"Apocalypse Now" is one of my favorite movies. One of the great scenes comes late in the film when Captain Willard finally meets Colonel Kurtz, the man he's been sent on a mission to kill. The two get into a bizarre discussion. Willard tells him that he's been sent here because the generals in Saigon find Kurtz's "methods unsound." Kurtz asks Willard for his personal opinion on the situation. Willard responds that "I don't see any method at all, sir."
Military leaders and football coaches both love being methodical. The military goal is for methodical training to set a behavioral foundation in place so that soldiers can handle the calm of an average day or the chaos of battle. Football coaches don't have nearly as difficult a goal, but the point is somewhat the same. If a receiver is taught how to run a route over and over, he should run it the same in the first quarter of a preseason game as in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. No matter the situation, the player should be able to fall back on his training.
I think you could easily call Andy Reid the method man. He got the job as Eagles coach partly due to his famous blue binder that mapped out a plan for just about everything. Reid wanted to leave nothing to chance. He believed that players would greatly benefit from a highly structured environment. That was the case in Green Bay when he was an assistant. Reid's plans have worked brilliantly during his time in Philadelphia. Players have come and gone. Players have gotten hurt. Coaches have come and gone. One thing remains constant - the Eagles win.
Think back to the previous coaching regimes. Buddy Ryan, Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes all lacked the structured environment that Reid put into place. Under Ryan, the Eagles were incredibly inconsistent. They would look like the best team in the NFL for a few weeks. The team was emotional and streaky. They lived on big plays. That was great until the postseason. Playoff games are won with fundamentals, not fluky big plays. That is why Ryan never won a playoff game as an NFL head coach.
Kotite was a more methodical coach than Ryan, but had other problems of his own. He failed to capture the locker room as a leader. A team that doesn't respect the coach has no chance to truly succeed. Kotite did help guide the team to a wild card victory following the 1992 season, but the players won that game more than anything he said or did. Things fell apart quickly after that season and Kotite was fired after 1994.
Rhodes was a breath of fresh air not just because he was such a players coach, but also had come from San Francisco and Green Bay - two organizations that were well run and highly structured. Rhodes offered great promise. The hope was that he could motivate like Ryan, but run the team like Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren. What could be better? Rhodes was handed a bizarre roster and immediately made aggressive changes. I thought Rhodes was a bit crazy. He brought in multiple players off the street. He added veterans who were well past their prime. He seemed to value players who were going to have a real sense of desperation.
The 1995 season is one of my favorite years of Eagles football. The team was very streaky and very strange. The Randall Cunningham era came to a close as he lost his job to Rodney Peete. Ricky Watters and Charlie Garner were easily they best Eagles running back duo I'd ever seen to that point. The defense was incredibly opportunistic. There were top-flight players like William Fuller, Andy Harmon, Bill Romanowski, William Thomas and Mike Zordich, but also plenty of overachievers and role players. Kurt Gouviea, Daniel Stubbs and Kevin Johnson surprised all of us with their level of play. The highlight of the regular season was an upset of Dallas with the famous fourth-and-1 stop (twice, no less). Rhodes delivered an infamous speech the night before the game that had players ready to do just about anything. That may have been the moment when Eagles fans truly fell in love with Rhodes.
The postseason featured another great game. We beat the Lions 58-37 in the wild card round. That was the highest scoring playoff game (total points by both teams) in NFL history at that time. Gary Anderson missed a field goal and Rhodes called off the dogs in the third quarter or we might have put 70 points on the board. That game can be summed up in one simple word: un-freaking-believable. Dallas brought us back to reality the next week and the season was over.
Rhodes had done a great job with a team that had some talent, but plenty of leftovers, rejects and castaways. The question heading into 1996 was whether he could establish more of a normal team that wouldn't rely so much on emotion and attitude. You can only use that mindset for so long. At a certain point, you have to rely on talent and execution. The 1996 team showed great promise in this regard. The offense actually looked like a cohesive unit that knew what they were doing. They finished in the top 10 in points and yards. The defense also played well. The one unit that Rhodes could never get to play well was special teams.
In year three of a coach's tenure, the team should really start to look like a polished product. That didn't happen for us. The train started to come off the track. Rhodes had shuffled and juggled players quite a bit in his first two years. The lack of stability undermined the team's natural growth pattern. Rhodes had built the team with veteran players who left in free agency or just aged their way out of the lineup. He failed to develop the kind of young players you need to sustain a football team. 1997 was a bad year, but only hinted at the disastrous results that awaited us in 1998. After that 3-13 campaign, Rhodes was fired and the Andy Reid era began.
Reid wanted no part of Rhodes' style of doing things. Reid felt it was better to struggle in year one and lay a proper foundation than to piece together a lineup of band-aid players. Reid didn't think in terms of season to season. He saw the big picture, something that neither Ryan nor Rhodes could truly appreciate.
Reid knew that a team couldn't count on having great players to get the job done. Coaches need to have systems in place that can work for all players. Football is a game of attrition. You will lose players to injury, age, contract situations, suspensions and simply a natural decline of skills. Coaches must devise systems that will allow stars to thrive, but will also give backups, young players and emergency signings a chance to step in and play effectively. The coaches must also be good teachers. Focus on technique and attention to detail. Develop specific coaching methods to teach the players positional skills and scheme.
Reid did a great job of implementing systems that allowed us to win games with Donovan McNabb, A.J. Feeley, Jeff Garcia and Kevin Kolb as quarterback. Those guys all started in years where we went to the playoffs. We're not talking about Mike McMahon and Doug Pederson winning games in throw-away seasons. On defense, just think about the turnover we've had at middle linebacker. Jeremiah Trotter, Levon Kirkland, Mark Simoneau, Omar Gaither and Stewart Bradley all started in the middle. Gaither is the only one not to start a playoff game on the inside.
One of the reasons that the Eagles have had postseason success under Andy Reid is due to his methodical style. Players don't panic because they aren't asked to do anything that is different than what they normally do. The training begins in the OTAs. It carries over to training camp and the preseason games. The training starts to pay off in the regular season. Players usually get better as the season goes along. The postseason is just a continuation of everything that has happened up to that point.
The assistant coaches have also benefited from Reid's coaching style. They learned a way to do things that could work in different jobs and on different teams. We've had quite a few coaches go elsewhere and have success. That is a reflection that Reid has developed effective coaching methods and good systems.
Reid isn't the fiery leader that some fans want. He doesn't offer the kind of bold guarantees and crazy quotes that Buddy Ryan was famous for. He doesn't give Rhodes' kind of pregame speeches that get players so fired up they're ready to run through a brick wall.
Reid just coaches.