There was a point during Jeffrey Lurie's press conference today where I thought he might actually shock the world and fire Andy Reid.
"This season was without question the most disappointing season since I’ve owned the team," Lurie said.
He used words like anger and frustration and unacceptable and dismal and unfathomable.
But eventually, Lurie explained that he had gone through his evaluation process and determined that Reid is the best coach to lead the Eagles going forward.
"Is this the right coach next year to maximize the talent we have and the opportunity we have?" Lurie asked. "And for our fans, it’s really a very confident yes in my opinion. He’s got all the ingredients to take the team to the playoffs and take them far."
That's really all it comes down to. This is the 13th straight offseason Lurie has had to ask himself the same questions about the coach he hired back in 1999. And while perhaps the decision was more difficult this time around, he came to the same conclusion.
Throughout the press conference, Lurie did his best to not make excuses for 2011. He didn't use the lockout, the shortened offseason or the team's "young" players as reasons for the Eagles' failures. Lurie even acknowledged that the four-game winning streak at the end of the season wasn't exactly against the league's stiffest competition.
At one point, he was asked the question that every player in the Eagles' locker room and every coach on the Eagles' coaching staff has had to answer: Why? Why did a team that won the division last year and added talent come up so small?
His response was probably the most telling of the entire press conference.
"I think maybe there was a miscalculation in terms of implementing big scheme changes in a lockout situation," Lurie said. "To me, I don't know why, I would've thought we would've been able to, during the abbreviated training camp and preseason, adapt to some of those schematic changes. They were bold changes, but clearly the team was not jelling and maximizing those scheme changes in the first half of the year. That’s one that comes to mind right away.
I would hold everybody accountable that's responsible for the scheme changes, yet there’s a payoff once it takes effect and you jell and have it. I think we saw tremendous benefits in the two lines, offensive and defensive, as the season went on and we will benefit from that as we go forward. But the first half of the season, it’s just ridiculously unacceptable to have a fourth-quarter lead and blow all those games. And if we just blew one less game, we’d be playing Atlanta next week, so that’s where it’s at."
That would seem to be a direct indictment of Reid, the man who hand-picked Juan Castillo and added Jim Washburn and Howard Mudd to his staff. At the same time, Lurie seems to legitimately believe the Eagles got better as the season went on and can compete for a Super Bowl next season without making a lot of changes. He made it clear that Castillo's future is in Reid's hands.
"Was he [Castillo] put into a situation where he couldn’t succeed early in the season? That’s for all of us to have answers to," Lurie said.
I wrote about this last week, but it bears repeating. Castillo's failure is Reid's failure. He's the one who decided to hand the defense over to someone who had never done the job before.
At this point, I'm not sure that Reid has even decided on Castillo yet. If he's going to replace him, Reid needs to have a logical successor in mind. You don't just fire Castillo and begin a prolonged search like you did after letting McDermott go last season. If you want Steve Spagnuolo and are certain you can get him, that's when you make the move.
Howeve, Lurie did acknowledge that making Castillo the defensive coordinator last offseason was not Reid's first option.
"He [Reid] made a list of all the top people he was looking at to replace Sean McDermott as defensive coordinator and things happen, circumstances happen, changes don't happen on other teams, certain coaches aren’t available," Lurie said. "And he became very, very interested in Juan because he knew what he could accomplish. Whether he could accomplish it fast enough was an interesting question, and he didn't. The whole team didn't, in terms of early in the season. The second half of the season, what was it? A 6-2 record? And regardless of the competition, you’re playing."
The final point to ponder is this: Will it be Super Bowl or bust for Reid next season?
"Every year, the goal is to win the Super Bowl," Lurie said. "I think we’ll let the process play out. There’s no ultimatums. That’s our goal, and every year that’s the plan."
Post-2012 seems like a natural breaking point. Reid will only have one year left on his contract, and the team can part ways with Michael Vick if it chooses.
But I'm not ready to say it's definitely Super Bowl or bust. Lurie clearly has a fondness for Reid and a unique relationship with his coach. Reid could be back in 2013 and beyond, even if he doesn't win a Super Bowl. If the Eagles make the NFC championship in 2012, could Reid be back? What if they suffer a bunch of injuries, win the NFC East and make it to the divisional round of the playoffs? Reid could still return to give it another shot in 2013.
Overall, Lurie's strategy today was clear: Don't make excuses, voice frustration and disappointment over the team's failings in 2011, and do your best to explain to the masses why Reid is getting another chance.
The rest is now up to the head coach: Make a decision on Castillo, and start taking whatever other steps you deem necessary to make a run in 2012.