Updated: Wednesday, February 7, 2018, 4:30 PM
Well, it is obvious now, in that way hindsight is just as reliable as prediction is faulty, that the two long-awaited championship parades of Philadelphia’s recent sporting history were destined to have Charlie Manuel and Doug Pederson riding on the prow of the great ships that navigated the teeming, delirious sea of Broad Street.
The Phillies’ route in 2008 went south to the stadium, and the Eagles will be moving in the other direction on Thursday before taking a turn and heading toward the iconic, and somewhat overused, steps of the Art Museum. The paths are different, but the celebration of victory after decades of denial is pretty much the same, and both came with Everyman as unheralded captain of the journey.
In the case of Manuel, unlike Pederson this season, there were real expectations of success. He had a star-laden team, but there was doubt in his ability to mastermind the thing, even for a game in which strategy doesn’t extend far beyond the double switch.
Manuel was hired by the Phillies as a special assistant to the general manager in 2003, a move that coincided with the free-agent signing of his good friend Jim Thome. The slugger had chosen the Phillies – and their six-year, $85 million offer – over a number of other suitors, and Manuel’s hiring was part of that decision. It gave Thome a buddy in the organization and an advocate in the front office and it gave Manuel, who had just been fired by Cleveland, a place to hang his hat. If anyone thought much more of the transaction than that, it wasn’t apparent at the time.
Two years later, however, the Phillies fired Larry Bowa, whose white-hot filament had burned through the clubhouse, and put the folksy Manuel back on the field to calm things. This was not a move that was universally applauded, particularly since the list of those who interviewed for the job included Jim Leyland, Buddy Bell, Don Baylor, and former manager Jim Fregosi.
Leyland, who was ready to end a hiatus from managing, was especially intriguing. He was already a two-time manager of the year and an unquestioned genius in his strategic feel for the game. But Leyland also demanded a strong say in roster decisions and general manager Ed Wade apparently preferred a more pliant partner. Manuel ambled down from the front office, put on the uniform and was about to make history – although his doubters were legion.
The reception for Pederson’s hiring before the 2016 season by the Eagles wasn’t much different. He was seen as an organizational antacid after three years of internal discomfort from Chip Kelly’s smug, autocratic reign. Pederson brought with him not only previous ties to the franchise but also a strong bond to the gospel of Andy Reid. If it was pablum, at least it was familiar pablum.
The Eagles interviewed five other candidates, including Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo, who would get head-coaching jobs elsewhere; incumbent offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who just replaced the unsuccessful McAdoo with the Giants; former Giants coach Tom Coughlin, a two-time Super Bowl winner; and running backs coach Duce Staley. At least on resume and expectation, it would have been charitable to rank Pederson somewhere in the middle of that pack.
Pederson, like Manuel, was fine with occupying only the role for which he was hired. There would be no pushback against Howie Roseman’s front-office decisions. He would coach what he got and bring “emotional intelligence” to the job, in the much-chided words of owner Jeffrey Lurie. It was a nice endorsement, but as much a shot at Kelly, who had managed to alienate the entire locker room with his dopey, distant methods.
What would really happen with Pederson and the Eagles, as with Manuel and the Phillies, was anybody’s guess.
The true genius of both guys was hidden from the outside world by personalities that appeared befuddled in one case and bland in the other. The book-by-the-cover judging was wildly inaccurate, at least to the ones who mattered most, and that was the baseball and football players who watched their new leaders closely and decided they liked them.
Sometimes, it is as simple as that. Am I going to want to do the work for this guy? Am I going to believe he won’t waste that work? Am I going to the wall for him?
Pederson and Manuel both played at the highest level of their sports, which helped forge those connections, but neither was a star, which might have helped even more. Manuel, a role player and pinch-hitter, had just 384 career at-bats in the major leagues. Pederson, rarely a starter and never for long, completed just 286 passes in 10 NFL seasons.
Those experiences gave them a perspective and a humanity that players, who can quickly sniff out a phony, understood was genuine. Even though Manuel occasionally made a head-scratching move, and Pederson arrived with some doubt he had ever called a game above the high school level, what mattered in the end was that the teams followed when they led.
Manuel led the Phillies to only their second World Series title, and the first in 28 years. On Sunday, Pederson led the Eagles to their lone Super Bowl victory and their first NFL championship in 57 years. A lot of managers and coaches had tried and failed to finish those jobs, many of them with better claims to professional greatness.
It turned out to be Manuel and Pederson at the front of the parades, however. For a city that can easily accept a hero that looks like the rest of us, the celebrations were a lot easier to enjoy than predict.