November 04, 2016
We use a word around here a lot, and I know sometimes it gets thrown around, but it's “family.”
Those words, spoken by Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich six days before Josh Huff was arrested, have nothing to do with the wide receiver the team released on Thursday. They also have nothing to do with off-field incidents — they were part of a longer answer about his faith in Ryan Mathews to hold on to the ball late in games.
But they’re important nonetheless.
In fact, I chose that quote specifically because of when it was said. It’s proof that Doug Pederson’s support of his now former wide receiver was legit. That this whole “we are family” thing is not an act. And it’s not exclusive to the head coach. It’s a belief that extends all the way through the organization, from owner down to the players.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to welcome back Doug Pederson to the Eagles family.
One thing that I learned from Coach Reid over the years, being with him, is his consistency and his message of family first, of trusting one another and you can't sacrifice hard work.
When I see him, it’s not even as much as I see a coach, it’s like ‘Yo Pops, I got you.’ That’s a blood brother right there, no different from those guys in the locker room. Sometimes Coach Pederson doesn’t even have to say much. We already feel that family vibe from him so we just really want to go out there and win for him. I feel like that’s his best asset.
Somewhere along the way, however, that system failed.
Not because of how one 20-something acted, but because of how they handled the fallout of what amounts to a dumb kid doing dumb kid things. Huff was clearly in the wrong. He didn't deserve a free pass. Hell, you can make the argument that he deserved to be cut and will likely be in the majority.
"My job, too, sometimes is to be that father figure for some of these players and understanding their history and where they've come from and how they grew up."
But what he didn't deserve was the debacle that unfolded over the two days following his arrest. And if you can separate his crime from everything that happened after, it's clear that the family unit the Eagles are trying to portray outwardly is beginning to breakdown, if not broken already.
There was also collateral damage -- like Pederson's reputation, after he defended Huff only to be undermined a day later, or the players in the locker room, many of whom felt Huff's release was a much bigger distraction than the initial arrest.
In this sort of dynamic, everyone has a role to play and a job to do. But in order to function properly, they have to be aware of what the other is doing. And just just like in any family, there are certain things that are best kept out of view when the neighbors are around — disagreements, troublesome kids, etc.
No family is perfect. And the Eagles, the entire organization, proved that this week.
On Wednesday, almost exactly 24 hours after Huff's arrest -- and 24 hours before the team would release the third-year wideout -- Pederson stood at the podium and voiced his displeasure over a mistake made by a 25-year-old kid who, while clearly in the wrong, was also one of his own.
Part of that Eagles family.
"My job, too, sometimes is to be that father figure for some of these players and understanding their history and where they've come from and how they grew up," the first-year coach said during a press conference that was dominated by questions about Huff. "It may not be how I grew up as a child or as an adolescent or a teen – whatever. But at the same time, I'm going to wrap my arm around them and love on them and try to show them the right direction."
That's just Cool Dad Doug being Cool Dad Doug.
It's a great relationship to have with one's players -- right up until the point it's not.
Someone has to be the bad cop, and Pederson understood that. He didn't rule out the idea of punishing Huff, he just wanted to wait until all the facts were made available before deciding on how severe that punishment should be, much like with Nigel Bradham's two arrests since his arrival this offseason.
"I think that there comes a time when there could be some discipline like that," Pederson said when asked if the father role he's taken on should be more stick than carrot. "Obviously, this could be a case again. And I just want to make sure that I'm doing right by these players and they are doing right by themselves and that we're handling our business away from this building right. And if that means discipline at some point then we address it at that point."
That point wound up coming less than 24 hours later. There was no middle ground. No happy medium. No compromise.
One day, Huff was out on the practice field preparing for the Giants. The next, he was out of a job.
And it was not Cool Dad Doug out there explaining the team's sudden and drastic change of heart -- let's be honest, Dad's can sometimes be pushovers. Instead, it was EVP of player personnel Howie Roseman, playing the role of the bad-cop mother who, after hearing how dad planned on handling this miss, decides to come in and lay down the law.
“Over the last 48 hours, we spent a lot of time discussing this as an organization, going through our process and gathering information,” Roseman said at the opening of Thursday's press conference.
Unfortunately, his answers on why the team went from one extreme to the other in such a short period of time didn't really help explain their thought process. It was just swift justice that followed a mysterious "process" and was "in the best interest of the Philadelphia Eagles."
At this point, trying to figure out what happened in the interim is purely conjecture. Was it Huff's comments in the locker room following Wednesday's practice? Did new information come to light about Huff possibly having the gun on team grounds?
And if so, why not tell us that instead of answering that question with the following:
“For us, we just want to go through a process, gather all the information and then sit down and make the decision as an organization that we think is right for the Philadelphia Eagles.”
By giving non-answer after non-answer, Roseman did little to help rationalize their decision. Had the team come out and cut Huff immediately, then it would be clear that the original crime was enough. But because they trotted out Cool Dad Doug a day earlier and allowed him to voice support for Huff, the "we just talked about it a little more" excuse doesn't really jive.
“For us, based on the circumstances and the facts involved, it was the right thing to do for our football team,” he added. "We met -- Jeffrey [Lurie], Don [Smolenski], myself, and Coach [Pederson]. We made the decision together.”
Something isn't right here. If Huff was released based on "circumstances and facts" that were available a day earlier, why let Pederson go out there and make a fool of himself? You can't honestly say that the coach was fully on board with this decision, not after comments like the ones he made in support of his now former receiver.
This is a mess. And it must be cleaned up immediately.
Cutting Huff does not take care of that. In fact, it only adds fuel to the fire. If they were going to cut him without adding any more information as to why, then they should have done so on Wednesday.
Instead, they undermined their coach and made his word significantly less dependable, especially to his players. They lied to Huff and made him believe that his job was still safe before pulling the rug out from under him. And they potentially created a bigger distraction in the locker room -- possibly a divisive one -- just days before a huge divisional matchup with the Giants.
And if they lose on Sunday, dropping them to 0-3 in the NFC East -- let's just say the most passionate and outspoken member of the Eagles family will have a few choice words come Monday.
In the meantime, Pederson continues his fatherly love for that misbehaving -- and now cast off -- son.
"Listen, I love every one of these players. Don't get me wrong," Pederson said Friday. "I want to make sure that these players are doing right by themselves, by their families and by the Philadelphia Eagles.
"And again, at the end of the day, I'm going to continue to love on Josh and help him every way I can. But, at the end of the day, there is a process that needs to be handled and it needs to go through. Again, doing the best thing for the team and the organization."
Right now, the best thing would be a win over the Giants.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin