Philadelphia Eagles: The Secret to Andy Reid's Success...and Failure As a Coach

Mark SaintContributor INovember 16, 2010

The System and The Player
The System and The PlayerChris McGrath/Getty Images

In conversations about great coaches over the past decade the name of Andy Reid has become commonplace.

Having coached the Philadelphia Eagles since 1999 and being named the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the team since 2001, Coach Reid has become the face of the organization and turned a franchise tied for last in the league under former coach Ray Rhodes to a perennial playoff contender.

What is the reason that he has been a great coach? Two names: Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick.

The Tale of The Tape

Andy Reid started his Eagles career by drafting Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb with the second pick in the 1999 NFL draft, which at the time seemed to be a gusty move because running back Ricky Williams was the fan choice in Philadelphia. While Ricky Williams slowly burned out, McNabb delivered an explosive offense complimented by one of the top defenses in the league, and Andy won Philadelphia fans over.

In the early years, McNabb made the best of difficult situations. Early on, Andy didn't surround his quarterback with much talent at receiver, but Donovan made pedestrian players perform above themselves, leading the team to four NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance in 2004 (where he had his first upper tier receiver in Terrell Owens).

After having their careers tied together, the two finally parted ways as the Eagles decided to build behind their 2007 second-round draft pick, Kevin Kolb, and traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins. This would have been an epic mistake except of who they had as a back-up: Michael Vick.

The public story is one that essentially lays the blame for the lack of a Super Bowl squarely on the shoulders of McNabb. It goes something like this: McNabb is a good quarterback, but he chokes in the big games. Because he isn't that accurate and can't finish the big game, the argument goes, the Eagles would have never won the Super Bowl with him at quarterback.

While this story is well heralded, there is a back story that is consistently overlooked. Throughout McNabb's career at quarterback in Philadelphia, and Andy Reid's tenure as coach there, they statistically threw the ball twice as much as they ran it. 

For example, in the Eagles 2008 NFC Championship loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles passed the ball 47 times and ran only 18 times, whereas the Cardinals passed 28 times and 29 running attempts. Balance.

In his only Super Bowl appearance, Andy called 51 pass plays and only 17 rush plays while New England passed 33 times and ran 28. 

While Donovan McNabb could have played a better game in the Super Bowl, Andy Reid's consistent imbalanced play calling is not exempt from blame either.

Donovan McNabb

For a coach who is in love with the passing game, success falls squarely on having a quarterback with a strong arm who can escape pressure. In hindsight, this makes Reid's drafting of Donovan McNabb in 1999 a no-brainer. Reid knew what he needed, and he took the first draft pick of his head coaching/general manager career to get it.

Early in his career, a young McNabb made incredible plays with his arm and feet, but injuries over time took their toll. Bulking up to be able to absorb the punishment he was taking, McNabb's began to drive some passes into the ground under duress, something that was not the case early in his career, even in playoff games. Instead of balancing the offense to offset the defensive pressure McNabb faced, Reid increased his passing attempts.

For an great offensive mind, Reid's love affair with passing plays has sometimes defied logic. Considered an offensive genius, it has proved to be his greatest weakness.

Kevin Kolb

Kevin Kolb has the ability to be a great quarterback, but he would/will never last a full season under Reid's play calling.

As rough as McNabb's play had been at times the last two seasons, the offense would have been much worse if he didn't have escapability. Many of his positive plays came after breaking tackles in the backfield and escaping sacks.

Kolb has a good arm and is a solid pocket quarterback, which is exactly the reason for him not to start in a Reid-coached team. In my article on fantasy pickups before the season started, I wrote that one of the best pickups of the late fantasy draft would be Michael Vick, and that he would be starting by week four. I was two only weeks late in my projection.

I drafted him on my fantasy team, and I currently am in first place in my league.

It wasn't genius. It was just knowing Reid. 

If Vick didn't perform like he has, in two years or so, Reid probably would have been out of a job. Kolb is not the answer in Philadelphia.

Michael Vick

Unfortunately for Kolb, (I don't celebrate anyone getting injured) the best thing that could have ever happened to Reid and the Eagles was for him to get hurt. Michael Vick gave Reid what he has always needed to win in his system — a quicker, more accurate version of McNabb. 

With Vick under center, Reid can call passing plays without worry knowing he has a quarterback who can not only escape pressure, but who also is a threat to score on the ground every play.

Vick frees up the Eagle's receivers down the field because, other than the Ravens, Pittsburgh, and maybe two other teams, safeties have cheat to contain him and the defensive line has to stay in contain to guard against him.

In reality, Vick allows Reid to be Reid without repentance.


The truth is last season, Reid had the best of both worlds: a year for Michael Vick to regain his football form and speed while tutoring under the Philly legend of McNabb. At only 30, Vick gives them the time, talent, and ability to not only get to the Super Bowl, but to win it.