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Lawlor: A Head Coaching Comparison


The Eagles have been to two Super Bowls. The first came when Dick Vermeil was the head coach in 1980 and the team went again with Andy Reid at the helm in 2004. I thought it would be interesting to compare new coach Doug Pederson to Vermeil and Reid, looking for interesting similarities and differences.

The first area to study is background. All three coaches were high school football stars who then went and played at the collegiate level. Reid and Vermeil had to go to small schools prior to transferring to four-year colleges. Vermeil ended up at San Jose State and Reid went to BYU. Pederson was the best high school player of the trio and he went straight to Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana-Monroe), where he started for three years and set team records.

Vermeil and Reid went straight from playing in college to coaching. Neither was talented enough to play at the next level. Pederson wasn't good enough to get drafted, but he did sign with the Miami Dolphins in the spring of 1991 and began a pro football career that would last for more than a decade. Pederson played in three different leagues, on two continents, and had to really fight to establish himself as an NFL player, but he eventually became a valuable backup quarterback.

Pederson only started 17 games in the NFL, but he got to learn from brilliant coaches like Don Shula, Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid. He got to spend time with great quarterbacks like Dan Marino and Brett Favre. While Pederson wasn't playing, he was getting a master's degree in X's and O's, as well as what it took to be a great player. Clearly Pederson's playing experience was very different from that of Vermeil or Reid.

Let's move on to coaching backgrounds. Vermeil started his coaching career as an assistant at the high school level. He then progressed to college football and just 10 years into his coaching career, Vermeil was in the NFL. Reid never coached high school football. He became a graduate assistant at BYU and then moved all over the college world for a decade before Mike Holmgren, who knew him from BYU, brought him to the NFL as an assistant.

Pederson made enough money as an NFL player that he had the luxury of doing what he wanted after retirement. He decided he wanted to stay part of the game of football so he tried his hand at high school coaching, taking the job at Calvary Baptist in Louisiana. That convinced him that he wanted to do more, so he pursued an NFL job and got hired by Reid to become a quality control coach with the Eagles in 2009. Pederson's coaching career got a huge boost because of his playing days, but he still had to prove himself. He did the grinder work that many young coaches do when first becoming part of an NFL staff. Rather than letting it bother him, Pederson loved what he did and it only strengthened his desire to stay in the NFL. This is not always the case with former players. More than a few of them don't understand all of the prep work and research that assistant coaches have to do on a weekly basis. Football practice and gameday, the fun stuff, are only a small part of the average week of work.

What about head coaching experience? Amazingly, Reid was never a head coach at any level prior to getting his job with the Eagles. He had never even been a coordinator at the NFL level. Holmgren did give him a lot of responsibility in Green Bay, but Reid never fully ran the offense. Vermeil was a head coach at a high school, junior college and college before making it to the NFL. Vermeil was the special teams coach for the Rams in 1969 and their offensive coordinator in 1971 and 1972, so he had positions of authority even as an assistant. Pederson spent four seasons as the head coach of a high school team. He averaged 10 wins a year and had good success at that level. Pederson was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City the past three years, where Reid did let Pederson do quite a bit to help prepare him to be a head coach.

Vermeil became an NFL head coach 17 years after graduating from college. Reid became an NFL head coach 17 years after graduating from college. How crazy is that? Pederson is becoming a coach 25 years after his graduation. That's what happens when your playing career takes you into your mid-30s. All three coaches have an offensive background. Vermeil and Pederson both played quarterback in high school and college. Reid was an offensive lineman. All three were an offensive coordinator at some level prior to getting their head coaching jobs in the NFL.

All three coaches had really strong influences. Vermeil worked for the legendary John Ralston at Stanford from 1965 to 1968 and they remained close after that. Vermeil coached under Tommy Prothro at UCLA and with the Rams. They weren't as close, but there is no doubt that Prothro influenced him. Reid played for and coached under LaVell Edwards at BYU, where he learned to love the passing game. Reid worked under Bob Stull at two schools and learned a lot from him. If anyone should be considered Reid's mentor, though, it would be Holmgren. They worked together for seven years in Green Bay and one at BYU. Holmgren helped make Reid an expert in the West Coast offense, and also taught him a lot about how to be a head coach. Pederson played for a pair of great NFL coaches in Don Shula and Holmgren, but there is no question that his mentor is Andy Reid. They met in Green Bay when Reid was an assistant and Pederson became the backup to Favre. It was Reid who then gave Pederson his first chance to start in the NFL with the Eagles in 1999. Reid then hired Pederson as an assistant in 2009 and then also took him to Kansas City in 2013. They have spent 11 seasons together, including time with the Packers, Eagles and Chiefs.

All three coaches are upbeat, positive people who inspire loyalty. Vermeil had plenty of coaches who worked with him at multiple stops. He had former Eagles players like Wilbert Montgomery and John Bunting become assistant coaches for him with other teams. Vermeil met Carl Peterson in the early 1970s. Peterson was a young assistant with UCLA and Vermeil was with the Rams. Vermeil then became the head coach at UCLA and kept Peterson on his staff. When Vermeil got the Eagles' job, he brought Peterson with him. Peterson shifted to the personnel side of things and eventually became the GM for Kansas City in 1988. He hired Vermeil to be Chiefs head coach in 2001.

Reid worked with Marty Mornhinweg and Ken Flajole in college and then convinced Holmgren to hire them in Green Bay. Mornhinweg eventually came to work for Reid and the Eagles. Dave Toub worked with Reid in college, the Eagles and the Chiefs. Reid's players are incredibly loyal to him. Guys like Jeremiah Trotter, Hugh Douglas, Dorsey Levens and Shawn Barber all left the Eagles as free agents and later returned because they loved playing for the team and Coach Reid.

Pederson built up loyalty within the Eagles' organization. Reid thought enough of Pederson to hire him in Philly and then to take him to Kansas City. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie was highly impressed by Pederson as a player and assistant coach and they had a good relationship. Howie Roseman felt the same way. Other organizations simply didn't have the relationship with him. Knowing the man is far different from simply knowing the career history.

There are no guarantees that Pederson will have as much success as Vermeil and Reid, but you can see more than a few similarities. There is definitely some reason for optimism.  

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

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