A one-on-one conversation with Doug Pederson

Photography by David Michael Howarth

Last month, nearly 300 people gathered at The Merion to hear Eagles Coach Doug Pederson speak with SJ Magazine’s Marianne Aleardi about motivation, leadership and success. It was a twist for the coach, who is usually asked about plays and formations – not necessarily how you motivate a team after a loss or how you get comfortable taking risks.

Pederson wow’d the crowd with his easy-going style and endless stories of a championship team and season.

But most of all, the coach explained how an effective leader leads. We all watched as he took his team to greatness. Now we know how much thoughtfulness, hard work and love (yes, he used the word love) it took to make it happen.

Some notable quotes from the evening… 

Leading the team after losing Carson Wentz for the season:
“I knew in my heart and my mind I was the only person in our building that could stand in front of our football team. I was the only one that could light a spark, light a match to get our team back. But what was I going to say?

On Monday afternoon, I’m sitting in my office and I get a picture in a text message from our oldest son, Drew. It’s of a picture hanging in our basement that has us with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill – when I was a player in Green Bay, they came for a concert, and we got to go to their dressing room. Drew had snapped a close-up of that picture hanging on the wall and in the back of the picture was this saying: ‘An individual can make a difference, but a team can make a miracle.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me right now?’ Talk about divine intervention. This was what I needed.

I got to the team meeting, and I’m like, ‘You know what, guys, we’ve had some adversity this season. We lost Jason Peters, we lost Darren Sproles, we lost Jordan Hicks.’ I’m going down the list of players we lost, and I tell them we just lost Carson Wentz. He’s done for the season. But then I turned around, and I started pointing out individual players in the room. I pointed at Nick Foles, and I pointed at Fletcher Cox and Jason Kelce and Brandon Graham and all these guys. I said, ‘You know what, all these individuals in this room can make a difference on this football team. It’s going to be this team right here, right now, that’s going to make a miracle of the rest of this season.’ After that team meeting, the guys’ spirits came up. We went on that run and rallied behind Nick Foles, and the rest is history.”

The four tenets for success 

“I talk about four things that can help you be successful, not only in sports, but in life. One of them is create energy. I bring it to my job every day. I try to bring that same energy home with my wife and my kids, but it has to be your own individual energy. You’ve got to be self-motivated.

Second is you’ve got to eliminate distractions. You can’t be pulled in a lot of different directions. You can’t listen to the outside world. Focus on what you’re trying to get accomplished.

Third, fear nothing. I try to live my life that way. I try to remove as much fear and doubt as I can, even when it comes to play calling and decision making.

The fourth thing is attack everything. Everything you do in life, go for it and attack it at full speed and head-on.

I teach all that to our players. I talk about it with them every day. We actually have that on a wall in our building now. It’s been a really good life lesson for our players.”

Balancing work and family 

“I learned a long time ago that the sport I coach and played and love, it’s not a complicated sport, right? It’s about how well I can communicate and teach and motivate my team to play on game day. The more I keep it simple, then I can be home at 6:30, 7 o’clock for dinner in the off-season.

You hear horror stories about coaches who spend the night in the office. That’s one of the things I vowed to my family I would never do. I’m going to be home. They might be in bed, they might be asleep, but I’m going to be home. I’m going to get my work done, and I’m going to grind, and I’m going to do everything I can to win that game on Sunday. But at the same time, my kids are going to be part of the team. My two oldest boys were on the sideline for the Super Bowl. My youngest was with my wife in the stands. I’m going to make it a family affair. I want the players’ families to be part of it too. I want the coaches’ families to be part of it. The only way we can get through this is if we make this a family atmosphere.”

The Philly Special 

“The first time we executed the play was in a walkthrough, and Trey Burton threw it about as high as this ceiling – right over Nick Foles’ head. As a coach and as a play caller, you don’t have a lot of confidence when your players make that kind of mistake. So we kept working it.

We never ran the play in practice in Minneapolis for fear of spies. You know, cameras and cell phones, all these people watching your practice. The only time we did it was in a walkthrough in a hotel.

So we’re at the Super Bowl, and it’s fourth and a yard and a half. I’m walking back up the sideline, and here comes Nick Foles from the huddle. I’m looking at my call sheet, and I’m getting a few suggestions in my headset, and Nick Foles just looks at me and says, ‘How about’ – and he called it Philly Philly – ‘How about Philly Philly?’ You’ve seen the video. I just look up. I’m thinking, ‘Okaaay, my career is on the line…we’re in the Super Bowl…’ And then I say, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’

But I was ok taking that risk because I prepared my team for situations like that. There’s a lot of trust, and there’s a lot of hard work.”

Team Motivation 

“In one of the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, I overheard Brent Celek talking to some of the players and he said, ‘I’ve been in this league 11 years. I’ve never been this far in the post-season, and I’m not turning back now. We’ve got to give everything we’ve got to each other.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that was pretty cool.’ So at the end of practice, I said, ‘Hey Brent, why don’t you share with the guys what you just shared outside?’

I realized then that we had these players – LeGarrette Blount has been to a couple of Super Bowls, Chris Long has been to a couple, Malcolm Jenkins was in the Super Bowl in New Orleans. I asked them to stand up in front of the team each day leading up to the Super Bowl and talk about ‘What does this mean? What does the post-season mean?’ It was a very special time for our football team, because it really sort of brought everybody closer together.”

Eagles culture and new players  

“The culture is just – new players can’t help but change. It swallows them up and makes them a better person. Sometimes you hear these stories about certain players – LeGarrette Blount’s this or Jay Ajayi is this or – whoever it might be. But man, when you get them in your building and they, honestly, feel the love of the team, they know it’s not this way everywhere, it’s truly not. They can’t help but buy in. And when they do, you’ve got them, and they’ll literally run through the wall for you.”

Some sports talk with ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio

SALPAL: What are some of the leadership characteristics you look for in the players you draft?

DP: We can put the tape on and watch a player, but you’ve got to spend time with them. It goes back to building relationships. I want to see if they’re telling me the truth. You can tell when a guy walks in my office if this guy is for real or not.

SALPAL: What did you like about Andre Dillard?

DP: He’s a very humble kid. He’s grounded. He speaks a lot of truth. He speaks very confidently. He gives a lot of praise back to his team. I was  very impressed. This is a classy, classy kid.

SALPAL: And then this kid from Stanford drops in your lap. Could you believe it when he was sitting out?

DP: Could not believe that JJ Arcega-Whiteside just fell to us. This is a kid we had targeted as a potential draft pick if he fell.

SALPAL: He looks like Alshon already.

DP: He looks just like Alshon. He’s a little bit bigger; he’s in the 224-225 range. He’s a 4.48-40 guy, but he – we use basketball terms – he plays above the rim. His catch radius is unbelievable, he can box out defenders. Right now he’s probably not a pure route runner, but I think his future is bright. He’s another great kid.

June 2019
Related Articles

Comments are closed.


Get SJ Mag in Your Inbox

Subscribe for the latest on South Jersey dining, weekend entertainment, the Shore and much more - sent directly to your inbox.

* indicates required
Email Format
WATCH NOW: Millennials looking for Mentors