The Ones That Got Away

Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid.Andy Reid will get another reminder Monday of just how good he used to have it.

For the fourth time this season, he will square off against a member of his original coaching staff. First it was Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress in Cleveland, followed by John Harbaugh – the former special teams guru who is now head coach of the Ravens. The Eagles got licked by Steve Spagnuolo and the Saints on November 5. Next up, Ron Rivera and the Panthers.

Take a look at the 1999 staff in full:

Offensive coordinator: Rod Dowhower
Defensive coordinator: Jim Johnson
Quarterbacks: Brad Childress
Running backs: Ted Williams
Wide receivers: David Culley
Tight ends: Pat Shurmur
Offensive line: Juan Castillo
Offensive assistant: Tom Melvin
Defensive line: Tommy Brasher
Linebackers: Ron Rivera
Defensive backs: Leslie Frazier
 Defensive assistant: Steve Spagnuolo
Special teams: John Harbaugh

Six of the assistants (Childress, Shurmur, Rivera, Frazier, Spagnuolo, Harbaugh) went on to become head coaches. Not bad.

If Reid had the Midas touch when it came to coaching moves early on, the opposite is true as of late. Decision after decision has blown up in his face. From Sean McDermott to Juan Castillo, to firing Castillo for Todd Bowles. From Jim Washburn to Howard Mudd  to Johnnie Lynn to Bobby April, Reid has misfired often. It’s no coincidence that he is expected to be out of a job in six weeks.

For all the valuable pieces Reid has lost over the years, Johnson is the man that proved irreplaceable.

“The hardest one to replace I think has been Jim Johnson just because of the shadow he cast,” said Rivera. “He was, I don’t want to say icon, but he was such a fixture as far as those Eagles teams were concerned. For almost 10 years, Coach Johnson really ruled the roost as far as the defense was concerned, and I know Andy didn’t have to worry what was happening on the defensive side, he had such a great rapport and respect with Coach Johnson, that it’s easy, you can really just close the door and focus in on what you really want to do, and I know Coach [Reid] would just focus on the offense. He would come in and talk to Coach Johnson about what Coach was going to do, but I know Andy was very comfortable with that, very confident in Jim’s ability.”

Reid referenced that shadow Johnson cast multiple times in explaining the termination of McDermott as defensive coordinator in 2010. The former Johnson pupil now serves as the DC in Carolina, and will join Rivera in a return trip to Philly Monday night.

“Oh I think Sean has done  a terrific job. We’ve played eight offenses that are in the top 11. We’ve held eight of the 10 offenses we’ve played at or below their scoring average,” said Rivera.

“I think he’s done a great job and I’m real excited for him. He works so hard and has great rapport with his players. I know his players are buying into what he is preaching. I am pretty excited about that for him.”

Statistically, the Panthers defense is a bit below average.

Not all branches of the Reid tree have flourished since leaving Philadelphia. Harbaugh, in fact, is the only with a truly distinguished resume since taking on his own head coaching gig. But they were all sound (if not great)  in their roles with the Eagles, providing the kind of stability that Reid is sorely missing now.

While guys like Harbaugh, Williams and Castillo were holdovers from a previous regime, Reid did a good deal of mining to assemble that ’99 staff. Childress was coaching at the University of Wisconsin. Spagnuolo was working for the Frankfurt Galaxy. Frazier was an assistant at Illinois. Rivera was a quality control coach for the Bears. Johnson had a history in the league but was serving as the linebackers coach in Seattle when Reid chose him to lead the defense.

“Andy did a great job of putting the first staff together,” said Rivera.  “It’s not just about replacing players but trying to replace coaches.”

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