There is always a surprise team every season. That’s the beauty behind the parity of the NFL. The meteoric rise of their franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, has skyrocketed the expectations of the Philadelphia Eagles to Superbowl contenders after only nine games. This is a far cry from preseason pundits who questioned whether the Eagles were heading in the right direction under second-year coach Doug Pederson. Pederson, now a serious coach of the year candidate, has his Eagles dominating teams consistently and improving on a weekly basis.
The most impressive part of Pederson’s body of work this year is how grounded this team is. With the early season national media scrutiny, huge injuries to key players, and a grueling NFL schedule littered with “trap games” like landmines. Doug dances right by the distractions and continues to dominate. What’s the secret to his success this season? Leadership. Sure, Carson captivates every fan. The gameplans get the headlines on Sunday. It’s Doug Pederson’s leadership that has turned this team from good to great.
“I never lose, I win or I learn” – Nelson Mandela
Leadership translates across all platforms. It doesn’t matter if we are talking football, business, military or education. When leaders lead well, success follows. It often doesn’t occur immediately. It’s a process. You have to gain credibility or earn your chops.
One of the main identifiers of a great leader is to show consistency through adversity. All the great coaches stay level during the 17-week roller coaster that the NFL season has become. The Eagles suffered plenty of losses during Pederson’s first crack at being the head honcho last season. After starting 4-2, they fell apart losing 7 of the next 8 before finishing off the season with back to back wins. Pederson never went into panic mode. A team can’t trust a leader who doesn’t trust himself. He used those losses and turned them into a growth experience, which is paying huge dividends this season.
The adversity kept coming. Starting in September when that Ex-Browns GM threw verbal haymakers at Pederson’s pedigree. Again, Doug remained consistent and his team responded. It’s wasn’t just a Gatorade bath that Doug received from his team, it was the buy-in that all coaches covet. Dave Gloeckner talked in depth about it in a piece from September, you can get right here. It was a sign of loyalty, and it was built on the lessons learned from those losses in 2016.
The trust between Pederson and his players has continued to strengthen all season. Massive injuries to key players would have derailed most teams. Rather than packing it in like their NFC East counterparts, the New York Giants, the Eagles responded with a “next man’s up” mentality. The results have been stunning. It doesn’t matter if it’s key all-pro leaders like Darren Sproles or Jason Peters. Add defensive captain Jordan Hicks, starting cornerback Ronald Darby, and NFL leading tight end Zach Ertz to the list and Pederson is never phased. Consistency through adversity. The results are the same. The team believes they will win every Sunday regardless of the setback.
When the Eagles faced off with the New York Giants in Week 3, I nailed it as a crossroads game for both coaches in this featured article. Self-accountability is another layer of Doug’s leadership style that encapsulates his growth as a head coach and how he learned from his losses in 2016. Doug’s pass-heavy play-calling was under fire after the Eagles only loss in Week 2. Rather than remaining rigid, he showed the ability to put his ego aside and adapt. That behavior resonates in a locker room. Leaders hold themselves accountable, and most importantly, they right the wrongs. Pederson didn’t win in Kansas City, but he learned and hasn’t lost since.
“Build trust by extending trust” – Stephen M. Covey
Player’s coaches dance a fine line in the locker room. The relationship of any head coach and the core veterans is paramount. All the great coaches talk about the need to delegate and trust the people around them. Pederson has done a terrific job by doing that with the coaching staff and in the locker room as well.
Delegation breeds trust and trust breeds loyalty. Pederson has done a great job of leaning on the Eagles’ core vets to lead in the locker room. Examples of these qualities started shining through early in preseason and still does now. The emergence of Nelson Agholor captivated the city early in September, but it was the support of his teammates that really hammers the point home. Whether it’s Jenkins asking to play special teams in a blowout win, or Blount insisting Clement get the call for his third touchdown. Pederson trusted his leaders to lead in the locker room, and they responded.
Speaking of Nelson Agholor, second chances are another secret ingredient to Pederson’s leadership style. You build trust by extending it. The Eagles coaching staff proved their trust in the slots, and boy did they hit the jackpot! On the offensive side of the ball, Agholor has been a key contributor. He gave Philly the flexibility to move Jordan Matthews and obtain Ronald Darby. Defensively, the city buried Patrick Robinson in the preseason as he struggled mightily on the outside. However, Doug stuck with the veteran and looked for a way he could contribute. After moving Robinson to the slot, he has been one of highest rated slot corners in the league. Pederson’s trust in these two castoffs has paid huge dividends.
“The strength of the wolf is in the pack” – Bill Belichick
To be a good leader, you have to be a good listener. This is another area where Pederson excels. Let’s be honest. Pederson did such a great job at building a strong staff, that most fans were more excited about the coaches that surrounded him than the head coach himself. That has changed, but Doug’s listen-first mentality has his staff producing at a very high level.
His style has obviously worked wonders in the progression of Carson Wentz, who raves about the collaborative nature of the weekly game planning and his level of input. In 2016, the conversation around Wentz was usually rooted in his mechanical breakdowns. This year it seems like not only has John DeFilippo cleaned that up, but they have accelerated his development by trusting him to take total command of the offense. The results have been outstanding. Wentz is the favorite to be the NFL’s MVP.
The team is at it’s best when it plays as a unit. How strong is Pederson’s pack of wolves? There has been no bigger divisive force in our nation than the response to the national anthem protests. The topic has wedged itself into the strongest of NFL franchise’s locker rooms. Regardless of your political or sociological stances, you can’t help but leave impressed with the way the players on the Philadelphia Eagles handled the situation. Owner Jeffrey Lurie and Doug Pederson were very active listeners first, and that built a tremendous amount of credibility with the veterans on the team.
While most franchises were reactive, the publicity they created was filled with apologies and damage control. Our hometown Philadelphia Eagles made headlines for being unified, pioneering a path to understanding and change, and setting the example for the rest of the NFL. Veterans Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long took the lead, and it speaks volumes that Doug Pederson was able to extend trust to those players to take care of the pack.
The Road to Minnesota
Doug Pederson has the NFL’s attention for sure. The Eagles and Patriots are a lot of people’s favorites to face off in this year’s Superbowl in Minneapolis. In this week’s podcast, we rightfully stopped ourselves from comparing the second-year coach to one of the greatest coaches of all time. There is a long road to Minnesota. There is a lot of challenge, adversity, and playoff games in front of us. However, the first nine games have already shown us that adversity makes this team’s bond tighter.
The full quote from Bill Belichick mentioned previously is very revealing. “There is an old saying about the strength of the wolf is in the pack, and I think there is a lot of truth to that. On a football team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.” Every team needs talent. A franchise quarterback helps. All coaches have in the NFL have great schemes. That’s how they got hired. Ultimately, x’s and o’s are not enough.
Nobody knows if this will all lead to a Superbowl. The second-year head coach is far from a finished product. One thing is crystal clear. There doesn’t appear to be a better man to steer this ship right now, than Doug Pederson. This type of team unity and championship culture is the glue that gets great teams over the top. Now it’s our jobs as fans to extend that same level of trust to the man who fostered it. Let’s do our part to ensure it sticks all the way to Minnesota. The bond can only strengthen and the pack will only be stronger. That’s exactly how Pederson’s leadership works.