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Reid, Banner give Eagles opposing points of view

The balance of power between Andy Reid and Joe Banner has shifted several times. (Barbara L. Johnston / Staff file photo)
The balance of power between Andy Reid and Joe Banner has shifted several times. (Barbara L. Johnston / Staff file photo)
The balance of power between Andy Reid and Joe Banner has shifted several times. (Barbara L. Johnston / Staff file photo) Gallery: Reid, Banner give Eagles opposing points of view

They are as different as where they chose to vacation this month. Andy Reid, the Eagles' coach, went west, to his hometown of Los Angeles. Joe Banner, the team president, went north, to Martha's Vineyard, a stone's throw from his native Boston.

A mountain of a man, Reid likes the Dodgers and Lakers. He grew up in California playing football and was an offensive lineman in high school, junior college, and at Brigham Young University. He became a Mormon for the woman he loved and dragged her across the country as he climbed his way up the coaching ladder the old-fashioned way - one small, deliberate step at a time - until in 1999 he became head coach of the Eagles.

Bespectacled and slight in stature, Banner likes the Red Sox and the Bruins. He grew up the only son of Jewish parents, in love with sports but always the smallest kid in his class. In a fact he doesn't advertise, Banner spent a year as a goalie on the lacrosse team at Denison, a small private college in the Midwest, and the only job he has ever had in the NFL is basically the one that he has now, helping run the Eagles.

On the surface, they are so different. Despite his public persona, Reid is outgoing and social, while Banner admits he is reserved to the point of being shy. It is impossible to envision them working in concert without issue. But both men insist they get along, and get along well, because of the overriding thing they do have in common.

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    One former Eagles veteran player, who still on occasion filters through the team's practice facility, said the relationship between Reid and Banner is not always so collegial. Someone else within the organization with access to both men said, "They get along good, but they've had some good beefs."

     

    Everything is magnified

    For 11 years, Reid and Banner have worked together, making the crucial decisions that, for better or worse, have led the Eagles to 118 wins, including 10 in the playoffs. They have constructed teams that have won five NFC East titles and have been to the conference championship game five times and the Super Bowl once.

    Neither man is overly generous in divulging the details of the inner workings of their complicated relationship. Both independently insist that they get along, and they point to the longevity of their relationship as proof. If they had internal conflict and strife, they say, they wouldn't still be together.

    Cornerback Sheldon Brown, jettisoned to Cleveland this off-season after eight years in Philadelphia, took a stab at explaining the working relationship of his former bosses.

    "I think Andy's like, 'This is what I need,' and Joe presents it as, 'OK, this is what we have to spend cap-wise.' And then from there, I think Coach Reid says, 'These are the players,' and Joe says, 'OK, well, this is all we offer him.'

    "Now, who runs it? I don't think Andy can override it and say, 'Nah, we're going to give him this, and we'll be in trouble with the cap.' I don't think that's how it is, but I think that's every organization."

    The difference here?

    "It's being in Philly, too," Brown said. "Everything is magnified. Magnified."

    Andrew Brandt worked as a consultant with the Eagles last summer, helping negotiate contracts. He got an inside look at the relationship not just between Reid and Banner, but, when it came to the decision involving signing Michael Vick, the dynamic among Reid, Banner, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.

    "My sense is there was good communication between those three parties," Brandt said. "I thought to some extent with Michael Vick, it was back and forth, with all three of them in conversation. I think that's a positive for the organization, that the three of them communicate as much as they do and as honestly as they do."

     

    No blame

    The genesis of the relationship between Reid and Banner was fairly atypical by NFL standards. The pair had never met until 1999, when Banner and Lurie interviewed Reid, then the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach, for their vacant head coaching job.

    "We didn't know each other at all," Banner said. "I knew about him, but other than the fact I had researched him, trying to figure out who to interview, we had no foundation."

    Reid was the second coaching hire for Banner and Lurie after Ray Rhodes, and Banner said he tried to give Reid confidence in him by not undermining Reid's decisions or second-guessing how he used personnel or how he coached.

    In 2001, after Reid had led the Eagles to their greatest turnaround in franchise history, improving from 5-11 to 11-5, Banner and Lurie promoted him to executive vice president of football operations. It was the beginning of an unprecedented run for the Eagles, culminating with an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX in February 2005.

    Shortly after losing to New England in the Super Bowl, the wheels started to come off. The Eagles' star pickup of 2004, Terrell Owens, asked for a new contract, and the Eagles refused. Owens rebelled during training camp, and Reid made the decision to send him home for a week. The relationship was irreparably fractured, and the Eagles did not recover.

    Reid eventually jettisoned Owens. Donovan McNabb suffered a season-ending injury, and backup quarterback Mike McMahon was ill-equipped to do anything other than play out the year. The Eagles limped to a 6-10 record, their worst since 1999.

    Through that season, Banner said, he looked to Reid for direction on what to do with Owens. Banner's responsibility was to make sure the Eagles followed proper procedures when they fined and disciplined Owens, so if Owens filed a grievance - which he did - the Eagles had their bases covered.

    "We would look to Andy to completely drive what to do, and frankly we - Jeff, [former general manager] Tom [Heckert] - would then just support it," Banner said. "We were not sitting there debating it or critiquing it. It was his understanding of the dynamics of the team, specifics of the situation, the team, T.O. We're all very supportive philosophically of the importance of chemistry and how that affects winning, so we were looking for him to lead us."

    Banner said there was "incredible tension" that season, and everybody was "incredibly frustrated how things were going," but he claimed there was never tension between him and Reid.

    "We weren't trying to blame anybody," Banner said.

     

    From Reid to Banner

    While Banner said he tries not to get caught up in the "roller-coaster ride" of emotions that comes with winning big and losing big, anyone who has seen Banner immediately after a playoff loss knows how seriously, and badly, he takes a season-ending loss. He's virtually inconsolable.

    As the years have passed since the Eagles were in the Super Bowl, a team source said, the balance of power in the front office has shifted away from Reid and back to Banner.

    The Eagles' main decision-makers - Lurie, Banner, Reid, and new general manager Howie Roseman - bend over backward to say that Reid is the one who has final say on all football decisions. It is a fact so frequently stated that it raises a simple question: Is he really?

    Is it really Reid who decides who stays, who goes, and how much a player gets paid? He runs the football operations, but Banner negotiates the contracts and manages the salary cap. When a tough decision has to be made - such as trading Donovan McNabb, releasing Brian Westbrook, or not re-signing Brian Dawkins - is it really Reid who makes the decision?

    "If you ask me who's running the show, I'd say Joe Banner, without question," said a team source who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. "All along, Joe's the boss. Jeffrey's the owner, Joe's the boss. Everybody knows that.

    "When Andy first came here, he had the power. We were winning. It was like a shared type of thing. But guess what? Joe's got all the power again, and that's it."

    When Eagles general manager Tom Heckert, Reid's righthand man for nine years on player personnel issues, left for the same job in Cleveland, and Howie Roseman, Banner's protege, became GM, it created an appearance that Banner had usurped Reid.

    That appearance doesn't reflect reality, Reid and Banner insist.

    "One of the biggest fallacies out there is that Joe and I are two separate identities," Reid said. "We really are more joined at the hip. We talk so many times a day. Howie is involved in that, too. But from the time I've been here, Joe and I talk. We throw it all out on the table, and I trust him, and he trusts me. It doesn't last this long without that.

    "So he explains to me the contract. He goes through every detail with me, and we kind of set up a game plan going in, and then we try to execute it. So we both have a say, then we keep it very open. He's not afraid to share his opinion with me, and I'm not afraid to share my opinion with him."

     

    All on board

    Banner acknowledged that the Eagles' setup is unique and insisted that he and Reid hardly ever disagree.

    "I wouldn't believe this if I wasn't here, but [disagreements are] so rare," Banner said. "In the end, we have different people in different areas, but if we're talking about a football decision, Andy decides what to do, and that's what we do. And once we make that kind of decision, we're all on board, just like any good organization."

    Reminded that running a professional sports franchise, particularly one with a 53-man active roster, is a complicated endeavor, Banner didn't flinch.

    "In the end, [Reid] is the one responsible for integrating all the different issues . . . and deciding what we should do. "

    Banner said he's surprised how little real conflict there is.

    "First of all, we have an underlying philosophy about the type of people, the way we play, the approach we take to contracts and salary issues. Once you have this guiding philosophy about how to do things, the room to have a lot of disparity of opinions is more limited, because you're kind of making decisions in a context."

    Like Reid's philosophy of building a team inside out (linemen first, then skill players). Or Lurie's insistence, usually, of having only high-character players on the roster. Or the team always wanting to develop quarterbacks, be it starters or backups.

    "A lot of the room for the kind of disagreement that may exist in other franchises - I don't even know, although I hear stories all the time - are kind of limited by this group of guiding principles, about which we're not absolute, but they are guiding principles," Banner said. "But in the instances where there isn't a consensus . . . where at least in the debate maybe there are different views, Andy decides, and that's what we do, and then we're all on board with the decision."

    Lurie dismisses the notion there is conflict between Reid and Banner.

    "They get along really well. There's no question about it," he said. "They're two different personalities that seem to really respect each other. When I'm with one of them alone, I often hear how much they respect the other person. So it's nice for me. I don't have to constantly manage for people to get along."

    Others within the organization insist that Lurie wouldn't stand for having a coach constantly banging heads with the team president - or the owner - over every issue.

    "They will never hire Bill Cowher. They would never hire Mike Holmgren," said one longtime employee, the one who was aware of the occasional beefs between Reid and Banner.

    This same employee said that what irritates Reid the most is when he is surprised by something Banner says publicly. But he reiterated that he hadn't heard Banner getting the worst of any internal debates.

    "Joe's the guy." he said. "Case closed."

    But again, nothing is simple here. Nobody denies that Reid is in the upper tier of NFL head coaches in terms of how much authority he has picking his roster.

    Reid made it clear that in his mind, whatever people think of the relationship between him and Banner, the truth is much simpler.

    "I think people try to plot. They think I'm against Joe or Joe's against me," Reid said. "It can't be that way. It can't last this long if it were that way."

    And to those who suggest Banner and Reid can't stand each other, consider this: Two winters ago, they vacationed in Anguilla together. Of course, they didn't plan it. It just turned out that way.

    But they had dinner together, nonetheless. Twice.

    "There's enough of a friendship that yes, we do that," Banner said.

     


    Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

    at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

    Ashley Fox and Mike Jensen Inquirer Staff Writers
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