock management, and his refusal to hire big name coordinators.