Doug Pederson still tells the story with a smile.
It’s about the origin of his coaching career, and it took place over 10 years ago in the middle of the field where he’ll oversee his Eagles this season.
Then a backup quarterback for Green Bay, by the time his Packers arrived in Philadelphia for a Dec. 5 game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Pederson had already been on injured reserve with a bad back for about two months. But that didn’t stop the 36-year-old from taking in warmups from near midfield, not far from where his former coach Andy Reid was also watching.
Complete coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles and their NFL rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Pederson and Reid had a history. Reid coached Pederson during the quarterback’s first stint in Green Bay and thought enough of him to handpick him to start off his tenure in Philadelphia in 1999. But by 2004, Pederson was long gone from Philly, in his final NFL season with the Packers, and the Reid era in Philadelphia was well underway.
But on Dec. 5, it was just two old friends at midfield, chatting before their paths would inevitably cross again.
“He goes ‘Hey, any interest in coaching?’” Pederson said, recalling the conversation. “I said ‘Yeah, I think so.’ I told him at the time, I said, ‘But I’m not going to draw pictures.’ It was kind of a little jab to him.
“Low and behold, he hired me to draw pictures. So that’s kind of where it first started.”
Pederson retired as a player after the 2004 season and Reid eventually hired him as a quality control coach in 2009 before promoting him to quarterbacks coach in 2011. When Reid was fired by the Eagles and took the job in Kansas City, Pederson went with him and was promoted to offensive coordinator. And when the Eagles were looking for a new head coach this offseason, someone to restore the glory of the early 2000s, Reid emphatically suggested his protégé.
Doug Pederson owes a lot to Andy Reid. Doug Pederson thinks very highly of Andy Reid. Doug Pederson learned a lot from Andy Reid.
Doug Pederson is not Andy Reid.
“I think it’s important,” Pederson said about creating his own path and story. “I think it’s important that you can somewhat separate from that. He obviously laid a great foundation for me, not only as a player but as a coach. I think too now, I think this goes back to some of the things he shared with me leaving Kansas City, was the fact that, hey, you need to be you. You need to bring your thoughts and your ideas to the table.
“Yeah, he laid a good foundation and structure from the aspect of how to organize an OTA practice, how to organize an entire offseason, how to lay out your coach’s calendar for the spring and summer, do training camp and all those things that come with being a head coach. But I think too, you have to put your personality on it, your own spin on it. That’s where that separation can begin. Even though that foundation’s been laid, now you take it in the direction you want to go in.”
While Pederson wants to be his own man, he learned how to do that by watching Reid in 1999. That was Reid’s first year as a head coach in Philly and while he learned from some pretty good ones, including Mike Holmgren, Reid was his own man. That’s what Pederson wants to be too.
Pederson, 48, began preparing himself to be a head coach during his final two years as a backup to Brett Favre in Green Bay. By that point, he was already a coach on the sideline and always enjoyed coaching. So when he realized his playing days were numbered, his curiosity about coaching grew.
After spending four years as a high school head coach in Louisiana, Pederson spent just seven years as an NFL assistant before the Eagles hired him as a head coach, a meteoric rise, but not completely unprecedented. In fact, Reid was an NFL assistant for just seven seasons before becoming a head coach, but had been a college assistant for a decade.
Because of Pederson’s lack of experience, because of the perception that he wasn’t the Eagles’ top choice and because he wasn’t a candidate elsewhere, because of a plethora of other reasons, really, many don’t expect much from Pederson as a head coach. Various publications have ranked him as the worst — or near-worst — head coach in the league. He knows it, but claims he doesn’t care.
“Underestimated,” Pederson said, repeating a key word from a reporter’s questions. “That’s OK. I’d rather go in that way and be as successful as you can on the field. My concern is the players in that locker room. I really don’t necessarily put a lot of weight of external value on what people are going to say. I mean, it’s their opinion. And I can control that locker room and the things that are in my grasp.”
The 2016 Eagles are certainly in his control, but that December 2004 game wasn’t. On the IR, he watched his Packers get crushed by the Eagles, 47-17, as Philadelphia marched toward the Super Bowl. Of course, the Birds lost the Super Bowl, the biggest knock on the Reid era.
But Pederson is his own man. And if he wins the big game Reid never could, he’ll finally move out of his shadow.