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January 16, 2023

John McMullen: Doug Pederson's most impressive coaching is coming in Jacksonville

Doug Pederson is forging his own new path after completing an all-time comeback as head coach of the Jaguars.

Doug Pederson added another bullet point to the resume Saturday as the architect of the third-largest postseason comeback in NFL history when his Jacksonville Jaguars erased a 27-point deficit to stun the Los Angeles Chargers, 31-30, on a 36-yard walk-off field goal from Riley Patterson.

With the win Pederson also erased some of the untoward aspects of his divorce from the Eagles by turning a traditional doormat, coming off a three-win season, into a division winner and an elite eight team in year No. 1 at the helm.

If you peel enough layers away in the most amicable of breakups there is some acrimony.

For the Eagles and Pederson, the schism was born from success and perhaps the unrealistic expectations that followed.

Lightning in a bottle was branded as the new normal and the football crazy city of Philadelphia bought into the shiny packaging much like the basketball community did decades earlier when the 76ers once thought “We owe you one,” was a safe assumption, and a cute marketing ploy, after a two-game lead in the 1976-77 NBA Finals against Portland quickly turned into a four-game implosion.

The Sixers ultimately gained the mea culpa six years later when Moses Malone joined Julius Erving but for an uber-talented group, it seemed money was left on the table each spring.

Fast forward to the Eagles in the Pederson era, and logic says three playoff appearances in four seasons was a solid foundation unless you measure it against the promises proffered by the high of the Super Bowl LII championship.

Then you had the COVID season of 2020 when the wheels came off.

Pederson’s strength of leading people was torpedoed by Zoom and MS Teams and Carson Wentz, largely left to his own devices, slid back into the quicksand of faulty mechanics just as his physical skills were eroding due to multiple injuries.

The bigger culprit in the irreconcilable differences were those halcyon days, though, and the delight each side took when eyeing the Lombardi Trophy stationed in the NovaCare Complex lobby.

Pederson, now forever minted as a Super Bowl-winning coach, believed he earned more deference in football matters. At the same time, Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman liked what they set up in the wake of Chip Kelly’s disastrous omnipresent reign over football ops.

The straw in this camel’s disability was the coaching staff, something that slowly started to seep in once Frank Reich and John DeFilippo left after the Super Bowl season for promotions elsewhere.

As a first-time head coach in 2016, Pederson had neither the cachet nor the interest in dying on a hill for assistants. He came out of left field late to get a marquee job with a solid organization he knew as a player and an assistant. Pederson’s passion was play-calling anyway and he had carte blanche there while understanding Jim Schwartz’s reputation as a defensive mind meant there would be little angst in handing over that side of the football to such an accomplished mind.

The Eagles also insisted on keeping some assistants on from the Kelly staff, including Jeff Stoutland, Dave Fipp, and Press Taylor, then a rising star in the organization.

Pederson quickly grew close and extremely loyal to his staff. After overachieving in 2016 with a then-rookie Wentz he lobbied to keep Reich’s job and he earned another 365 days with a near guarantee he was gone if things went poorly.

It went the opposite of that of course as legends were born and statues were erected.

By the time the natural attrition began on coaching staff Pederson had grown fond of his guys and began promoting from within. He was angry when assistants were used as scapegoats after playoff losses whether it was a high-profile situation like Mike Groh or a lower-level one like Carson Walch.

Then there were the politics and after four wins in the miserable pandemic year, the battle lines were drawn.

The savvy Schwartz saw the writing on the wall and retired for all of three months before resurfacing in Tennessee. Lurie, meanwhile, thought Pederson deserved a mulligan after all he had done for the organization but insisted on the staff changes.

The plan the owner got – Taylor as the OC and Matt Burke or Cory Undlin as the DC – went over like a lead balloon.

Tired of the meddling, Pederson held his ground and Lurie pulled the plug with a tortured explanation of collective visions not being aligned.

From Day 1 there was a flawed narrative surrounding Pederson when he was hired in Philadelphia.

The now Super Bowl-minted coach – the first and still only man with that title in Eagles’ history despite the presence of coaching superstars like Dick Vermeil and Andy Reid – was a consolation prize behind Adam Gase, Ben McAdoo, and perhaps even Tom Coughlin. Pederson was labeled a reach from Day 1 by some after the Lombardi (Mike, not the trophy) nonsense and that came full circle when he closed the door behind him in South Philadelphia.

The whispers should have evaporated like the Chargers' lead on Saturday night.

Pederson is a good coach and oh yeah, he can hire assistants on his own and never needed Roseman holding his hand.

To those in the industry, the scale of Urban Meyer to division champs and a playoff win with what had been a disaster of an organization in Jacksonville might be a more prodigious feat than capturing the first championship since 1960 for the Eagles because the franchise has developed into one of the most well-regarded ones in the NFL during the Lurie era.

No one is hurting here, though.

Philadelphia bouncing back by hiring Nick Sirianni as Pederson knocks it out of the park in Jacksonville might be the coaching equivalent of Stefon Diggs to Buffalo and Minnesota responding by using the pick it got for the star receiver to draft Justin Jefferson.

The Eagles' ownership and front office are among the strongest in football and have proven they should be involved to a greater degree than others but Pederson outgrew that setup so this divorce was the best thing for both sides.

John McMullen is a contributor to and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Sports. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL, and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at
Follow John on Twitter here.