BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is the very definition of a journeyman when the subject is his professional playing career.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles wasn’t an NFL nomad like Pederson, but the latter sure understood what it’s like to come off the bench to replace the starter.
After playing at Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana-Monroe), Pederson signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 1991. There were stints on the practice squad, and when Dan Marino was injured in 1993, Pederson was signed and played in the game that head coach Don Shula won his league-record 325th game. He played for the New York/New Jersey Knights in the World league of American Football in 1992 and also played with the Rhein Fire of the World League in 1995.
The latter happened after he was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the 1995 expansion draft only to be released in May.
He did last seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, but not consecutively. He was with the Packers from 1996-1998 and 2001-2004, with the Eagles in 1999 and the Cleveland Browns in 2000.
In all, he played in 100 games with 17 starts: nine with Philadelphia and a 2-7 record and eight with the Browns (1-7 record). His forgettable numbers were a 54.8 completion percentage, 2,762 yards, 12 touchdown passes, 19 interceptions and a 62.3 passer rating.
He took the lessons he learned to his first coaching job (as head coach), which was the furthest thing from high-profile: Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, La., a school that was in its second season playing football when Pederson arrived.
Reflected Pederson prior to the game against New England, “Those four years were special to me because, one, my family and my boys were right there in the school with me, being a private school. And just watching the kids grow over a four-year period and then having the chance to see some of them go on to play college football or have great careers after college. Not necessarily in athletics but just as students, as well. Those are special moments, and moments that I’ll remember.
“Obviously we’re on a much bigger stage now playing for the Super Bowl, but the journey is the same. The ride is the same. It’s just as special doing it at this level. You still have the same types of relationships with these guys now today that you would with a 16- or 17-year-old in high school.”
His teams were 33-7 and 8-3 in the state playoffs. From there came the springboard to the NFL when he joined Andy Reid‘s staff in 2009 as offensive quality control coach. His 1999 season as a player with the Eagles was Reid’s first as the team’s head coach.
Pederson became quarterbacks coach in 2011 and then went with Reid to Kansas City as offensive coordinator in 2013. He was hired by the Eagles as head coach in 2016 succeeding Chip Kelly and called offensive plays for the first time.
His relationship with Foles at Philadelphia previously and at Kansas City helped when the Eagles signed him in the offseason to back up Carson Wentz. Pederson scouted Foles before the 2012 draft and that also contributed to their relationship.
“I think it’s important,” Pederson said. “He reminded me again last night after the game (against Minnesota) that I was the only coach to go out and work him out as a player leading up to that draft. It goes a long way in his confidence and my confidence in him and understanding that dynamic. Even though we sort of separated and went a couple different ways. But to be able to come back together now and do the things that we’ve been able to do and he’s been able to do is not only a credit to him, but I think just the overall study that we did back in 2012.”
Also in the mix in creating confidence is offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who was also a backup during his NFL playing career.
Said Reich, “Knowing the pressure that’s on you, knowing how you liked it, how people treated you when you were in that situation and usually the answer is: let’s go to work. Let’s not make a bigger deal out of this than it is. We’ve got confidence and belief in each other. You’re here for a reason. We’re here for a reason. We all believe in each other, so let’s just go play ball.”
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has often used the term “emotional intelligence” to describe Pederson. Lurie explained, “I spent a lot of time with players at the end of that season and I thought what was really needed was a kind of leadership that leads with a genuineness, a real genuineness. And people laughed when I used the term emotional intelligence, but that’s probably a really good way to describe it and I think in sports today, there’s many styles of great coaches. Bill Belichick, Bill Walsh, Sean Payton – the list goes on and on and on – Tom Coughlin.
“There’s a lot of great coaches. They all have their different styles, but the one common ground amongst them all is absolute consistency and genuineness. And Doug Pederson is just himself. And at times, that’s very humble, and at times, it’s just very real. At times, that’s very bright. At times, it’s tough. But he does it in a true genuine way and I think players really respond to that in today’s world.”
When asked about emotional intelligence, Pederson said, “I think that having the connection, having been in the locker room, having an understanding of the dynamic of what a team needs, what a team should feel, how we should practice, how we should play, when to take the pads off, when to put the pads back on, I think all of that is part of that emotional intelligence that we all — and I — try to strive for and to have with the guys. I think that relationship has gone a long way this season.”
Pederson has faced some slings and arrows from some that questioned his hiring by the Eagles in Jan. 2016. With seven head coaches hired that year, one opinion had him ranked fifth. Early this past season, former club executive Mike Lombardi said Pederson “might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL.”
Now, Pederson has the last laugh, and it’s notable to point out that Lombardi isn’t currently working in the NFL.
Asked about the criticisms, Pederson shrugged and said, “I don’t pay any attention to that quite honestly. I drive home at night knowing I put in a full day’s work. I get up in the morning to come in here, however I can serve this organization, serve these players. That’s all I know.
“I love football. I love coaching football. I love teaching it. I love being around these guys and I’m going to pour my life into these players and if it’s good enough, great. That’s all I know I can do and I know I’ve given it my best effort. I don’t care about what’s written. It’s kind of like the underdog thing. Our players don’t pay much attention to that and I’m kind of the same way. Except for the dog mask.”
Well, he can be forgiven if he’s now doing some woofing.