'YOU WON'T hear me talking about this during the season - again, I just hope you can respect that," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said, at one point on Thursday afternoon. It was the most disappointing statement he made during his annual state-of-the-team news conference, which used to be an annual excuse for a long, refreshing nap. No longer.
Lurie had just said he would not even consider giving his coach a contract extension during the season, and he was just about to say that another 8-8 season would not be enough to save Andy Reid's job. The owner publicly put his coach on the clock and, even when someone gave him a chance to take it back, Lurie essentially declined, allowing only this:
"Again, I am not going to make blanket statements. I really wanted to try to explain to you that 8-8 was unacceptable. Yeah, I guess if two-thirds of the team is not playing, there are always exceptions. That was a really unacceptable outcome. I just want to reiterate that."
But it wasn't only that. Any discussion of Reid this summer has been wrapped up in the reality that he just lost his oldest son. It has rallied people to Reid, the man. It has left some wondering, though, about how it might affect the evaluation of Reid, the coach.
The owner cleared that up, emphatically.
"I think he will always have our support," Lurie said. "Everybody in this community, Andy will always have our sympathy and support. But this is a business. You are there to win and win big, and you have to separate the two. All of the analysis will be on Andy Reid the coach."
In all, what Lurie said was not exactly news. It was the fact that he said it out loud - especially the 8-8 business - that made it news. Because, on the one hand, everybody already knew that another lousy season was likely to get Reid fired. On the other hand, though, for Lurie to lay it out so plainly goes against what most people believe is the customary behavior prescribed in "The NFL Owner's Manual."
But Lurie seems not to care. He says, "I think that there is an attempt to be more accessible" by the whole organization, and it comes at his direction, and it includes an evolution in the way that he, himself, has begun to open up.
At the beginning, way back, he had to deal with the carpetbagger-from-Boston thing. Along the way, he felt burned by the "gold standard" episode, in which he believed his words were misconstrued. Throughout, there has been the battle against the notion that the fans care more about winning than he does. The result was a series of press statements, over the years, in which Lurie seemed determined to say as little as possible with as many words as possible.
But that was then. The big change came in the summer of 2009, when the Eagles made the controversial acquisition of Michael Vick. The news conference Lurie held on that day was the most open and honest the man has ever been in public. He emotionally explained how horrified he was by Vick's past involvement in killing dogs, and how conflicted he was by the whole situation. Even if you disagreed with him, you sensed a real person and not just a suit.
Lurie had never shared that way. And if his news conference after the 8-8 season in 2011 was not that, it still was tremendous theater - laying out his disappointment with the entire operation, warning that the strong finish to a lost season might have been "fool's gold" - a direct contradiction of the coaching staff's preferred narrative - and then announcing that Reid was being retained and essentially putting everyone on notice. There was no doubt after that one, no question that something had changed.
Thursday's news conference was more of the same. The things he said about the need for "substantial improvement" clearly put Reid on the spot. As for Vick, he said the team "will go as far as our quarterback play can take us, assuming the rest of our team plays well."
Asked whether Juan Castillo, the controversial defensive coordinator, is the right man for the job, Lurie offered only this: "I don't think it's for me to say. It's really for Andy Reid to say. Those are his calls."
The coach is on the clock, then.
The owner says so.