Will the Real Joe Banner Please Stand Up?

When he first came to town to run the Eagles, Joe Banner was known as a smart guy and a generous, sensitive soul. Then Eagles Nation got ahold of him — and made him the most hated man in Philadelphia

What, then, of that other Joe Banner? The dark one?
Angelo Cataldi, the loudmouth of WIP’s morning show, is the ringleader in hammering him. Consider some nuggets from last year, in the wake of safety Brian Dawkins leaving the Eagles for the Denver Broncos, preserved from Cataldi’s side gig as a Metro columnist:

The newspaper won’t let me use the four-letter words that come to mind first when I think of the Eagles under Joe Banner, so I’ll use the one word that I know will leave a lasting impression. Cheap.

A week earlier, he’d written:

My hatred for the Eagles right now goes beyond even the stupidity of this decision and the total disdain it shows for the fans. My hatred also stems from the way the Eagles do things — as always, so devoid of simple human feeling.

Cataldi’s tone toward Banner on-air is even deadlier. He defends himself by claiming his attacks are never personal, even though an eight-year-old could see that’s the point of them. Cataldi’s sidekick, Al Morganti, raises an interesting question, however: “In my experience, you can never tell people what to think. How much does media really shape views?”

In Banner’s case, a lot — given that he doesn’t speak all that much publicly. Art Block, the general counsel at Comcast who met Banner several years ago when Block volunteered for City Year, had bought the party line: Banner was — all together, now — “a cold businessman without a compassionate side who didn’t care about players as people.” After meeting him, Block poked his head into his boss David Cohen’s office and said, “Joe Banner is really … good” — as in, flat-out driven by a worthy cause — “or am I missing something?”

Cohen knows Banner well, and he assured Block that he had read the guy right. Cohen calls Philadelphia “the smallest big-city echo chamber in America. Where conventional wisdom becomes wisdom.”

From the get-go, it was a stretch for Lurie and Banner, two guys with zero experience in professional sports, to think they could march into Philadelphia and take over the Eagles. But they believed, in fact they were dead sure, that they would figure it out. Take the hiring of Andy Reid in 1999, which is Banner’s favorite story. No one had ever hired a head coach who hadn’t run a college team or overseen an offense or defense in the NFL; an impressive coaching résumé was deemed crucial. That was completely backwards thinking, Banner decided. He and Lurie analyzed the qualities the most successful coaches shared — scrupulous attention to detail, absolute commitment to a philosophy, obliviousness to public criticism … hello, Andy Reid! Never mind that Reid was an obscure Green Bay assistant coach. Banner’s and Lurie’s huge risk — just to remind our listeners out there — became the winningest coach in team history.