Coaches accept leadership roles in an individual manner. Players look to the head man as the tone setter, as the decision maker. Being a head coach in the NFL requires a lot of conviction, a lot of guts and a skin as thick as an alligator's. What makes Andy Reid such a great leader and head coach is his willingness is to stick to his convictions, no matter what the outside world thinks.
Reid has demonstrated over and over again in his 12 seasons here that he is going to do it his way, and that is why is the best coach in the history of this franchise and one of the very best in the NFL. A coach of Reid's caliber handles this week exactly as Reid has handled it -- how he arrived at the moment to make Michael Vick the starting quarterback, and how he announced it -- and who cares what you think about his methods?
"If I'm the bad guy, I'm okay with that. I think it's important that the players – that I do what I think is right for them," said Reid. "How I'm perceived outside of them, that's not my concern. I've got to take care of this football team, number one, and that's what I've always done and I will always do."
It is reminiscent, in a very distant way, of what Buddy Ryan used to do. I wasn't a huge Ryan fan, to be honest -- I loved the way he brought the Eagles back from the depths, but he won not a single playoff game -- but I thought Ryan was very smart in the way he dictated to the media. He made outlandish statements. He bragged. He became the center of the storm as a young team matured into a playoff squad.
In a very similar way, Reid has become the story here. Fans and media debate how Reid arrived at the decision, the timing of the move, and the contradictory words of Reid's previous 48 hours.
Meanwhile, the players are allowed to focus on practice and on preparing for the Jaguars. The most common refrain heard in the locker room on Wednesday was along the lines of this, from tight end Brent Celek: "We can win with both quarterbacks. I'm good with whatever Coach decides."
Andy Reid. Leader.
I spent most of the day on Wednesday talking to fans and hearing from the media, and everyone had an opinion. Most, by far, agreed with Reid's move. One reaction was particularly riveting, courtesy of huge Eagles fan Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's Mad Money. He compared promoting Vick to a rising stock, one that an investor simply has to embrace.
Cramer in an email to me: "Here's the logic. All great investors follow the logic of Keynes. What happened is that Keynes, the greatest economist in history, had made a mistaken call and he changed his mind about it. He was being hectored about it and he said to the questioner, 'When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?'
"It is the watchword of Mad Money. It must be the watchword of an NFL coach if he wants to win. IF he doesn't, well, fine!"
Cramer is an extreme Eagles fan, just like everyone. Feel free to agree or disagree with Reid's ways, his play calling, his roster decisions. Feel the frustration of having not won a Super Bowl. It is an angst that lives with everyone who loves the Eagles.
But also know that the team is in good hands with Reid at the helm. From the very first day of his tenure, Reid has been strong and unwavering in his convictions. He is a strong leader who treats his players fairly and with the interests of the football team first.
It is no surprise that the opinions on Reid's decision have been so demonstratively expressed. Reid's first major move, way back in 1999, was to re-sign defensive end Mike Mamula before he entered free agency. The critics mumbled, and that grew to a roar when Reid chose Donovan McNabb with the second overall pick in that year's draft and then, well, you can go on and on recounting the moves Reid has made. Not all of them have worked, of course. He is not perfect, not by any means.
Understand, though, that Reid is a man of decency and strength, characteristics you don't find every day in an NFL coach. You see the track record of coaches in the league. The crash-and-burn rate is high in the profession. Reid is in his 12th season and is still going strong.
There are going to be more moves Reid will make, starting today, that are going to have great impact on these 2010 Eagles and on future teams. His call on keeping Vick as the starter after his brilliant performance in Detroit is the focal point of the season, coupled with the move to trade Donovan McNabb in April.
At the end of the day, Reid can be trusted to stand firm. He will absorb the reaction and have it roll off his ample trust in himself and, thus, allow his players to do what they do best -- play football without distraction.
How it all plays out, nobody knows. Reid sat during his weekly press conference on Wednesday and listened to questions that had no answers, questions that asked of the future. Haven't we learned in these recent couple of days that it is impossible to know what is going to happen after today? Do you really think the Eagles know how Vick will fare from now until December? Or what they plan to do with him, or with Kevin Kolb, in 2011?
You play in the NFL on a day-to-day basis. The good players learn to focus on the immediate task at hand. It is a lesson learned in time. For a head coach, the same approach applies. Reid is a remarkably consistent and successful head coach who understands the ins and outs of the game on and off the field.
He's taking the praise and he's taking the heat for making Vick the starting quarterback for this football team. And you know what? It *doesn't *matter what I think, or what you think, or what the media who have talked about the move non-stop think. What matters is that Reid thought considered every piece of the puzzle and then made a very, very difficult announcement.
Reid did what the great leaders do. He made the story about him, and in the process he allowed his young team to go through their paces focused on football, on Jacksonville and on reaching 2-1 this season. It was a stroke of genius, orchestrated by the master of hard calls that generally turn out to be the correct calls.