Andy Reid protege Doug Pederson emerges from Class of 2016 NFL coaches

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson celebrates after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 15-10. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA — Doug Pederson was too close to Andy Reid to get fan approval when the Philadelphia Eagles hired him to replace Chip Kelly.

 

Pederson was Reid’s first starting quarterback in Philadelphia back in 1999 when he groomed rookie Donovan McNabb. Then Pederson served as an assistant coach under Reid for seven seasons with the Eagles and Chiefs.

Because Reid never won the Big One — he’s the winningest coach in franchise history and led Philadelphia to five NFC title games and a Super Bowl loss in 14 seasons between 1999-2012 — fans didn’t want his protege.

Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo were popular choices during the 2016 coaching search, but Gase went to Miami and McAdoo stayed with the Giants. The Eagles even considered Tom Coughlin, but chose Pederson instead.

Gase is 16-17 in two seasons in Miami. McAdoo was fired already. Other coaches hired that year: Hue Jackson is 1-31 in Cleveland; Dirk Koetter is 14-18 in Tampa Bay; Tennessee fired Mike Mularkey on Monday; and San Francisco fired Chip Kelly after one season.

Even longtime NFL executive Mike Lombardi was critical of Pederson after he led the Eagles to a 7-9 record in his first season.

“Everybody knows Pederson isn’t a head coach,” Lombardi said before this season started. “He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.”

Lombardi finally admitted he was wrong, but it wasn’t until Pederson guided the Eagles to a 15-10 victory over Atlanta in the divisional playoff game.

“I’m wrong,” Lombardi said on his podcast afterward. “Doug Pederson was way better than I thought he was going to be in terms of his ability to lead that team. …. For me, when you win a playoff game and you beat a team you’re an underdog to, and you beat Matt Ryan and Nick Foles played well, I think you deserve it. I think I was wrong on how far I went with Doug. I’m not sure if he’s a great coach, but I was wrong in terms of how far I went with it.”

Pederson lost MVP candidate Carson Wentz, nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking linebacker Jordan Hicks, return specialist Darren Sproles, and special-teams captain Chris Maragos. Yet his team tied a franchise record with 13 wins, earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed, and now is one win away from the Super Bowl.

The Eagles (14-3) host the Minnesota Vikings (14-3) on Sunday in the NFC championship game. Once again, Philadelphia is a home underdog.

Pederson doesn’t care about public opinion.

“I don’t pay much attention to it,” he said earlier in the season. “I’m focused on this football team, this roster, these guys.”

Pederson is popular in the locker room. He spent 10 seasons in the NFL mainly as a backup quarterback with Miami, Green Bay, Philadelphia and Cleveland. He consults with a council of players to make sure any issues are handled. After holding walk-through practices before the final regular-season game, players wanted to put pads on during the bye week. They told Pederson and he quickly agreed.

“He relates to us,” safety Corey Graham said. “He knows exactly what we’re going through in certain situations. We want to play for a guy like that who understands you and wants to help you.”

Pederson didn’t have much of a coaching pedigree before owner Jeffery Lurie took a chance on him. He was the offensive coordinator his last three seasons in Kansas City, but Reid usually called the plays. Pederson, unlike Reid, prefers a more-balanced offense. The Eagles run the ball more now than they did under Reid. Pederson also is aggressive. He likes to go on fourth down. Against the Falcons, LeGarrette Blount ran in from the 1 on fourth down to give the Eagles a 6-3 lead early in the second quarter.

“He’s unorthodox at times in a good way,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There is an art to play calling and Doug has had a phenomenal year calling plays.”

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