What Eagles Fans Were Saying About Andy Reid in 1999

The Eagles hired Andy Reid 17 years ago this week. Fans were not happy. Things worked out OK in the end, though.

Seventeen years ago this week, the Eagles hired a new coach.

On January 11th, 1999, after four days of meetings, the Eagles hired former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Andy Reid as the 20th head coach in team history. (Coincidentally, news broke that the Packers hired Ray Rhodes — just fired from the Eagles weeks before — to be their head coach the same day.)

Reid was just 40, the second-youngest coach in the NFL at the time. The Eagles were coming off an embarrassing 3-13 season. “Today the turnaround begins,” Jeffrey Lurie said. “We needed somebody who is confident they can take something that’s been on a downhill slide the last year and a half and not only reverse that, but have a real focused plan on how to succeed in a big way.”

Reid had a similar quote: “This is the first step in putting the Philadelphia Eagles back on the map.” He said he had a plan, but was scant on details.

They were right, of course: After a 5-11 first year, the Eagles went to the playoffs five straight seasons. They won six division titles under Reid. They went to a Super Bowl. He has the most wins in Eagles history. But people were skeptical at first.

“When the Eagles were searching for a head coach in 1999, there were several hot prospects on the market … so when Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie hired Andy Reid, the reaction in Philadelphia was a slack-jawed, ‘Huh?’” write Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons in The Eagles Encyclopedia. Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon called Reid “a large, lumbering, slightly rumpled man with a walrus mustache.”

“We lead the league in jumping to conclusions, and sure enough the early wisdom is that a quarterbacks coach from Green bay was not what the Iggles needed,” Lyon continued. “The fans and the fan-inflamers wanted someone with experience, someone proven. Give us Parcells, they moaned. Give us Seifert or give us Shanahan. And if not them, then give us Chris Palmer or Brian Billick or Gary Kubiak. We want a who’s who and you give us a who’s he.”

Peter King of Sports Illustrated later wrote that there were people who thought the coach would “get eaten alive” by fans and media in Philadelphia. Even the straight news stories at the time were cautious. Terry Larimer wrote in The Morning Call: “But Eagles fans are wondering if their new coach has much of a background, either. He’s been a Packer aide for the last seven years and wears a Super Bowl ring, but he’s never been a head coach at any level and technically hasn’t been a defensive or offensive coordinator, either.”

People were later incensed when Reid looked likely to take quarterback Donovan McNabb over Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ricky Williams. Mayor Ed Rendell exhorted the Eagles to take Williams. Angelo Cataldi chartered a bus to New York City to bring a group called the “Dirty Thirty” to boo the selection of McNabb. Frank Rizzo, son of the late mayor and then a freshman City Councilman, issued an anti-Reid resolution urging the Eagles to select Williams. “I would obviously like them to draft Ricky Williams,” Rizzo said. “Because he’s a great athlete and he’d be a big draw for the Eagles. He’d be great for the city. Lots of young people would relate to him.”

The resolution got eight signatures, but failed 11-3, after strong opposition by then-City Councilman Michael Nutter. Incidentally, the resolution also spelled his name “Jeffrie Lurey.”

Earlier in the week, the team was looking at former Giants coach Tom Coughlin. He’s won two Super Bowls, so this is pretty much the kind of coach fans wanted in 1999: A proven winner. Naturally, people hated the idea this time.

And now the Eagles appear to have decided on Doug Pederson, who is the offensive coordinator under Andy Reid in Kansas City. He also was Reid’s starting QB his first year in Philadelphia. He’s an assistant who’s had some success, and at least earlier today, fans didn’t seem to want him, either.

So it seems like no one the Eagles hire will placate the fanbase. But as we learned in 1999, sometimes the fanbase is wrong. Not that they’ll mind if they are.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.