In Philadelphia, It's One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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In Philadelphia, It's One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In the past week, three Philadelphia teams made moves that will have a profound impact on their destinies. Unfortunately for Delaware Valley sports fans, only one franchise got it right.

On Friday, the Flyers replaced coach John Stevens with Peter Laviolette. General manager Paul Holmgren felt the Flyers were better than their 13-11-1 record. Is it Stevens’ fault that a team with perennial All-Stars Chris Pronger, Danny Briere, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter underperformed?

Maybe. But as the cliché goes, Holmgren cannot fire the whole team.

New hire Laviolette took the Islanders to the playoffs twice—no small feat in that franchise’s post-1980s irrelevancy—and won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. He is considered more demanding than Stevens.

Undoubtedly, there will be a period of turbulent adjustment, like the schizophrenic weather that accompanies the changing of the seasons. But in the big picture, this appears to be a smart move, even it does not bear fruit this spring.

Earlier in the day, the Flyers’ Wachovia Center co-tenant, the 76ers, signed Allen Iverson to fill in for the injured Lou Williams. Well, that’s the party line. What they are trying to do is sell some tickets and remind people that there really is an NBA franchise in Philadelphia.

Signing Iverson is shortsighted. Instead of hitting rock bottom and getting a decent draft pick, Iverson will help the team win a few meaningless games. Worse, he will expose young, impressionable players like Jrue Holiday and Maurice Speights to his boorish behavior—witness Iverson arriving at the arena for his first game barely an hour before tipoff.

The Sixers are regressing under general manager Ed Stefanski, who is already on his third coach in two years. So far Eddie Jordan has proved ineffectual, too, with his much ballyhooed Princeton offense looking more like the Camden offense.

Stefanski's marquee acquisition, Elton Brand, is injury-prone, disgruntled, and due another $66 million through 2013. 

Finally, the Eagles announced on Wednesday that they have extended coach Andy Reid’s contract for another three years. Reid has won a lot of football games in Philadelphia, but has taken the team as far as he can.

The Eagles were favored in four of the five NFC championship games they have played under Reid, but won only once. In short, the Andy Reid Eagles are very good, but never great, with their regular seasons serving as an annual tease before the inevitable letdown.

The team is prime for its Danny Ozark moment. Ozark led the Phillies to division titles in 1976-78, but could never get the team over the hump. He was fired late in 1979 for Dallas Green, who bullied the Phils to their first World Series title in 1980.

Jon Gruden would be a great Dallas Green. The one-time Eagles offensive coordinator took over a Buccaneers team that repeatedly stalled in the playoffs under Tony Dungy and guided them to a title in his first season. Dungy, in turn, took over an Indianapolis team that could never get out of the AFC and led them to a Super Bowl triumph.

Unfortunately for Eagles fans, however, owner Jeffrey Lurie seems content to maintain the status quo and skinny dip in his plentiful revenue streams. There is no sense of urgency with his franchise. It took three consecutive championship game losses before the team recognized the importance of legitimate wide receivers.

Then, in 2006, after the Eagles rallied to win the division title with Jeff Garcia filling in for the injured Donovan McNabb, Reid gave up on his players by punting with two minutes left while trailing the Saints.

The team wrote off 2007 by allowing Garcia to walk while McNabb spent the entire season recuperating on the field. And it looks like Reid, in year 11 of his quest to win the Super Bowl, has just discovered the fullback position.

Lurie and his sidekick, Joe “Smithers” Banner, can talk all they want about their brilliant handling of the salary cap and having the most talented roster in the NFL, but as every child knows, if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards.

Hard to believe after all those years in the wilderness, the Phillies are the city’s gold standard.

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