Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.
Too many football fans fall into the trap of overvaluing a team’s talent. While stacking your team with gifted athletes can certainly give you an edge, it isn’t ability alone that ultimately wins out in the National Football League, it’s trust.
The NFL is truly a spectacular mess right now. Across the sport, bad teams are competing with good teams with stunning consistency. Still, if you’re watching closely, there is a winning formula to be deciphered.
Winning teams like Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, and Atlanta all have one thing in common. The players on the field and in those locker rooms, the coaches and even the owners, trust each other, and it shows. Whether it’s in a winning effort or not, those teams are on the same page. They sacrifice for each other, learn from mistakes and, for better or worse, shoulder the responsibility together. After identifying trust as the essential ingredient in this winning formula, it becomes much easier to see why a talented team like the Philadelphia Eagles has struggled so mightily.
Since the “Dream Team” was assembled, the Philadelphia Eagles have had a nervous energy about them. The team introduced new coaches on the offensive and defensive lines and promoted offensive line coach, Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator in a whirlwind of change.
From day one, it was clear that Castillo was going to be fighting an uphill battle. For a fresh crop of young defensive players, the coach may have been well received, but for a highly skilled, highly touted group of free agent stars, the move was met with skepticism. It seemed like Nnamdi Asomugha immediately recognized the limitations of his new coach. A free agent star cornerback determined to succeed in a big market would remember such limitations if ever things were to go wrong. This attitude had, without a doubt, spread throughout the Eagles’ locker room.
The defense could never wholeheartedly trust their coach. They had a built-in excuse for failure and it showed on game day.
Jim Washburn’s presence only compounded the issue when he assumed a militaristic command of the defensive line. From the outset, Washburn seemed to alienate his squad, separating the defensive line almost entirely from the rest of the defense. Irresponsibly, Jim Washburn made the defensive line a separate entity, effectively absolving them of responsibility for the failings of their teammates.
Howard Mudd began his tenure with the Eagles on a positive note. His new blocking schemes seemed to be a revelation for the Eagles’ running game. Recently, Mudd’s contributions have eroded with the talent on the offensive line. A major free agent commitment and first-round selection are flailing in their coach’s system. Why should those players believe that Mudd has their best interests in mind? He is a proprietor of the only offensive scheme in which they have ever failed to succeed.
Perhaps the most volatile element of the Philadelphia Eagles is the starting quarterback position. Michael Vick has struggled for the better part of his last 22 games as an Eagle. He can’t trust his offensive line to protect him and he can’t trust his receivers to make plays. Now it seems he has lost the ability to trust what he has depended on since the first time he picked up a football; his own ability. Losing a step, just a single step, can destroy the confidence of a mobile quarterback. It was evident with Mcnabb and now it’s evident with Vick.
Despite their personal failings to date, Washburn, Mudd, Vick and Castillo represent something far more important. They represent the decisions of the head coach; one who had previously looked infallible in the eyes of his subordinates. Andy Reid’s decisions in 2011 tested the trust of the entire organization in it’s Head Coach. Last week, that trust was completely destroyed.
When Reid fired Castillo, he sent a message to every member of his organization that he is capable of mis-evaluating as important a position as defensive coordinator. If he’s capable of making such a big mistake, the players and coaches in the locker room have to assume Reid is capable of making mistakes elsewhere. Did he make a mistake with the O-line coach? Did he make a mistake with the gameplan? Has he made a mistake at quarterback? These are all questions that will plague the least-entrenched members of the Philadelphia Eagles organization if the losses keep coming.
For years, the Philadelphia media has anticipated this situation. Andy Reid is finally at a crossroads. Whatever credibility, respect, or trust had previously been handed to the coach of 13+ years has been spent. Reid may have a couple of games to prove to his players and coaches that he can make the right decisions; the right decisions for his players, for the coaches he’s hired and for the organization. For 13 years, Andy Reid has been taking full responsibility. For 13 years, he’s admitted he needs to do a better job. If he really can, now is the time. This may be Andy’s last chance.