With Reid doing things his way, Eagles just might have their day

Coach's style has Philly one win from Super Bowl

Nfl Playoffs

January 16, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Andy Reid's tight grip on the Philadelphia Eagles was never more apparent than during the six games that quarterback Donovan McNabb missed with a fractured fibula this season.

Reid didn't bemoan the loss of his franchise quarterback, or try to minimize it. The Eagles coach just didn't mention it. At least not more than once.

Reid coaches with blinders on. It doesn't matter as much who lines up, as long as they line up where they're supposed to.

It was that next-game-only mentality that helped the Eagles - seemingly doomed once McNabb went out - capture the top seed in the NFC playoffs. They won five of those six games, four with third-string quarterback A.J. Feeley.

Now the Eagles are one game away from San Diego and the 37th Super Bowl. When they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Veterans Stadium in the NFC championship game, history will be on their side.

Philadelphia has won four straight against the Bucs, including two in the postseason, and the NFC's home team has won seven of the past nine championship games. Plus, Tampa Bay has a history of playing poorly in cold weather.

Reid doesn't believe in history, though.

"I think it's very important that you come out and play each game as its own separate game," he said in a news conference this week. "If you start banking on what you did in the past, then you have problems. You have to come out and prepare like this is the first time you've gone to battle against these guys."

That is Reid's way of cautioning the Eagles on the risk of overlooking the Bucs. And when Reid speaks, the Eagles listen.

This was a 3-13 team when he arrived in January 1999 as an obscure quarterbacks coach from the Green Bay Packers. The big catches in the coaching pool that year were Mike Holmgren, who went to Seattle, and Brian Billick, who came to Baltimore. Billick was the first - and only coach of the group, so far - to win a Super Bowl.

Reid achieved a dramatic makeover in short order. His first team went 5-11, but the Eagles followed that with a pair of 11-5 years and this season went 12-4 to take their second straight NFC East title. They've gone to the playoffs the past three years, but this is the first time they've held the No. 1 seed since the Super Bowl began. It earned Reid Coach of the Year honors this season.

In his retirement in Annapolis, ex-Packers general manager Mike Wolf knows the Eagles' success comes back to Reid.

"He's a tireless worker," Wolf said. "There isn't anything that he leaves to chance. He's an insomniac. He doesn't sleep. He's very good at what he does."

Reid was an assistant under Holmgren in Green Bay from 1992 through 1998. Also on Holmgren's staff, from 1992 to 1994, was Jon Gruden.

"Both of us were kind of early birds," Reid said. "We really just went in there to do work, and we developed a nice friendship and talked a lot of football and enjoyed that part of it. I don't think there was a competition whether I can beat this guy in [to the office]."

Sunday, they will match wits and offensive strategies. Both head coaches call plays. But their styles of coaching and their teams are polar opposites.

Reid is low-key and unpretentious, while Gruden is high-profile and provocative. Reid runs a tight ship; his team never trash talks or makes waves. The Bucs come roaring at you.

Which is not to say that Reid is a conservative coach. With the Eagles backed up at their 3-yard line in last week's NFC semifinal against the Atlanta Falcons, Reid called pass plays for McNabb on three of his first five plays, even though McNabb hadn't played in eight weeks.

Then in the fourth quarter, protecting a 13-6 lead, Reid called a short hitch route on fourth-and-one at the Atlanta 35. McNabb teamed with James Thrash for a clinching 35-yard touchdown.

"Andy's his own guy," Eagles wide receiver Antonio Freeman (Poly) said. "He sticks by what he believes in and how he can utilize the guys on this football team. He had enough confidence in Donovan to let him make that fourth-and-one call."

NFL playoffs

Sunday's games

NFC championship

Tampa Bay (13-4) at Philadelphia (13-4), 3 p.m.

TV: 45, 5.

Line: Phila. by 4.

AFC championship Tennessee (12-5) at Oakland (12-5), 6:30 p.m.

TV: 13, 9.

Line: Oak. by 7 1/2 .

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