(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Joe Banner interview, log on to the following attachment: Ep 22: Andy Reid, Philly Fans, and More With Former Eagles President Joe Banner | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)
Before Andy Reid was a successful coach in Kansas City, he was a successful coach in Philadelphia. And before he was successful there, he was a successful coach in Green Bay.
Only not as a head coach. As a relatively unknown assistant.
The Packers’ quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach, he was hired by Philadelphia in 1999 in a move that surprised Eagles’ fans, mostly because Reid was never a head coach anywhere. Yet the Eagles didn’t mind, making Reid – then 40 — the NFL’s second-youngest coach at the time (the Raiders’ Jon Gruden was 35).
The rest you know. With 221 victories, Reid ranks sixth among NFL head coaches, and his 17 playoff victories are tied for fourth. Now he’s favored to win a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy with the Chiefs.
What you may not know, however, is what caused the Eagles to take a leap of faith 22 years ago. So we asked former team president Joe Banner, then part of the decision-making process, on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast.
“Remember,” he said, “we (he and Eagles’ owner Jeff Lurie) were new to the league. So we weren’t limited and governed by all the conventional wisdom that had driven the thinking for so many years. So we actually tried to add a little science to our intuition to study all the head coaches that had been to at least two Super Bowls and defining them as true success leaders. And, to our surprise, we found nothing about football that was in common.
“They passed. They ran. They were aggressive. They were passive. Whatever it was, we couldn’t find anything. We almost stumbled into the fact that when it came to the description of who they were as people there were tremendous similarities – about leadership, about attention to detail, the ability to evaluate coaches and manage people.”
The coaches included Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren and Bill Parcells, and the Eagles measured them by a list of eight criteria that they thought defined them.
“None of them had anything to do with football,” said Banner.
And that, said Banner, is where Reid separated himself from the field.
In the end, the decision came down to Reid vs. Jim Haslett, with the Eagles taking the coach less traveled. The decision changed the face of the franchise, with the Eagles going to five conference championship games – including four straight – in eight years and their first Super Bowl since the 1980 season.
“We were not afraid of somebody who hadn’t been a coordinator,” said Banner. “We were very focused on leadership. So they were going to have to prove to us (that) if they hadn’t been a coordinator they could be a great leader.
“There were eight teams at the time hiring a head coach. Green Bay, by the way, was one of them and didn’t interview Andy. And when we met him it was like: Either our research was really misguided, or we just stumbled on the next great coach. Because it just lined up exactly the same as all these coaches did when it came to character, personality, what made them tick.
“So that’s what we did. In Philadelphia, we were accused of hiring him just because he hadn’t been a coordinator … so that meant he’d be cheaper and we were trying to save money. We were very glad when, fairly quickly working with him, we felt really sure we made the right decision.”
Reid was 5-11 in his first season, then won no fewer than 11 games in each of his next five. In 14 years with the Eagles, he reached the playoffs nine times, won six division championships, and was 130-93-1 before leaving after the 2012 season.
“How soon before you knew you made the right choice?” Banner was asked.
“It was pretty quick,” he said, “and I’ll tell you why … It was obvious immediately the thought of failing –or not succeeding very largely — had never even crossed Andy’s mind. And the idea of setting up any kind of an explanation for why things didn’t go as well as he had thought … or we would’ve thought … had never even crossed his mind. Which, by the way, takes a huge amount of things that create tension for other organizations off the table.
“Immediately, it diffused anybody pointing things at anything because he wasn’t there. He wasn’t going to do that. You felt like there was nothing that would ever get him there. Which is exactly what happened over 14 years.
“Between the interview and then seeing just his absolute confidence, no fluff in it at all — combined with the fact that he was taking actions with no fear whatsoever that he needed later on to have an explanation for things that didn’t go so well — kinda sealed the deal that we had the right guy … long, by the way, before we started winning games under him.”