Lurie has kept Eagles aloft
Owner aimed high and team took off
In a league that touts its parity and seems to take a measure of pride in a handful of new teams qualifying for the playoffs each season, the Philadelphia Eagles haven't cooperated.
They've soared above the crowd, appearing in the postseason seven of the last nine years while compiling the NFC's best record this decade. It's a stretch of consistency that the team's owner, Newton native Jeffrey Lurie, has reason to feel good about.
When Lurie purchased the Eagles in 1995, he envisioned modeling parts of it after the franchise he's long admired, the Boston Celtics.
"First it was the Russell-Cousy era, where as a child I couldn't believe the team I was rooting for seemingly won it every year, then continuing with Bird and McHale and Parish and DJ and that whole group, and there was the interim success of Dave Cowens and that group," said Lurie, whose team plays Minnesota in the wild-card round today.
"They always regarded themselves as reaching for the top and I think that certainly influenced how I would want to function owning a sports team. You want to try to be the best and do everything possible to put yourself in a position to get there. At the same time, you never feel satisfied until you're winning the championship each year."
The Eagles haven't won a championship for Lurie yet and are a longer shot this year after improbably securing the sixth and final playoff slot last weekend when they needed a win over the Cowboys and losses by the Bears and Buccaneers.
Yet given the weekly surprises the NFL offers up, perhaps this is the year they finally break through.
However it unfolds, one thing seems certain: Don't expect any major organizational changes in 2009. Lurie values the stability he has in place with coach Andy Reid, who is finishing his 10th season, the league's second-longest active streak with one team.
"With Andy's leadership, we were in four straight NFC championship games and a Super Bowl," Lurie explained, when asked why he's resisted some external pressure to consider a change. "We haven't won a championship, but the quality of coaching and the quality of the performance of the team has been at a very high level.
"I think if you know you have really good coaching, you want to surround it the best possible way. That's more where we're at - try to keep improving the team, try to maximize all our resources, and think strategically. It's not about making the coach the target of frustration."
Lurie pointed out that the head coach and the quarterback are most often the target when things don't go as desired, but he feels it's important to remember that NFL seasons are marathons, filled with challenging ups and downs like Newton's hills.
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, whose future in Philadelphia was the subject of speculation over the course of a season in which he was benched at one point, is a prime example.
Said Lurie, "Donovan has had a very good year, but it also has had its ups and downs. You have to know, in this sport, especially at the quarterback position, you're going to have your ups and downs. Hopefully the ups are predominant, and he's proven with him at quarterback, you have a very good chance of winning and winning big."
Lurie added that the Eagles have "every intention of having him back" and that "he's been great to work with." McNabb's contract runs through the 2010 season, and calls for him to earn $9.2 million in 2009 base salary and $10 million in 2010.
As for what has contributed to the Eagles' impressive run of consistency, Lurie believes one crucial aspect has been the decision-making process with personnel.
"What we've often had to do is make sort of an unemotional decision of when a player is starting to descend rapidly, and put our resources into more younger, ascending players. Those are unpopular and very difficult decisions, but we've had to do that with some of my favorite players, like Duce Staley and Jeremiah Trotter and Troy Vincent," said Lurie, adding that the Eagles tend to re-sign more of their own players than other clubs.
In words that echo what Patriots owner Robert Kraft has said in the past, Lurie said his football perspective has been altered as he's become a more experienced owner.
"I think you appreciate the difficulty of maintaining success," he said. "It's based on some factors that are out of your control, such as key injuries, things that happen in a game that decide it by a foot, a yard, a referee's decision.
"I know I take the losses even harder than ever after 14 years.
"Also, I think after 14 years, you realize that a lot of what you're thinking about is what is best for the NFL, what is best for the league and its players. You're not just homed in on your own franchise."
One area in which Lurie has invested his time is working to spread the NFL's popularity to a global audience, as he's a member of the league's International Committee.
But today, he'll take a more narrow view, as the Eagles hope to take the next step toward securing the first championship in Lurie's ownership tenure.
By now, he's familiar with the drill. The playoffs and the Eagles have become familiar dance partners this decade.
Trying to fill in the blanksAnalysis on the ever-evolving NFL coaching and general manager carousel:
Broncos - Every offseason produces one surprise opening, and this is it, owner Pat Bowlen firing coach Mike Shanahan after 14 years. This is considered the top opening because Bowlen is widely regarded as a supportive owner, and Jay Cutler is a Pro Bowl quarterback, which are two pieces any new coach desires. They've scheduled initial interviews with Buccaneers defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is a longer shot. With their main problems on defense, they'd presumably lean toward a defensive-minded coach.
Browns - Owner Randy Lerner has conducted interviews with both coaching and GM candidates over the last five days. Lerner believes the head coach is the primary indicator of success, so he's likely weighing whether to hire the coach first or hand the keys to a general manager like New England's Scott Pioli and let him choose the coach. Fired Jets coach Eric Mangini, Spagnuolo, Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Browns defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, and McDaniels are all possibilities if they choose the coach first.
Chiefs - Chairman Clark Hunt is scheduled to meet with Pioli in the coming days. The Chiefs plan to hire a GM, then let him decide the fate of coach Herm Edwards, who has one year remaining on his contract. Hunt wants a fresh set of eyes who is considered a shrewd evaluator of talent, and their search presumably is starting with Pioli.
Jets - Spagnuolo appears to be a top choice to replace Mangini as coach, while Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are among those under consideration. Shanahan is a longer shot - he'll still collect $20 million from Denver, so he can be choosy - but the Jets plan to at least reach out to him to gauge his interest. The new coach must be a fit with general manager Mike Tannenbaum, which is a key consideration.
Lions - They promoted Martin Mayhew to full-time general manager and Tom Lewand to president, and are keeping a lower profile on their coaching search. They appear to be leaning toward defense - where they want to get bigger - with Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Dolphins defensive backs coach Todd Bowles, Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray, Spagnuolo, and Schwartz all on the radar. Bowles and Gray are former teammates of Mayhew's.
Raiders - Owner Al Davis is deciding whether to remove the interim tag and make Tom Cable the permanent head coach. They've kept their intentions and other possible candidates tightly under wraps, dismissing reports that indicate interest in Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, among others.
Rams - Jim Haslett remains under consideration as a permanent head coach, but general manager Billy Devaney plans to interview other lower-profile candidates. Ryan, Bowles, Frazier, Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss, and Cowboys receivers coach Ray Sherman are on the list of initial candidates.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.