This is the 3rd and final part of the Donovan McNabb fall 2010 series on Bob Long Sports Blog. In Part 1, I analyzed why Donovan McNabb was not mistreated in Philadelphia (http://bobsportsblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/why-donovan-mcnabb-was-not-mistreated-in-philadelphia/). In Part 2, I analyzed McNabb’s reception by the Philadelphia fans last weekend in his return to Lincoln Financial Field (http://bobsportsblog.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/donovan-mcnabb-part-2/). In this final part I will analyze the decision to trade Donovan McNabb. After the Eagles lost in the playoffs last season, Philadelphia fans wanted either Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb, or both out of Philadelphia, and this blog will discuss whether the organization made the right decision to let McNabb go.
Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid had been together in Philadelphia for 11 years, since 1999. The two had led the Eagles to 8 playoff appearances in those 11 years, and 5 NFC Championship Games in those years. However, they were both at times criticized by fans, media, players, and others for their performances in Philadelphia during this time. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, in the 2010 playoffs, this criticism came to a climax. Donovan McNabb struggled mightily in both the last game of the regular season and the first game of the playoffs (both against the Dallas Cowboys), and Andy Reid was unable to devise or execute a good gameplan, and was unable to make sufficient changes when they were needed. Both of these specific examples were microcosms of the performances of these 2 individuals over the course of their careers in Philadelphia. Right or wrong, their combined success was often undermined by these constant criticisms.
After the season, owner Jeff Lurie and the rest of upper management decided to trade Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins and to keep Andy Reid as head coach. Part of this decision was fueled by the fact that Kevin Kolb was waiting for years for his opportunity to lead the team, and his contract was up after the 2010 season. However, the Eagles would have been better served to have fired Andy Reid. In fact, the Eagles would have been better served to have fired Andy Reid earlier in his tenure.
Andy Reid is a competent coach, there is no doubt about that. He has had success in Philadelphia, and has produced a consistently competitive team. However, the city and the organization showed very clearly that that was not enough when it traded Donovan McNabb. The organization wants a Super Bowl, and why shouldn’t it? The Eagles went to 5 NFC Championship Games, were favored in 4 of them, and only went to 1 Super Bowl, in which they were beaten. The team was the most talented NFC team at multiple points during the 2000s, but the two “superstars” at the helm, Reid and McNabb, could not get it done. So who should have been out of Philadelphia?
The answer: Andy Reid.
I always hear people say that Andy Reid is “the best NFL head coach from Monday to Saturday.” My question: “What in the world does that mean?” Apparently it means that he is a good game-planning coach, and simply isn’t able to adjust on Sundays. Apparently it means that Reid is so confident in his gameplan and believes that it is so brilliant that it would be ridiculous to change, and that it eventually will work. To me, that doesn’t mean he is the best coach from Monday to Saturday, it simply means that he is stubborn.
Andy Reid’s west coast style offense is based around the quarterback throwing the football. Whether it be through screens, slants, deep patterns, or the ever important tight end post, the emphasis is on the quarterback distributing the ball. The screen play often replaces the run, and the Eagles have had bad run-pass ratios during the Andy Reid tenure (2:7 run to pass isn’t unheard of in the Reid system). When Reid is unable or unwilling to run the football, the Eagles have become very one-dimensional, and have as a result become very beatable. The Eagles have played their best when the run-pass ratio is much more balanced, and the running backs have had opportunities to take some pressure off the quarterback by negating the pass rush.
In addition, there is a certain type of quarterback that thrives in the West Coast system. An accurate quarterback who can get the ball out quickly is the prime candidate for a West Coast system, and Donovan McNabb is not this type of quarterback. McNabb is a mobile threat with a very strong arm, but an arm that is not always the most accurate. McNabb is not the type of quarterback that should throw the ball 50 times in a game. Donovan is a quarterback that thrives upon play-action, mobile plays, and time in the pocket. However, in the one-dimensional passing system that is the West Coast offense, McNabb was unable to thrive. And his coach, Andy Reid, was too stubborn to ever adjust to strengths of his pro-bowl caliber quarterback. (Sorry, I mean to say that Andy Reid did a fantastic job with his gameplan from Monday to Saturday). If Reid was so ingrained in his ways, then why was Donovan McNabb drafted by Reid himself just months after he was hired as the new Eagles head coach in 1999. Why did Reid, in his first ever head coaching stint, draft a quarterback that was in many ways ill-suited for the West Coast system with the 2nd pick in the draft?
Donovan, to his credit, handled the system quite well for the fact that it wasn’t well suited to his talents. He went to the Pro-Bowl several times, and took the team to the postseason in 8 of his 11 seasons. However, in the biggest games, McNabb was inaccurate, made poor decisions, and simply was not able to do the right things on offense. McNabb then had a growing reputation as a quarterback who could not win the big game, because he was forced to do things on offense that directly countered his best talents. Day by day we are learning that this reputation may not be warranted, as Donovan is now leading late game drives regularly in only 5 games as a Washington Redskin. And he is well past his prime. So what happened? Did McNabb’s mental attitude completely change in one offseason? Or, more likely, is McNabb now in a system under Mike Shanahan that emphasizes the running game and takes more pressure off McNabb, allowing him to do more things on offense?
To me, there is no doubt that McNabb is thriving under the Shanahan offense. Just as John Elway thrived under the Shanahan system, which featured 1000 yard rushers like Terrell Davis every single year, Donovan McNabb is thriving under a system that emphasizes running and produces a much more balanced offense that is more conducive to the success of the quarterback and the football team as a whole.
Therefore, one must ask the question: What decision should the Eagles have made last season? Should the Eagles have kept McNabb and let Reid go instead? I say, absolutely. Who knows what McNabb could have done in his prime under a system that was conducive to his many talents? Could he have won a Super Bowl? Multiple Super Bowls? We will never know, because Reid stifled McNabb while he was in his prime. Reid has shown himself to be far too stubborn in both his gameplans and his treatment of the players, fans, and media. But hey, he is a great coach from Monday to Saturday. There is a great place for stubborn head coaches in this era of football.
That place is the CFL.