5 Coaches Who Changed Philly Forever
The end is most definitely nigh. Andrew Walter Reid, the large, ruddy man who’s led our dear Iggles lo these last 14 years—barring a swift reversal of fortune—is likely serving in his last season as a head football coach in this town. Recent developments on the gridiron notwithstanding (this season has gotten ugly and quick), the near certainty of Reid’s departure at the end of the season, if not sooner, will be sad indeed.
There are football reasons, of course, to be sad, not the least of which have been an unprecedented tenure at the franchise’s helm (his 14 seasons doubles Dick Vermeil’s run), and unmatched success (at present, he holds the best winning percentage of anyone who’s coached more than one Eagles game). But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-world of the National Football League (in which he has done a lot for Philadelphia for a long time), Reid appears to have lost his team and the fanbase. In this day and age that’s a one-way ticket to color-commentator-ville (despite this being the season Reid also lost his son, a tragedy for which some were keen to give him a Mulligan).
But to be honest, I don’t really give a damn about the football. To quote a friend’s recent Facebook status, “Every Saturday and Sunday I’m reminded that the rest of the world didn’t lose interest in football when I did.” The thing about Reid is that for a man known for short, cliched answers at post-game press conferences, he’s left a sizeable impression (get the fat joke out of your system now) on this town’s collective psyche. In fact, it’s safe to say he’s one of the five most influential—for non-sport reasons—pro coaches or execs to pass through these parts in recent years. Let’s take a look:
5. Buddy Ryan (Eagles, 1987-1991): Though he gained notoriety for not thoroughly chewing his pork chops, Ryan brought, in addition to suffocating defenses, an air of lawlessness and recklessness to town that had been sorely missing in the dour Marion Campbell era and the waning years of Ron Jaworski. Handing the reins to raw, untested Randall “Ultimate Weapon” Cunningham, placing a bounty on an opposing placekicker, and lionizing a guy whose nickname was “Dirty” were the kind of moves that not only appealed to the baser elements in the 700 level, but that brought swagger to a town entering the dark recesses of a championship drought.
What he taught Philadelphia: Dirty is as dirty does; dirty is not a dirty word.
4. Charlie Manuel (Phillies, 2005-present): In addition to finally ending that nasty championship drought, “Uncle Cholly” did a lot more for this city. I’ve always thought “uncle” was a bit of a misnomer: Manuel was the much needed coddling grandfather figure Philly needed following the prickly tenure of Larry Bowa, not to mention gregarious Mayor Ed’s dash to Harrisburg, leaving us with Hizzoner John “Mr. Warmth” Street. But more than that, I like to think that Manuel’s folksy ways and unintelligible coal country patois put us in touch with the rural parts of the state (and country) us city folks sometimes underestimate.
What he taught Philadelphia: Pennsyltucky is Pennsylvania, too; elucidation is overrated.
3. Bobby Clarke (Flyers General Manager, 1984-1990, 1994-2006): This is cheating; immediately after retiring, Clarke became the Flyers’ GM for 19 of the next 23 seasons. But I challenge a non-hockey fan to name a single Flyers coach. Clarke the player was the heart and soul of the cup-winning Broad Street Bullies. But his old-school mentality didn’t always track well in the ’90s and beyond. He wielded that tough-as-nails, Russky-hating attitude long past the end of the cold war, sometimes hurting the team by eschewing skilled but “soft” European players for dump-and-chase North American brutes, even as the game evolved to favor the former. And his “mentoring” of monumentally talented man-child Eric Lindros was nearly the stuff of Greek tragedy.
What he taught Philadelphia: Xenophobia will destroy ya! Sometimes the old ways are left behind for a reason.
2. Larry Brown (76ers, 1997-2003): Was there ever a better Philly soap opera than that between Larry “Play the right way” Brown and Allen “We talkin’ about practice” Iverson? Watching the drama unfold in the press between Brown, the fatherly, passive-aggressive basketball genius/master of the backhanded compliment, and Iverson, the mercurial momma’s boy, was more than great entertainment. It was intro to psychology, it was a masterclass in manipulation, a gauntlet of petty provocation. Even after Brown jumped ship to win an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons team he fell in love with as they were handing his Sixers their ass the season prior, Brown and Iverson have remained linked, with Brown haunted by the “practice” tirade and bemoaning Iverson’s late-career crash landing in Turkey (albeit, as Brown was in a position to give him the NBA job he claimed Iverson deserved).
What he taught Philadelphia: There is a platonic ideal for everything, even a game that involves dribbling; passive aggression is an art; daddy issues run deep
1. Andy Reid (Eagles, 1994-presstime): Look, Reid has his faults. His approaches to the running game, roster construction and clock management remind one of Einstein, specifically the theoretical physicist’s famous quote about insanity. But he also won a lot of football games, generally made adjustments, built teams that weren’t over-reliant on overpriced, showboating superstars (at first, anyway) and helmed the franchise’s longest run of sustained success. That his teams never ended the season with a win speaks either to statistical anomaly inherent in the single-elimination playoff format, Reid’s shit not working in the playoffs, or, the populist explanation, a lack of fortitude. But before we laugh him out the door, consider not just the hot, 3-13 mess of Ray Rhodes’ final season or the way Rich Kotite sapped the life out of an exciting squad. As infuriating as Reid could be, he became something like the city’s moral center (as well as its greatest cheeseburger enthusiast): When his team failed, it was his fault for not properly preparing them; when they succeeded, the praise was theirs. Publicly, the buck always stopped with Reid, making him the kind of boss people love to work for. In a game where players are often challenged to man up and then behave like children, Reid always took it on the chin. He may just have too much to answer for this time around.
What he taught Philadelphia: Eat when you’re happy, eat when you’re sad; slow and steady might eventually win the race.