Doug Pederson and Adam Gase met and spoke at the start of Eagles-Dolphins joint practice on Monday, but it would be the last time the head coaches crossed paths at the NovaCare Complex.
As offensive play callers, Pederson and Gase worked on opposite fields against each team’s respective defense. While they may not have faced off against each other, per se, it was difficult to not look at the coaches, make comparisons, and wonder, What if?
The Eagles interviewed Gase before the Dolphins, after all.
“It was them and then I had three other interviews,” Gase said. “By the end of the week they were still in the interview process and then I got offered the job here.”
So the Eagles didn’t offer a second interview?
“I’m not saying that,” Gase said.
Another meeting was tendered, but Gase still had interviews scheduled with the Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, and New York Giants, and the Eagles had yet to meet with three coaches – Pederson, Ben McAdoo and Tom Coughlin – on their list.
But if Jeffrey Lurie wanted Gase – or if the then-Bears offensive coordinator, in turn, wanted the Eagles – a deal would have been struck either after the initial interview or after the candidate had met with all four prospective teams.
Nevertheless, Gase wasn’t hired and the Eagles could say they got their man in Pederson and he could say the Dolphins were his top choice. It’s too early to say who made the right choice, but over a year later an argument could be made that there should have been more of a mutual attraction.
While a straight-up comparison of Pederson and Gase would be premature at this juncture, the latter’s arrival in Philadelphia this week does allow for a certain accounting of Pederson as he heads into his second season.
Pederson’s first season was by no means a complete failure. A 3-0 start fizzled into a 4-9 finish, and there were dubious game management and play-calling decisions as the season progressed, but he had a rookie quarterback, mass losses on the offensive line, and virtually no outside receiving help.
It was clear at the end of the season that Pederson needed more time to implement his culture, develop quarterback Carson Wentz and scheme with actual weapons on the outside. And that opinion shouldn’t change months later because his offense struggled in the first two preseason games.
Gase’s offense hasn’t looked so hot either. But his first season in Miami does afford him more leeway, especially as he incorporates quarterback Jay Cutler into the system after Ryan Tannehill’s knee surgery.
A year ago, Gase took over a 6-10 team, flipped its record and reached the playoffs. The Dolphins finished well behind the Patriots in the AFC East and they were easily bumped in first round, but Gase had turned his franchise’s fortunes, and did so with a plateauing quarterback and his backup for the last four games.
When Gase interviewed with the Eagles, Mark Sanchez was the only quarterback they had under contract for 2016. They would eventually re-sign Sam Bradford and draft Wentz, but it would be understandable if Gase — the noted quarterback guru – had preferred Miami’s situation to that of the Eagles.
What about now? Tannehill’s season is over, and when he returns for next season, he’ll be a 30-year-old coming off anterior cruciate ligament surgery. The knee and the age aren’t necessarily big deals, comparatively speaking, but how many quarterbacks his age suddenly become elite?
The 34-year-old Cutler is beyond that point, but he had his best NFL season with Gase in Chicago, and the Dolphins shouldn’t lose much under center. Gase would clearly prefer stability, but he has made his name on having success with a variety of quarterbacks – from Peyton Manning to Tim Tebow – because of his ability to scheme to his players.
“It’s just an easy system to make some adjustments,” Gase said.
Gase’s offense is his own, but it is versatile because the foundation isn’t from one philosophy or one coach. He cribbed from mentors Mike Martz, Steve Mariucci, and Josh McDaniels and took what he liked best from base systems – Air Coryell, West Coast, Erhardt-Perkins – they ran.
“Every year it’s a little bit different,” Eagles defensive coordinator Schwartz said of Gase’s scheme. “I think that’s the sign of a good coach. … What he did in Denver is a little bit different than what he did in Chicago, and it’s a little bit different than what you see here.”
But Gase is more than an offensive innovator. He has a little of Chip Kelly in him, in that he is cerebral and doesn’t suffer fools, but Dolphins players on both sides of the ball have gushed about his relatability. The Miami reporters who cover him daily say the same.
The podium isn’t a problem for Gase. He appears to be as comfortable divulging information as he is withholding it — when necessary. If he needs to talk up a player, he will use the public forum. If he needs to do the opposite — however rare – he’ll do the same.
Pederson’s transition to front man hasn’t been as smooth, but he was amiable – at least initially – and the public was generally willing to overlook any clumsiness. But he has been less candid and occasionally more combative.
A year ago, he announced every injury at the top of his pressers – a la Andy Reid – and now he may only describe one – in hockeyese — as “lower body.” Whether he’s just adopting his own style or listening to the advice of others in the building, Pederson isn’t playing to his strengths.
His gregarious personality was, in part, why Lurie hired him. And not just because it would play in the locker room.
But, ultimately, Pederson must show progress this season. He doesn’t have the Gase’s cushion. On paper, the Eagles should improve. There have been encouraging signs. But what if they don’t?