We all laughed, at least a little.
Two Januarys ago, when Jeffrey Lurie told us he had hired Doug Pederson because, unlike Chip Kelly, Pederson had an “open heart” and “emotional intelligence,” we snickered, and we shook our heads, and we rolled our eyes. Were the Eagles getting a coach or a nursemaid?
We’re not laughing anymore about the 1986 graduate of Ferndale High School who was born in Bellingham.
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Pederson, the NFL’s New World Man, has taken Lurie’s Eagles to Super Bowl LII, where, in Minneapolis, they will face the Patriots on Feb. 4. Pederson accomplished this by brilliantly using his offensive players, whether Carson Wentz and Darren Sproles or Corey Clement and Nick Foles. He did it by delegating the defense to Jim Schwartz, whose wizardry somehow remains undersold. More than anything, though, Pederson did it by making the Eagles believe in themselves; because, after enduring three years of clinical deceit from the other guy, they knew they could believe in him.
“I thought what was really needed was a kind of leadership that leads with a genuineness, a real genuineness,” Lurie said Sunday night. “People laughed when I used the term “emotional intelligence, but that’s probably a really good way to describe it.”
He’s right. We laughed. Wanting a football coach with “emotional intelligence” is like wanting a drill sergeant who sings lullabies.
Seriously, “open heart”? “Emotional intelligence”? This wasn’t a yoga class; it was football in the NFC East. This is where Tom Landry and Bill Parcells made grown men cry. You think Tom Coughlin ever cared about Michael Strahan’s feelings?
So, yes, we laughed.
Having been in the locker room, understanding what a team should feel, how we should practice, how we should play, when to take the pads off, when to put the pads back on – all of that is part of that emotional intelligence that I try to strive for with the guys.
Doug Pederson, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles
How could we have known? Pederson’s sensitivity wasn’t his only qualification, but it seemed to be the main one. His bona fides were scant: a longtime NFL backup quarterback who, after he retired, briefly dabbled in high school coaching, then tried out low-level NFL coaching under his former coach, Andy Reid, who promoted him apace.
The Reid connection should have been a clue. Reid tends to hire well. His coaching tree is prodigious, possibly thanks to liberal use of fertilizer.
With Pederson, there’s no bull.
“Having been in the locker room, understanding what a team should feel, how we should practice, how we should play, when to take the pads off, when to put the pads back on – all of that is part of that emotional intelligence that I try to strive for with the guys,” Pederson said Monday. “That relationship has gone a long way this season.”
All the way to the Super Bowl.
“There’s a lot of great coaches,” Lurie said. “They all have their different styles, but the one common ground among them all is absolute consistency and genuineness.”
Lurie mentioned, among others, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and former Giants coach Coughlin, no-nonsense dictators with no trace of open-hearted emotional intelligence. The Jaguars hired Coughlin last year to run their football operations and to oversee head coach Doug Marrone, and the pair took a more disciplined Jags team to the AFC title game.
Last spring, Coughlin removed the Ping-Pong table from the Jaguars’ locker room.
When he was hired, Pederson installed a pop-a-shot basketball game at the end of the Eagles’ locker room.
Kelly ignored his players’ concerns, but Pederson has a strict open-door policy. And he listens, and he acts.
After he publicly criticized two players for their effort last season, a contingent of players approached him to complain, and Pederson has since been more diplomatic in his public assessments. When the Eagles seemed to be getting soft at the end of the 2017 season, those same players asked him to make practices harder. He obliged.
No method is foolproof, and no one applauded Pederson’s touchy-feely style last year, when a 3-0 start turned into a 7-9 season. Maybe it takes time for this emotional intelligence to take root. Time, and a Pro Bowl passer like Wentz, right?
But then Wentz tore his left ACL in Game 13 and has been out for the last five. The Eagles still won all four that mattered, behind (sometimes despite) Foles. Maybe that’s how emotional intelligence manifests itself.
Maybe Pederson’s open-heart policy made his own team take heart when so many of its front-line players got hurt. Maybe it gave the Eagles hope when Wentz got hurt. Maybe it supplied faith when they were home underdogs in both of their playoff games.
And maybe that river of ridicule from two Januarys ago made Pederson’s job that much harder. Maybe that vein of disrespect freed former NFL executive-turned-podcaster Mike Lombardi to deride Pederson in September. Maybe it cost Pederson some coach-of-the-year votes. Rams coach Sean McVay won that award last week from the Professional Football Writers of America – not long after Pederson beat McVay in Los Angeles, then saw McVay lose his home playoff game while Pederson enjoyed the bye that comes with the No. 1 seed.
McVay’s best players were healthy, too. Pederson played without 25 percent of his best players for most of the season. Coach of the year? More like coach of the decade.
Lurie probably saw this coming. He has a doctorate in social policy, which makes him an expert in both the touchy and the feely.
Maybe we should not have dismissed “open heart” and “emotional intelligence.” Maybe these are qualities that we are not evolved enough to comprehend fully. Maybe we could stand to be more openhearted and emotionally intelligent.
As it turns out, the joke wasn’t on Lurie and Pederson at all. The joke’s on us.
Look who’s laughing now.