Andy Reid has a rule about problem solving. "If you're going to come forward with a problem, you'd better come with a solution too," Tammy Reid, the wife of the Eagles' coach, said on Sunday, moments after Philadelphia had clinched its second straight NFC East title. "He believes in studying things before acting."
When the Eagles' franchise quarterback, Donovan McNabb, went down with a broken right fibula on Nov. 17, Reid had a problem. The leaguewide perception of Reid's other quarterbacks, Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley, was that they were about as weak a backup tandem as there was in the NFL. A Philadelphia Daily News headline implored the city, LET US PRAY.
Reid's solution? Remain calm and proceed as if nothing had happened. The next time he addressed his team, three days after McNabb went down, Reid didn't even mention McNabb's name, let alone the injury, nor did he bring up what a big spot this was for Detmer, who would be making his first start since 1999, against the San Francisco 49ers. "Why draw attention to it," Reid explained last Friday, "and give the players a chance to think, Woe is me?" Other than to tell Detmer "Have fun," Reid had no words of wisdom for him or for Feeley, who was pressed into service after Detmer dislocated his left elbow in the third quarter of the Niners game. That's because the game plans that Reid has scripted for Detmer and Feeley on Friday nights are no different from the ones he would have scripted for McNabb.
And those game plans are working at least as well as they did when McNabb was under center: The Eagles not only defeated the 49ers 38-17, but with Sunday's 34-21 win over the Washington Redskins they also ran their record to 4-0 since McNabb's injury. Completing 16 of 28 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns in the final regular-season game ever at Veterans Stadium, Feeley, a 2001 fifth-round draft pick and Tom Cruise look-alike who barely got off the bench during his last two years at Oregon, became the unlikeliest star this city has seen in wars. The victory solidified Philadelphia's hold on the top seed in the NFC. Though tied with the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Green Bay Packers at 11-3, the Eagles hold the tiebreaker edge over both and can lock up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with wins over the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants in the last two weeks.
Suddenly Reid, the chunky, stone-faced 44-year-old who leads the league in boring press conferences, is the front-runner for NFL Coach of the Year. None of his peers can match what Reid has done without McNabb. In their four starts Detmer and Feeley have combined for a higher completion percentage (.590 to .584) and a better passer rating (91.2 to 86.0) than McNabb had in his 10 starts. Nor can any coach surpass Reid's 33-13 record since the start of the 2000 season.
That's not bad for a guy who's not even the most popular football coach in his own town. As he drives to work every day and pulls off the highway near the Vet, he can see a billboard with the smiling face of former coach Dick Vermeil—beloved for having taken the Eagles to their only Super Bowl, in January 1981—endorsing an insurance company. Since being hired in early 1999, Reid has been panned more than praised in the City of Brotherly Love. Owner Jeff Lurie was lambasted for giving the top job to a position coach with no head coaching experience at any level, a guy who had been a coordinator only once, from 1983 through 1985 at Division II San Francisco State. During his seven-year stint as a Packers assistant, Reid was known for being bright, tireless and extremely patient. "Andy was the one we always bounced things off," says 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, who worked with Reid in Green Bay.
Even Reid's close friends in the business worried that such a mild-mannered bear of a man might get eaten alive by the fickle Philadelphia fans and media. As he relaxed in his office on Sunday night, Reid had to laugh. "I know people thought that," he said. "Instead, I'm eating the city alive."
Says Lurie, "When we interviewed Andy, one of the things I liked about him was I thought he'd never cave to public opinion. I think if you're an emotional volcano in this business, it won't work. Your way of coaching has to be sustainable."
Reid was tested early. Introduced at a Flyers game shortly after he was hired, he was booed. As he prepared for his first draft, Eagles fans said the team would be foolish to bypass running back Ricky Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner, with the second overall pick. Reid used the selection on McNabb, the mobile Syracuse quarterback. Reid was booed mercilessly throughout his first season, but the tide turned in 2000 as McNabb led the Eagles to an 11-5 finish. Behind Reid's desk is a framed quotation from Charles Lindbergh: "The important tiling is to start, to lay a plan and then follow it step-by-step no matter how small or large each step by itself may seem." That's how Reid has lived his coaching life.
"I knew the day I was hired I was coming into a passionate city," Reid says. "Passion means opinions. That's good—at least I think it is. Don't you want to be doing something people care about? Anyway, you have to trust your instincts. I don't want to toot my own horn, but I do trust my instincts."