ESPN writer revisits Doug Pederson criticism, but ex-NFL executive not backing away

Did the Eagles make the right choice in picking Doug Pederson as their head coach last year? ESPN’s Ian O’Connor didn’t think so.

O’Connor, a senior writer at ESPN, was among Pederson’s chief critics when it was announced he would take the reins as Eagles coach. Not only did O’Connor write that the decision felt “like a reach,” but he also ranked him behind the Giants’ Ben McAdoo and the Browns’ Hue Jackson, who have a combined record of 1-15 this season.

“Pederson has spent only three years in the league as a coordinator, all under a head coach who is a dominant offensive voice,” O’Connor wrote. “Maybe Pederson has the ‘emotional intelligence’ that owner Jeffrey Lurie is looking for and that Chip Kelly allegedly lacked, and maybe not. But after [Tom] Coughlin pulled out of the chase and McAdoo canceled his second interview, Lurie didn’t have much to choose from and figured Pederson might bring a little Andy Reid football back to the Linc.”

Obviously, O’Connor’s opinion has changed in the nearly two years since he formed it, especially considering that Pederson has  outperformed  Kelly, whom O’Connor ranked as the second-best coaching hire in 2016. Kelly, of course, was fired after just one season with the 49ers.

“Doug’s done a great job,” O’Connor told Philly.com. “I thought [Bill] Belichick to the Patriots in 2000 was a bad idea, so he’s in really good company.”

It’s not as if O’Connor was the only critic of the Eagles’ decision to hire Pederson, Not only did the former Chiefs offensive coordinator lack head-coaching experience in the league, but he wasn’t even Eagles owner Lurie’s first choice after firing Kelly before the 2015 season was  over. I might have drawn a cartoon or two comparing the jovial Pederson to athletic airhead Johnny Bravo.

But now that the high-flying Eagles are 8-1 and Pederson has been mentioned more than once as a serious candidate for the NFL’s Coach of the Year award, it’s interesting to look back at what some critics of Pederson said then, and what they’re saying now.

Football Outsiders editor and ESPN scribe Scott Kacsmar was among those to blast the decision, suggesting at the time that the Eagles would ultimately need to hire a new coach this season.

Kacsmar told Philly.com his initial impression of Pederson came from his very first news conference as Eagles coach, when he awkwardly attempted to explain why the Chiefs took forever on a late touchdown drive against the Patriots during a playoff game in January 2016.

“So there weren’t many positives before Game 1, but through 25 games, I think he’s fine, but still nothing special,” Kacsmar said, adding that unlike Rams coach Sean McVay, Pederson hasn’t blown him away.

“Would I trust him against Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll in a big game? Obviously not, but trust like that is earned with big wins, so we’ll see,” Kacsmar said.

Of course, the loudest critic of Pederson’s hire was former NFL general manager Mike Lombardi. Lombardi, who now works for the Ringer, compared Pederson to former Sixers head coach Roy Rubin, who was fired after just 51 games when his team went 4-47.

“He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL,” Lombardi said of Pederson in September.

“Everybody knows Pederson isn’t a head coach. He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Lombardi added. “When will the Eagles admit their mistake? Will they throw away 2017 by stubbornly sticking to the Pederson Principle?”

Other than defending his comments days later on NBC Sports Philadelphia, Lombardi has largely sidestepped Pederson’s success this season during his weekly appearances on 94.1 WIP, focusing his attention more on the strength of the Eagles as a team and the maturation of quarterback Carson Wentz.

Last Friday, before the Eagles’ matchup against the Denver Broncos, Lombardi conceded that the Eagles have been impressive, but refused to back down from his criticism of Pederson.

“I think he’s exceeded my expectations,” Lombardi told WIP’s Marc Farzetta. “I’m not going to back away from what I’ve said, but I also agree they’re 7-1. I’m not going to run away from this.

“I’ll make a decision at the end of the year after this is over, after we’ve watched all the games. I have a feeling we’ll see it all come out,” Lombardi said on WIP the week before. “You have to admit when you make a mistake. I’ll admit it, but when the time is right. Let’s play out the season, and we’ll see where we are.”

Lombardi did not respond to a request for comment.

Pederson himself had the best response to Lombardi’s comments in late October, when asked by WIP’s Angelo Cataldi after the Eagles’ 33-10 win over the 49ers.

“Who? That’s so far in the past I can’t even remember that,” Pederson joked.