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It was an unseasonably warm late-January evening at Lincoln Financial Field when a handful of Philadelphia Eagles sprung a sneak attack on head coach Doug Pederson, dousing him with a bucket of Gatorade. It was time to celebrate. The team was headed to the Super Bowl.

Once the clock hit 0:00, Pederson hugged his coaches and players, found his wife and children, and the Pederson clan embraced amid an eruption of confetti, cheers and tears. He posed for pictures with the family, raced over to the FOX TV set and gave analyst Howie Long, the father of Eagles defensive end Chris, a bro hug, raised his arms in the air in victory to salute the fans behind the Vikings bench and then walked up the steps to the podium to receive the George S. Halas Trophy, presented to the champions of the National Football Conference.

“It was,” Pederson says, “everything I thought it would be. All of the confetti, the noise, all of the emotions, I felt it. It was real. In this business you don’t allow yourself to get emotional very often. That’s just the nature of the business. You’re always on to the next thing.”

“But right there, that was special. In front of our home crowd… that’s something I’ll always remember.”

The rise of Doug Pederson, who lives in Moorestown, seems so improbable to some; many people mocked the Eagles when the team hired him in 2016.

Eagles Chariman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie hired Pederson after firing former head coach Chip Kelly. Pederson is a 13-year veteran of the NFL who played mostly as a backup quarterback, and an undistinguished NFL assistant head coach whose most prominent job was as offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, where head coach Andy Reid called the offensive plays.

Doug Pederson? Really?

“I always wanted Doug, once I learned that he was a candidate,” says tight end Brent Celek. “He played the game at this level. He knows what players are going through. Plus, he’s a smart guy and creative. He’s seen it all, and he’s been around great coaches. From the very start, he was the best choice.”

Not a whole lot of people thought that way. ESPN ranked Pederson as “the worst head coaching hire” of the NFL’s offseason that year. Former NFL general manager Mike Lombardi, who lives in Ocean City, said Pederson was “less qualified to coach a team than anyone” he had seen in his career.

Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, a former teammate of Pederson’s (Pederson helped mentor McNabb during his rookie season in 1999) and a member of the team’s Hall of Fame, said this as a then-analyst for FOX: “Now as an alum – and I think I can say this for a lot of us – what are they trying to do ? Are they trying to re-create the 1999-2009 Eagles? Are they trying to relive the past, or do they want someone to come in and set his own legacy? I want to see the Eagles win, but I don’t know if you do that just by bringing guys back who were there.”

Who’s laughing now? The Eagles went 7-9 in 2016 with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz as a starter and with standout right offensive tackle Lane Johnson suspended for 10 games.

This season, the Eagles soared to a 13-3 record despite losing so many key players to serious injuries: left tackle Jason Peters, running back/punt returner Darren Sproles, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, placekicker Caleb Sturgis, Wentz (injured on Dec. 10), special teams star Chris Maragos. None of it mattered. The Eagles kept winning.

“The most impressive thing about Doug is that he’s not trying to be anyone else,” says Nick Foles, who was a rookie quarterback in 2012 when Pederson was the team’s quarterbacks coach. “He is who he is. He genuinely cares about his players. He talks to the players, he hangs out, he’s always full of energy and he obviously knows a lot about football.
“I think the most impressive thing about him is that he’s creating his own path, which I really respect.”

Pederson, for his part, has not changed a bit in his time as the head coach. He’s loose, extremely likable, humble and appreciative of the position he holds. This is, then, his time. And he’s going to love every minute of the experience.
“I want the players to enjoy this Super Bowl experience. I’ve been there as a player [twice, with the Green Bay Packers] and it is unique and special,” Pederson says.

“I’m going to be the same coach I’ve always been. That’s not going to change now, or ever. I think you have to be who you are. I’m here to do a job and I think the best way to be successful is to make sure you are prepared and relaxed and enjoying the moment. That’s the big thing. Stay in the moment and be the best you can be.”

 


Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro has covered every Eagles game since 1987 and is seen and heard throughout the year on television, radio and Eagles coverage everywhere. You can hear his Eagles Live Podcast on iTunes.

February 2018
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