Eagles Wake-Up Call: Doug Pederson’s Beginning
AT THE TURN of the century, a plot of dirty grass sat next to Calvary Baptist Academy, surrounded by chain link fencing threaded with barbed wire at the top. Abandoned baseball backstops stood in the corners.
The Christian school’s enrollment floated around 200 kids, depending on the year, putt-putting along since 1970 as just another school in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The area was a hotbed for young football talent, especially quarterbacks. The high school scene at the time was dominated by Evangel Christian Academy, led by a man named Johnny Booty. By 2007, Evangel was riding an 89-game win streak, one of the longest in the country.
Calvary never had the bodies or resources to cobble together a competitive football program, but around 2003, the men in charge decided they wanted to give it a shot, so they rang up Booty and asked if he would come help them get their program off the ground.
They admittedly couldn’t promise him much.
“We didn’t even have a helmet,” Booty says, laughing at their boldness. “We started the football program without a helmet.”
The school was so under-equipped in its first season that, early on, Calvary only had a set of away “jerseys,” which were white t-shirts that the players wore to each game, home and away.
But Booty thought it was a great opportunity to create something, so he jumped in.
The Cavaliers played just two home games that season, traveling to Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas to find teams willing to play a fresh-faced program. They went 4-6. Fundraising efforts were slow. It was all a bit overwhelming for Booty, who had a fleet of men at his back when he piloted Evangel to their dominant seasons.
Eventually, he realized that if Calvary was going to grow, the program needed a head coach so Booty could facilitate everything else as the athletic director.
Enter Doug Pederson.
Pederson, who played his college ball 90 minutes east of Calvary at a school then known as Northeast Louisiana, was rumored to be hanging it up after a dozen years in the NFL.
It seemed like a stretch at the time, a second-year program in Louisiana hiring a man who shared the sideline with Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb. But Pederson had ties to the area, and Booty managed to bring him down for an interview.
Booty still remembers the moment Pederson arrived. So does former Calvary assistant principal Rod Chandler.
“When he showed up, he was so impressive. Dressed to the hills, just like he was when they introduced him as the Eagles’ coach,” Chandler says. “He was dressed in his suit, all business. And that’s pretty much how he ran the program down here. All business.”
Booty can’t remember if Pederson accepted the job on the spot, or if he took a night to mull things over. But it went through. Calvary had a new head coach.
Pederson promised Booty to stick around for the long haul. There was just one caveat.
If Andy Reid called Pederson up with an NFL job offer, he would have to take it. That was the only way Pederson would leave, but if it came up, he was gone.
“I said, ‘Sure, sure, like you’re going to go from high school to the NFL,’” Booty says, laughing at himself. “And of course, the laugh was on me.”
THERE WASN’T IMMEDIATE success. In his first year as coach, Pederson went 5-6. But there was something about him that connected with the city of Shreveport, and the community surrounding Calvary.
Pederson worked hard to establish himself as just one of the guys, and it worked.
“Even though everybody walked around in awe of him as this NFL player, he was not above us,” Chandler says. “He didn’t want to put himself above us. He was one of the guys. He got along with everybody; all the school workers would sit down and have lunch with him.”
Pederson established an open-door policy early on, which players used liberally when their friends wanted to meet a former NFL quarterback.
“You go in, he’d sit down and shoot the bull with you,” Chandler says. “He never rushed you out with, ‘Hey, I’ve got to do this.’ He might have to walk away, and he would say, ‘Hey, come along with me.’”
Things on the field really started to pick up in Pederson’s third season.
Remember that team, Evangel? The one with the 89-game win streak? In early November of 2007, both Calvary and Evangel were undefeated. Calvary had just opened its 2,800-seat football stadium earlier that fall, and Pederson’s Cavaliers were ripping teams up, winning their first eight games by an average of 33 points per game.
Pederson had turned Calvary into a local force, but this was the truest test of all. Evangel hadn’t lost a District game in 17 years.
“It was standing room only,” Booty says.
The teams traded barbs all evening long, until Calvary took the ball over with the game tied, 21-21, late in the fourth quarter.
Pederson’s Cavaliers marched right down the field at Jerry Barker Stadium and, with 16 seconds to play, threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to take a 28-21 lead. Bedlam.
“I’m telling you, the city was shocked that, in three years, he’d put us on top of the North Louisiana football world,” Booty says.
Calvary finished the season 12-1, undefeated at home, losing in the second round of the state playoffs.
In just three years, Doug Pederson had created a juggernaut in the fiery football scene of Louisiana.
“He put the football program on the map,” Chandler says. “Literally, Calvary was just a fledgling school, just getting off its feet. Once he established that name for Calvary, it kind of opened the door.”
Enrollment picked up. Other teams followed the football program’s lead. And the Cavaliers kept on rolling. The next season, Cavalry went 12-2.
It was incredible. Probably too good to be true, Booty admits.
And, of course, it couldn’t last forever.
THE RIDE CAME to a halt in 2009.
“We hated to lose him, but we knew someone of his quality, he wouldn’t stick around that long for a little high school team,” Chandler says.
Four years, 33 wins, and a district title after his hiring, Pederson walked into Booty’s office one day in 2009.
“Johnny,” Pederson said, “he just called me.”
Booty couldn’t believe it. “Are you kidding me?”
It wasn’t a joke. Andy Reid had called and offered Pederson a job as the Eagles’ offensive quality control coordinator. Pederson couldn’t turn it down, and Booty couldn’t blame him. After all, he’d been warned.
Booty looked at him, grinned, and told Pederson that he was amazing. A veteran of the decorated Louisiana high school football tradition, Booty had been around plenty of incredible coaches. He’d never heard of such a leap.
But it made perfect sense to him.
“[Pederson]’s one of the unusual men that I’ve met — and I’ve known a lot of great men in many different venues — who has the ability to draw people together and coach things up all at the same time,” Booty says. “Brett Favre told me one time that Doug Pederson knew coverages better than any man he knew on the planet. I couldn’t believe it when he told me that.
“He’s got the schematics down, and he also happens to be gifted with the ability to draw people together towards a dream. That’s the unique thing. That’s the Pete Carroll-type of gift. Very few men have that. Doug has got that gift.”
In the years since he left Calvary, Chandler says Pederson has maintained plenty of the relationships he formed during his time in Louisiana. Pederson still sends Chandler’s family a Christmas card each year; this year, it will be sent from Philadelphia.
Pederson’s time at Calvary, relatively speaking, was short. Just long enough for his high school freshman to graduate. But he left an indelible mark on a tiny school in the upper left hand corner of Louisiana, and they’ll be forever indebted to him.
“To know Doug is to love Doug,” Booty says. “He’s just a cool guy.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Will the Cowboys start looking at life after Tony Romo? That and more in NFC East Roundup.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
CSN Philadelphia’s Reuben Frank thinks the month since Chip Kelly‘s firing has seen the Eagles make steps in the right direction.
It’s been a month now since Jeff Lurie pulled the plug on Chip Kelly and began the long and complicated process of reshaping the Eagles into something very, very different than the team that ended the 2015 season.
Something very, very different than the team that got embarrassed four times the last seven weeks. That wasn’t even ready to play in a late-season home showdown with a division rival with a playoff berth at stake. That wasn’t even competitive against the Lions, Buccaneers, Cards and Redskins.
It’s only late January and there’s a lot of work to be done to continue the process, but the Eagles are off to a good start.
The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane believes Pederson and Frank Reich will complement each other well on the offensive side of things.
Pederson will call the plays. [Andy] Reid gave him the second half of the Chiefs games starting in Week 7 this season, but this will be his first full-time role. He always has Reich to lean on if there are tough stretches, but Pederson will rely more on him and quarterbacks coach John De Filippo – another former coordinator – in devising the offense and game-planning.
“Doug’s the kind of guy that he’s open to ideas,” Reich said. “He brings guys in and we kind of add a little bit of our two cents, but he’s the leader of the show.”
While Pederson is most familiar with the West Coast offense, or at least the watered-down versions that he learned from Mike Holmgren and Reid, Reich has played and worked in several systems.
The Bills were one of the first NFL teams to have success with the hurry-up offense. When Reich filled in for [Jim] Kelly, he still preferred to huddle. But he understood the concepts as well as anyone, having viewed it all those years.
We’re keeping an eye on the personnel head search and more potential extensions, and will keep you updated on all the latest.