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Cardella: The Choosing

As a nation frets about fixing the pandemic and the economy, we in this city have an added worry. Can the new head coach of the Eagles fix our broken football team? In Philadelphia, football is more than just about football. It doesn’t matter if you care a whit about football. When the Eagles do poorly, the entire city falls into a funk. The delicate psyche of this city forces you to care. During the football season, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” just whether the Eagles won or lost that weekend. When the Eagles win, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”  But when they lose … 

The most unsettling time in this city is that period when the owner — Jeffrey Lurie — and his diminutive assistant, Howie Roseman, select a new head coach. (The diminutive assistant has a Svengali-like hold over the owner). The city holds its collective breath during what is a very complex ritual — a kind of kabuki theater. Call it “The Choosing.” A white puff of smoke appears before the NovaCare Center (I know that I’m mixing my metaphors, but some spectacles are too important to be contained within one culture) when the owner and his man, Howie, anoint a new head coach. This ritual played out this past week in Philadelphia — eclipsing even our interest in the Presidential Inaugural in Washington (Nothing personal, Mr. Biden). Nick Sirianni, the 24th head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, was presented as our new savior.

Here’s how the entire process works. The owner fires the head coach. He makes the announcement in a cerebral meeting with the media (if that’s not an oxymoron). It’s with the utmost regret, the owner tells us, that he’s letting the present coach go — this coach — Doug Pederson, whom he praises in the most extravagant terms. Mr. Pederson, in fact, won a Super Bowl for the city a few years ago. The owner says he — Jeffrey Lurie — must be crazy doing this. The owner makes it sound as if HE is the one who should be fired for this past disaster of a season, but alas and alack — HE is the owner and he must stay. He assures us the departure is a mutual thing. A difference in vision. We picture the owner posed as Rodin’s THINKER.

A suitable period of time passes — it is important that the period of time be significant enough to emphasize the importance of the decision process. The seemingly endless process — is punctuated by much daily fanfare — in which the owner and his assistant interview many candidates, some of whom the owner has no intention of hiring and who would never take the job if it were the last one on earth. During this period, COVID-19 rampages, the stock market rises and falls, the nation’s Capitol is assaulted by anarchists, a president reluctantly leaves and a new one arrives. And finally, a momentous decision is announced. And we in Philly turn our lonely eyes to you, Mr. Lurie.

The coach selected by Mr. Lurie is a surprising choice. Not one of the rumored favorites. It is always that way with Mr. Lurie. He likes to choose men who have never been pro football head coaches. In so doing, the owner has had mixed results. One guy he hired —a man called “Chip” — proceeded not to talk to the owner’s sidekick again. Then one day, “Chip” stopped talking to the owner. That’s when Mr. Lurie decided that “Chip” had crossed the owner’s personal Maginot line and fired him. The Choosing ritual is repeated. But this first-time head coach – Doug Pederson — won the owner a Super Bowl and smiled in all the right places. Winning the Super Bowl proved an undoing for Pederson when he ultimately wanted to claim a share of the success. Deference to ownership is a very important component of successful coaches in the National Football League. Mr. Pederson is gone. Super Bowl trophies are not worth what they once were.

The new head coach is obscure enough to enhance Mr. Lurie’s reputation as the smartest guy in the room. As always, Mr. Roseman concurred with the owner. That’s what assistants do. Sirianni, like his predecessors, has no professional head coaching experience. He’s not edgy and arrogant like the candidate rumored to be the favorite. The media couldn’t pick Sirianni out of a line at Chick-fil-A. Once again, we’re left with the feeling that Mr. Lurie knows something the rest of us don’t. Sirianni — is part of what’s termed “a good coaching tree.” In the NFL, whom you coached under is more important than natural blood lines. If we had royalty in this country, Queen Elizabeth would have had to have been an assistant under Vince Lombardi.

Sirianni was born in the image of the man Mr. Lurie really wanted, but who was already employed — Frank Reich. Sirianni’s resume gives off the required whiff of potential. Assistant coaches bask in the glow of their head coach’s success. And importantly, unproven coordinators such as Sirianni tend to accept more “guidance” from owners and their assistants.

Sirianni was hired to fix Carson Wentz. In that sense, Wentz is like a troublesome motor car. An Edsel. Lots of money invested in him. Poor performance. Lots of maintenance required. Sirianni worked for the head coach whom Wentz liked — Frank Reich. Following the logic of football here — Wentz liked Reich. Therefore, Wentz will like Sirianni.

Send up the puff of white smoke. 

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