When the 2011 season came to a merciful end, owner Jeffrey Lurie made it clear that 8-8 was not an acceptable record for a team with championship aspirations like the Eagles. Then he said Andy Reid would remain as head coach.
In case anyone misunderstood, Lurie confirmed his opinion of an 8-8 record on Thursday night during his annual state-of-the-team news conference before the Eagles finished their exhibition season against the Jets. He used that word again: unacceptable.
So unacceptable that if it happens again in 2012, the only thing Lurie will be accepting is Reid's resignation. Now, there's a change.
That was the headline for the evening, and considering what usually comes out of these appearances, it was a fairly definitive one. Lurie said he didn't want to make blanket statements - having made one - and that all decisions will be arrived at calmly and analytically after the season, but he also said the four magic words when asked if another 8-8 season would be good enough to keep Reid as coach.
"No, it would not," Lurie said.
That might become a semantic point to pick apart at a later date, or it might become moot if the Eagles actually play to their apparent potential this season, but it was interesting, and it was in keeping with Lurie's general theme. He is in charge.
Lurie lost none of his organizational leverage when his divorce was finalized. He lost none of his ownership compass when the team parted ways with longtime president Joe Banner. He empathizes with what Reid has been going through in his own personal life. But the game is about winning.
"There will be no change whatsoever going forward," Lurie said. "It's always been my decision. I'm a good listener, and I surround myself with good people, but this is a very, very subjective decision, and I've always been the one to make it. Whether [it is] hiring, changing, whatever, all those are mine."
Lurie said he wouldn't be talking again about the coach's contract status - which extends through the 2013 season - and regardless of what Reid's agent, Bob LaMonte, suggested, there isn't a tacit agreement in place that makes Reid coach for life.
"There has never been a situation where I would make a commitment which is not philosophically consistent with what I've always done, which to try to be analytical and stand back and make judgments," Lurie said.
Well, that settles that. Reid won't coach forever, and Lurie will be the one who decides when the expiration date has arrived. If that seems obvious, then what is really interesting is that Lurie felt a need to say it. That is how large a shadow Reid casts over the football operation - seriously, no stature reference intended - and how difficult it has become to imagine the Eagles without him.
Lurie can apparently imagine it, however, and he can imagine it as soon as the end of this season if the Eagles stink up the joint again.
"Andy will always have our sympathy and support, but this is a business, and you are there to win and win big," Lurie said. "And you have to separate the two. All of the analysis will be on Andy Reid the coach."
Which brings up how Reid survived the analysis that followed last season. The team got off to a 4-8 start, and while there were a number of reasons for that failure, one of the main ones was that Reid tried too many changes too quickly in a year when the implementation of those changes was hampered by a lockout. He goofed, and he goofed badly.
"I do think, with good intentions, there was a lot to be integrated," Lurie said. "I think there was a combination of decisions that probably weren't maximized in terms of a season that had no offseason."
And yet Reid, a veteran coach who should have known better, was able to stick around.
"I [was] looking at the 2012 season, and what these players could do, and who could maximize Michael Vick the best, and what kind of leadership we needed," Lurie said. "And that was what a lot of it was regarding."
So, there's the answer. The answer is that 2012 will decide about Reid. It will decide about Vick. It will decide if Lurie pivots the organization in a new direction for the first time since he removed Ray Rhodes after the 1998 season.
That's a long time between having to make that kind of decision. It encompasses a lot of offseason analyses, always without a championship to savor. It covers a lot of miles that have been traveled, none of which went down Broad Street amid ticker tape.
"It's a big emptiness," Lurie said. "It's almost all I think about."
One more season like the last and he'll have plenty to think about.