Spadaro: Lurie taking a chance on Pederson proving to be super

Doug Pederson turned out to be a super coach.

PHOTO: ANDY LEWIS

By Dave Spadaro

When Philadelphia Eagles Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie hired Doug Pederson to be his head coach on Jan. 18, 2016, the reaction was, shall we say, underwhelming.

He was mocked for his “emotional intelligence.” ESPN called the hiring “a reach.” Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, then a television blabbermouth, said, “I want to see the Eagles win, but I don’t know if you do that just by bringing guys back who were there.”

On and on it went. Pederson, following an undistinguished 13-year playing career, coached in the shadow of Andy Reid in Philadelphia and in Kansas City and gained almost no national traction as a “coach on the rise.”

Well, look at Doug Pederson now.

The job Pederson has done with the Eagles in his two seasons has been downright remarkable. Following a get-to-know-you 7–9 first season, Pederson has the Eagles in Super Bowl LII against the mighty New England Patriots. He and the Eagles have overcome a Pro Bowl roster of injuries — quarterback Carson Wentz, left tackle Jason Peters, running back/return man Darren Sproles, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks — to bring this football team to the brink of a Lombardi Trophy.

“Doug knows how to relate to players, he understands what we’re going through because he’s played the game and he is just a great coach,” tight end Brent Celek said. “You can’t do a better job than what Doug is doing with us.”

Pederson’s deft handling of his locker room is one part of the brilliance, and his supporting coaching staff is another piece of the equation, but what has truly stood out is the X’s and O’s and the offensive play calling on game days.

The Eagles are aggressive and daring on offense. Pederson calls plays having the full trust of his players — witness the flea-flicker touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles to wide receiver Torrey Smith in the 38–7 win over Minnesota in the NFC championship game last Sunday: The Eagles practiced the play all of four times — all season — before calling it in a game.

“I have the confidence in our guys that we’re going to make plays,” Pederson said. “We’ve talked about ‘situation’ football since last spring, so players know the message and they’re all on the same page. We’ve prepared well, the guys are dedicated and focused and they all want the same thing.

“I’m just doing what comes naturally to me and what I’ve learned throughout my career as a player and as a coach.”

Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. The Eagles played a perfect game against Minnesota, and Foles, under an intense public eye since replacing Wentz on Dec. 10 in the late stages of the win over the Los Angeles Rams, had the game of his life with three touchdown passes and 356 yards while completing 26 of his 33 passes. Nick Foles did that in the NFC championship game? Something’s going right, indeed.

What’s going right is that Pederson has learned very quickly on the job by being himself, preaching a selfless philosophy and imbuing his players with confidence. The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl!!

Who’s laughing at Doug Pederson now? ••