The Jacksonville Jaguars officially hired Doug Pederson as head coach on Feb. 3. Since then, Pederson has built his coaching staff and has been trying to get a sense of the “lay of the land” with his new surroundings.
While Jaguars fans are certainly aware of Pederson’s track record as a head coach — in which he brought a championship to the Philadelphia Eagles with a victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, the franchise’s only Super Bowl title in its history — there are still plenty of things to learn about Pederson.
With that in mind, I reached out to one of the best sources I know for all things Eagles — Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation. Brandon is certainly familiar with what Pederson brings to the table as a head coach, and is honest about what expectations should be like in Jacksonville. He explains why Jaguars fans should be excited about Pederson, and why there might be reservations to consider as well.
Our conversation is below:
1. Can you briefly summarize Doug Pederson’s time in Philadelphia? What went right during the Super Bowl run and in the other successful years? What went wrong by the end of his tenure?
Brandon: This answer won’t exactly be brief, but hopefully it’ll be worth your time.
The Eagles weren’t in a great way when they hired Doug Pederson. They had just fired Chip Kelly, who oversaw a disastrous 2015 season after taking control of the team’s player personnel department. The Eagles’ plan to reinstate Howie Roseman (executive vice president of football operations at the time and currently executive vice president/general manager) wasn’t inspiring a ton of confidence. Neither was the Pederson hire, considering what little we know about him. And how he wasn’t even close to being the Eagles’ first choice; they were ready to hire Ben McAdoo before he turned them down while on a limo ride to Philly. The Eagles’ big sell on Pederson was that, unlike Chip, he was going to be big on “emotional intelligence.” Many found themselves unmoved by that talking point.
The Pederson era got off to an exciting start, though. The Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 record with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers before their unusually early Week 4 bye. It was a good first impression with Pederson helping to maximize the quarterback the Eagles paid a big price to acquire in the 2016 NFL Draft, Carson Wentz.
From there, the Eagles had some struggles before ending his first year on a high note en route to a 7-9 finish. Some underlying metrics suggested they were better than their record indicated. Despite this, sources once told Bleeding Green Nation that the Eagles gave weight to firing Pederson after the 2016 season and replacing him with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Ultimately, it didn’t happen, and the Eagles entered 2017 with an expectation for improvement. I would say no one saw them improving to the extent that they did…but it was Pederson who, somewhat controversially at the time, had compared the Eagles to the 1996 Green Bay Packers team that he was on that had won a Super Bowl. He really called his shot, huh?
The Eagles were awesome in 2017 and in no small part due to Pederson’s leadership. Make no mistake: Roseman did a great job on his end when it came to bolstering the roster. But Pederson deserves credit for overseeing the development of Carson Wentz and fostering a great team chemistry. There’s a silly idea out there that “actually Frank Reich was the offensive mastermind!” but Reich himself would tell you that Pederson was on a heater that year. Pederson gave the Eagles a huge edge by being aggressive and going for it in key fourth down situations…such as he did with the Philly Special.
What was really incredible about the Eagles’ Super Bowl success, too, was that they won despite missing a number of key players, including their starting quarterback in Wentz. They won all three of their playoff games as underdogs.
The Eagles obviously never reached that same height again. Getting off to slower starts in 2018 and 2019 didn’t help them. But there was something to be said for how the Birds never crumbled and still found their way to the playoffs by fighting until the end. One could argue the hallmark of a good head coach is how they handle adversity because it’s inevitability going to pop up at some point during the season. And, more often than not, Pederson’s teams were able to navigate those situations.
However, 2020 was the exception. That team had bad vibes from the start of that season. In retrospect, it shouldn’t be a surprise the year was dead on arrival considering how burned out Pederson had looked. He was dealing with a lot of BS behind the scenes that people weren’t always privy to. The heavy-handed influence of (owner) Jeffrey Lurie and Roseman weighed on him. Pederson took a disproportionate amount of blame for the Eagles’ struggles.
Especially when it came to Wentz. There was an idea that Pederson contributed to breaking him, which looks very silly since the quarterback reuniting with Reich with the Indianapolis Colts was supposed to “fix” him and it clearly didn’t. It was said at the time that Wentz was uncoachable and he was hamstringing the Eagles’ offense.
This isn’t to suggest that Pederson was blameless in the Eagles’ downfall. There were concerns about his ability to assemble a top-notch coaching staff following the absences of key contributors (such as Reich, John DeFilippo, etc.). There were concerns about his abilities as an offensive innovator.
Ultimately, though, Pederson didn’t really DESERVE to be fired by Philly. Heck, even Lurie said as much. The reason cited for his dismissal was more about a disagreement on the plan to move forward. The Eagles wanted to take a step back to “transition” while Pederson would’ve been in a position where he needed to “win now” to ensure his job security. It’s a shame it had to end that way, but the disappointing ending hardly takes away from his greatest accomplishment.
2. Would you say Eagles fans mostly remember Pederson in a positive light, as the only coach to bring Philadelphia a Super Bowl championship, or in a negative way after the way things ended? Or is it a bit of mixed feelings? Why?
Brandon: Definitely the former.
At least, that SHOULD be the case.
You said it, he’s the only coach to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Philly. I legitimately never thought that was a moment I’d ever witness in my lifetime. I was totally prepared for it not to happen. I can’t imagine I was alone in feeling that way.
Doug is just a likable dude. He has what I’d refer to as BDE — Big Dad Energy. There are some examples of what I mean in this article.
I expect Doug to get cheers when the Jags come to Lincoln Financial Field in 2022. The good way outweighed the bad.
3. Pederson is tasked with turning around a futile franchise in Jacksonville that is a perennial loser. Why should Jaguars fans be confident he can accomplish this? Why should Jags fans be wary he cannot do this successfully?
Brandon: From the outside looking in, hiring Pederson adds some stability and credibility to the Jags.
At the very least, he’s not going to be an absolute joke like Urban Meyer. He’s not going to hire a strength and conditioning coach accused of racism, for example. He’s not going to go viral for hanging out in a bar. He’s a legitimate professional. These are low bars to clear, to be sure, but this is an important start.
Some of the other things that Pederson brings to the table? He’s obviously demonstrated the ability to scheme and call plays at a high level. He’s a good collaborator and isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of guy. The same can be said for his approach to player personnel; he’s not likely to meddle in that regard. Pederson should be able to foster a locker room with good chemistry, provided the players there aren’t overwhelmingly destructive in that regard.
The concern I have about Pederson isn’t really about Pederson. I suppose it’s possible he runs into a wall where his assistants aren’t good enough and he shows inability to innovate and he over-relies on bad veteran players. But my biggest worry for Pederson is the presence of Shad Khan and Trent Baalke. I don’t need to tell Jags fans that they haven’t been very successful under this ownership. And I probably don’t need to remind them that Baalke played a big part in ousting Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. I’m worried that those two will undercut Pederson and not trust him enough to do what he needs to do. I’m worried that they won’t be able to get him the right talent to work with. I’m worried that he’ll eventually be scapegoated.
Hopefully that won’t be the case. Hopefully Doug can work with Trevor Lawrence and get the Jaguars back on track.
4. How is Pederson’s ability to develop a quarterback? Perhaps the single most important job for Pederson and his staff will be developing and unlocking Trevor Lawrence’s full potential. Do you think he will succeed in that regard?
Brandon: The Eagles put a lot of emphasis on developing Carson Wentz. Their big talking point was that they had Doug Pederson (head coach), Frank Reich (offensive coordinator), and John DeFilippo (quarterbacks coach) on staff and they all had experience playing the position. That setup obviously served the Eagles well early on with Wentz looking like the favorite to win MVP before he suffered major ACL/LCL injuries in December 2017.
It’s hard to parse exactly how much credit Pederson deserves for Wentz’s initial ascent. It’s not like he was working with him every day like Flip was. But Pederson was ultimately in control of an offense that enabled Wentz to thrive. And he was hands-on with Wentz in some aspects, at least; the two used to have a weekly meeting where they would talk about football stuff and non-football stuff.
I would imagine Pederson will circle back to some of the things he did early on in Wentz’s career to help Lawrence. It’s critical that Lawrence proves coachable, though, because that much was a big downfall for Wentz. Wentz was very stubborn and didn’t easily take to being coached hard. Flip gained a reputation for being the “bad cop” while Reich was the “good cop,” likely leaving Pederson in the middle. I can’t speak to Lawrence’s coachability, but perhaps a similar structure to the one that existed earlier in Pederson’s tenure would do him good.
5. You can’t predict the future, but if you had to guess, how do you see Pederson’s tenure playing out in Jacksonville? Do you feel he is the right person for the job?
Brandon: How dare you. I predicted the exact score of Super Bowl LVI! (And also a billion other things that never came true, but don’t worry about that.) I know what I’m talking about!
Cheap plug for The SB Nation NFL Show (where both Rob “Stats” Guerrera and I ranked Pederson as the top head coach hire out of all nine teams, by the way) aside, I lean toward having reservations about Pederson. Again, not so much because of him, but because of the environment there. I just don’t know how someone could give Khan the benefit of the doubt when he’s overseen a season with more than six wins just once since buying the team in 2012.
I do feel like Doug has a chance to help defy expectations. He certainly did as much in Philadelphia. And it’s not like the AFC South is so great that he has these massive roadblocks to success.
I don’t really know what to make of the Jaguars’ ceiling under Pederson. I do feel confident that he raises their floor. It’s not exactly saying much, but Jacksonville won’t be picking No. 1 overall for the third year in a row.
6. Is there anything else Jaguars fans should know about Pederson?
Brandon: I’d just say that he deserves some patience. The issues in Jacksonville appear to go way beyond the head coach. Give him some grace; he’s a likable guy who has the potential to make some good memories for Jacksonville. Or maybe at least get this franchise back on a path to respectability.