Over salads at the Palm, Sam Katz asked Eagles prez Joe Banner how — even when the scoreboard doesn’t show it — he makes the team fly
The 2007 football season was tumultuous and disappointing, but one positive constant has been the steady leadership of team president Joe Banner. Banner, 54, has found himself in the center of the storm between the fiery passions of his customers — the fans — and the ebb and flow of the Reid family saga, lapses in the play-calling and field management of the coaching staff, and constant second-guessing by the media. Even so, the hallmarks of great football operations have stamped Banner’s achievements as top-tier.
When Jeff Lurie bought the team in 1994, did you guys have any idea as to the level of psychological ownership Eagles fans have in it?
Ironically, the reason we ended up buying the Eagles was because we fully understood that. We focused on Philadelphia because of the history and the passion. We felt we didn’t have to try to build the fan base or generate interest. So we could build on the brand, strengthen the marketing, improve the quality of the team, develop better facilities — all because the passion was there.
Are there any markets that bleed their team’s colors the way we bleed Green?
None are more intense. Some small-market teams are hyped up, but not like here. I’ve lived in Chicago and Boston, but Philadelphia is the first among those three.
When you look for operations you’d like to emulate, who tops your list?
If you look at teams like the Patriots, the Redskins, the Cowboys, you see very dynamic organizations that are extremely creative and balance the business and the brand with their involvement in the community, while at the same time being somewhere between Super Bowl champions and consistently competitive. On the football side, the answers are much more obvious. The Patriots stand alone in respect to the winning, playoff success and sustainability. We have tried to copy them, though that has subjected us to criticism. For example, before this year, the Patriots signed fewer free agents than almost any team in the league. That creates a lot of pressure even when you are winning Super Bowls. But they’ve stayed very strong.
In the post-T.O. period, do the Eagles have a different attitude toward risk-taking with players who have big personalities?
I hope not. You can’t have big success without taking big risks. T.O. was a conspicuous one. But there have been others. Hiring Andy Reid was one. He hadn’t been either a head coach or an offensive coordinator. No one can say that Andy isn’t a great leader and coach. When we made Troy Vincent the highest-paid cornerback in the league, or Jon Runyan the highest-paid tackle, those were risks. We are focused on not becoming risk-averse because of the T.O. experience. Our decision to draft Kevin Kolb is a case in point. Why bring in a quarterback when you’ve got one of Donovan’s caliber? Our view was that whenever a good quarterback is brought in, even if he doesn’t stay with that team, it has always turned out to be smart. We believe bringing in Kevin was smart and will work out even if it was a risk.
How has football affected the Banner family?
When the Eagles don’t do well and my kids go to school on Monday, they hear about it. You feel like it’s your fault they have that burden. But there is a flip side. My kids stood on the sidelines at the Super Bowl.
How has this experience changed the guy who sold a clothing business and was headed into the nonprofit world to save humanity?
I don’t remember that guy. I am still looking for him.