Sometimes, one decision can completely alter a person’s course. That choice leads to a new opportunity, which manifests into another, and suddenly that individual is exactly where he’s always wanted to be.
For head coach Doug Pederson, that concept rings true.
Following the 2004 NFL season, Pederson, then a backup quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, decided it was time to hang up his cleats. With his playing days behind him, what would be his next journey? The answer was simple because it was something he had already done throughout his career. It was time to take up coaching.
However, Pederson wasn’t exactly sure where to begin. What level of football did he want to coach? What would be the best fit for his family? As fate would have it, Calvary Baptist Academy called.
The rest is history.
“I had coaches, mentors who said, ‘You need to find a spot and see if you just enjoy teaching the game of football.’ I said, ‘Let me try the high school thing,’” Pederson explained. “I think that was the right decision for me and the right fit. Calvary gave me an opportunity and I enjoyed doing it for the four years I was there. It obviously gave me an opportunity to get back into the National Football League.”
In 2005, Calvary Baptist Academy, located in Shreveport, Louisiana, was preparing to embark on its second season of high school football. The team finished with a 4-6 record the year prior under the guidance of athletic director and head coach Johnny Booty.
Booty knew to achieve the level of success this program wanted, he needed to focus more on his responsibilities as athletic director. The school chose to bring in a new head coach who could give the program the boost it needed. When Booty learned hiring Pederson was a possibility, he and his search committee jumped on the phone.
“In Louisiana, Doug had made a name for himself as a player in college and as a player in the NFL. He had already made his mark on our minds,” Booty said. “I had a couple of men working with me that had known Doug very well, and they spoke very highly of him. We didn’t know if we would have a shot, but when I learned that he would love to try and coach his boys, I knew we may have a chance because they were getting close to junior high and high school age. We called him and he responded saying he would love to come down and see what we had.”
The truth was Calvary had very little. There was no expensive equipment, no elaborate facility. It only had the bare essentials and for those reasons, Booty knew the future head coach had to be a special candidate, someone with a spark who would not be intimidated by the work ahead.
Pederson wasn’t scared away. He certainly saw the job as a challenge, but knew the reward and experience that could come would be unparalleled. Nevertheless, he didn’t make the decision to accept the position alone.
“We went and Doug and I both loved the school,” his wife, Jeannie said. “We loved the people we met, the coaches who were already there in place, the athletic director, the preacher. We just loved everything about it. At the same time, our three boys would be able to go to school with him while he was coaching at Calvary because it was kindergarten through 12th grade.
“It was awesome because he took the kids to school with him every day. My boys, the two older ones, got to be ball boys and be on the sideline and participate in the youth program that Calvary presented to them. Not only did they get an amazing education, but they also were able to be at a school with their father and be at a place where they could exercise their faith.”
The chance for Pederson to be with his kids – Drew, Josh and Joel - each and every day is something he and Jeannie didn’t take for granted. It was a unique experience and it ultimately proved that Calvary was the right decision for the Pederson family.
“For Doug, being able to spend that much time with them during those formative years of their lives I think was very instrumental in who they are today,” said Jeannie. “You don’t get the opportunity to spend that time together.”
Not fully realizing just how much of a positive experience Calvary Baptist Academy would provide to his family, Pederson embarked on his first coaching job.
In his first few weeks on the job though, the new head coach questioned his decision. Was he going to be able to get everything done in time and would he be successful?
Although he didn’t know the answers, Pederson continued grinding and putting in the time. He surrounded himself with good coaches and good people, a lesson he says he learned during his time as a player in the NFL. After about a month, he settled in, gained a better grasp of the scope of work that had to be done and realized this coaching lifestyle was for him.
Pederson led Calvary to an improved 5-6 record as a first-year coach and from there the program really took off. The Cavaliers went 11-2 in 2006, 12-1 in 2007 and 12-2 in 2008.
“Within three years we went undefeated in the regular season and we went all the way to the semifinals before we got beat,” Booty said. “If you’re around Doug, you’ll know it. He’s just a very special man with a special calling in his life. He’s a player’s coach, yet disciplined, old-school, trained. He works very hard. He really did the deal. We were just so excited to have him as the leader of our football program.”
Calvary and the Shreveport community became a big part of Pederson’s life and the life of his family. As a coach, he was building a successful program. As a father and husband, he couldn’t have imagined being in a more family-oriented situation.
Although it was clear the impact Pederson was having on the field, the more important aspect of his job was what he taught his players off the field. That was the most meaningful part of the experience for the coach.
“I just poured myself into those boys and made sure to have a relationship with them because they’re high school kids. Sometimes, not everything is going right at home and you’re sort of a father figure to them,” Pederson said. “A football team is a very close group and they really became a close group, every group of seniors. All of that sort of transpired on the football field and gave them success that has carried over to today.
“Whether they went on to play college football or not, I wanted them to be better than when they got there. I feel like I was able to do that, show them what leadership was all about, show them what being a man is all about and the responsibility that comes with that. I think those are the things that I was able to leave outside of wins and losses on the football field, just the fact that these guys left high school better than when they came.”
“I had an opportunity,” Pederson admitted. “They approached me and I wasn’t ready at the time to accept that offer. My own boys were coming up through the program too and I wanted to be in a position to possibly coach them one day. It was just too soon. We had just moved there and I wasn’t ready to jump back into the National Football League right away.”
But, when Andy Reid came to Pederson in January of 2009 he couldn’t turn down the offer. Although it meant he would miss coaching his oldest son, Drew, by one year, the situation in front of him was one he wanted to accept.
Pederson felt mentally prepared to jump back into the grueling NFL lifestyle after four years away and became the Eagles’ offensive quality coach, looking ahead toward the next part of his coaching journey.
“It was a time where I just felt like I had done everything I could for Calvary and it was about to take off. It was on the brink of taking off,” Pederson explained. “It was four years in and I really felt a nudge to jump back into the National Football League.
“Of course, being able to come back here to Philadelphia with Coach Reid and start from the ground floor again, it was the right thing for me and the right thing for my family at the time. My boys were in a transitional period from a school standpoint. I had one coming into high school, so the move was right and the timing and everything of it was the exact thing that we were looking for.”
Fast-forward to the present and Pederson has successfully climbed the coaching ladder. From a high school head coach to an offense quality coach to a quarterbacks coach to an offensive coordinator and now an NFL head coach, Pederson has been through the ups and downs.
This head coaching position was another opportunity that came down to timing and family, but once again, the pieces fell in the right place for the Pedersons. He, his wife and his kids couldn’t be happier to be back in the place they called home just a few short years ago and are proud to be Eagles once again.
“We were excited about it, but again, it was something that we definitely prayed about and left it in God’s hands,” Jeannie said. “If it was meant to be, we felt like it would happen. If not, he was in a great situation in Kansas City as well. We always loved the Eagles. This is our third time back in Philadelphia. We love (Chairman and CEO) Jeffrey Lurie and it’s just an amazing organization. When we left, everybody left in good standing and for us to have the opportunity to go back to the organization, we were so happy.”
Now, reflecting back on this journey, Pederson can appreciate the path he took to get to this point in his coaching career. His work is only just beginning in Philadelphia. It’s now his time to take what he’s learned and apply it to this Eagles team in his own way and with his own twist.
Thinking back on the past is something the head coach has done more so as of late. He sometimes wonders if he would be in Philadelphia right now had he not started his coaching career with Calvary Baptist Academy.
“I don’t know,” Pederson said. “I’ve thought about that. If not given that opportunity, where would I be? What would I be doing? I just think that sometimes things happen at the right time in your own life. Calvary was obviously the right time, the right place, the right school, the right people involved. It put me on a track to jump back to the National Football League and then helped put me in this situation now.”