The Pro Football Writers of America will announce its NFL Coach of the Year on Thursday.
Doug Pederson should win it.
While several coaches have turned in great seasons — Doug Marrone (Jaguars), Sean McVay (Rams), Mike Zimmer (Vikings) and everyone else not named Hue Jackson (Browns) or Ben McAdoo (Giants) immediately come to mind — Pederson’s performance with the Eagles this season has been especially impressive.
He’s the reason the Eagles are in the NFC championship game Sunday.
Even his staunchest critic has seemingly come around.
It took longer than it should have, but four months after questioning Pederson’s qualifications and coaching acumen, former NFL executive Michael Lombardi apologized during his podcast on “The Ringer” Sunday night.
“I admit I’m wrong,” said Lombardi, who grew up in Ocean City and still has a home there. “Doug Pederson is way better than I thought he was going to be in terms of his ability to lead that team. ... I was wrong in terms of how far I went (in his criticism) with Doug. I’m not sure how great of a coach Doug is, but I was wrong in terms of how far I went with it.”
Pederson’s leadership on the field and in the locker room enabled the team to overcome an inordinate amount of adversity. Sure, every team has its share of injuries during a season, but the Eagles were hit especially hard.
Their injured reserve list includes top players such as left tackle Jason Peters, running back/returner Darren Sproles, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, special teams ace Chris Maragos and most recently quarterback Carson Wentz. Still, the Eagles won the NFC East, earned the top seed in the conference playoffs and then knocked off Atlanta in last Saturday’s divisional-round game.
Off the field, Pederson has kept the team focused and motivated. He is the direct opposite of Chip Kelly, whose three-year tenure was rife with strife.
As much credit as Kelly deserved for his creative offenses and sports science innovations, he was about as flexible in his approach as I am in my weekly stretch/Yoga class, which often borders on the comical. Forget about touching my toes. I’m lucky to reach past my kneecaps.
Kelly’s stubbornness was what ultimately doomed him. Peters and cornerback Cary Williams warned him that his fast-paced practices were taking a toll on game days. When his hurry-up offense went three-and-out, it prevented the Eagles’ defense from catching its breath. He was viewed as unapproachable both to players and front office personnel.
Pederson’s best quality is that he listens. As a former player, he’s well-aware of what makes NFL teams tick, how to relate to players.
I can’t help but think playing for top coaches such as Don Shula, Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid over 12 seasons didn’t hurt.
One of his biggest moves was to establish a veteran’s committee. Pederson meets with tight end Brent Celek, safety Malcolm Jenkins and others once a week to get a feel for the mood of the locker room, to talk about potential problems and air out grievances before they become distractions.
And it’s paid off.
Regardless of what happens against Minnesota on Sunday, the Eagles’ season has to be considered a tremendous success.
When the season started, no one expected them to win more than nine or 10 games. Reaching the Super Bowl wasn’t even a consideration.
But here they are, one victory away from getting an opportunity to win their first NFL title since 1960.
Pederson is the reason.
And you don’t have to bend over backward to see that.
Even Lombardi knows it.
“All you Philly fans who are giving me all this crap about giving Doug Pederson his due, OK,” Lombardi said. “I was wrong.”
(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)