There is zero question that when the NFL gives out their end of the season awards, Doug Pederson deserves to win Coach of the Year.
Pederson was joining an Eagles franchise that was still trying to pick through the damage that Chip Kelly had wrought in his brief three-year stint as coach. The roster was a complete mess, the Birds had no picks to speak of in any upcoming draft and the fans were practically in open revolt.
This was the situation Pederson, a first-time head coach, was walking into.
The media called Pederson a “safe choice” and the fans called him “Andy Reid-lite.” You didn’t need to go far to find a fan who would tell you that owner Jeffrey Lurie had lost his mind and that he should have hired Ben McAdoo or Adam Gase, the “hot” coaches that were in demand that year.
In his first season at the helm, Pederson won seven games and made some glaring mistakes. But he also showed a willingness to take chances and that he had complete faith in his team. Going for it on 4th down became a regular occurrence. Two-point conversions became more frequent. But most important, he gained the loyalty and respect of his players. They knew without doubt that Pederson had their backs and they, in turn, had his.
As a result the Eagles took a giant leap forward in 2017. They finished the regular season 13-3 and on Sunday will play in the NFC championship game to determine who will go to Super Bowl LII. Quarterback Carson Wentz went from a rookie with a ton of potential to a leader who could win MVP honors this year.
And did we mention that Pederson did all this while dealing with a series of injuries to key players that would have ended the playoff hopes of almost any other team in the NFL?
Over the course of the season the Eagles lost Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, and Darren Sproles to injuries. And then he lost Wentz to an ACL tear right when the team was getting ready to make their push into the postseason.
Instead of panicking or just calling it a day, Pederson challenged his team. “Next Man Up” became the theme of the season. When the Birds went into last Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons as an underdog, the first time that had ever happened to a No. 1 seed, he played into that. Used it to fuel his players and the fans.
And when the Eagles won, which everyone but Pederson thought wouldn’t happen, he called out all the haters and doubters and put them on notice.
“Nobody has given us a chance. And I understand, Carson’s a great player, but every week, our guys are hearing the same thing — that now we are all of a sudden not good enough. We’re 13-3 and have the best record in football, we’ve got home-field advantage throughout. … It really doesn’t matter what you guys talk about because that locker room in there is united and I’ll go to bat for every one of those guys and I’ll go to war with every one of those guys in that dressing room.”
That is the sign of a head coach who understand what it takes to win, not only during the regular season but when he is on the biggest stage in football.
For those who thought that Pederson was the wrong choice, that Lurie should have gone with someone else, chew on this: Gase has gone 16-17 since bing hired by the Miami Dolphins while McAdoo went 13-15 with the New York Giants and is currently looking for a job.
Pederson? He’s gone 21-12 and is getting ready to prove all the doubters wrong once again.
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There is no argument you can make that Pederson does not deserve to win NFL Coach of the Year. What he has done in just two seasons with the Eagles is beyond anything anyone expected. And there is no sign that this won’t continue for years to come.
The line to apologize and eat crow forms on the left. But keep it brief. Doug Pederson still has work to do.