PHILADELPHIA — Doug Pederson now lives on the water in Jupiter, Fla. A source who has known him for years says Pederson just took delivery of a 38-foot, center-console fishing boat powered by four 400-horsepower engines. Boats like this can reach 80 mph, and they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It’s the kind of boat you buy when you’ve got nothing but fishing in your future.
Pederson won Super Bowl LII just three years ago. His reward: Constant hectoring from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie; catastrophic personnel decisions by analytics-driven general manager Howie Roseman; insubordination and treachery from Carson Wentz, the quarterback Pederson built.
Pederson beat COVID-19 in 2020, then coached an old, injured Eagles team to a 4-11-1 record. He made mistakes. He made outrageous statements. He made an enemy of Wentz, who played so poorly, often in defiance of Pederson’s orders, that he had to bench him in Game 12. Pederson then so badly botched the end of the meaningless season finale that he was accused of losing it on purpose.
These were the actions of a man who didn’t give a damn what anybody thought about his decisions, about what he said, or about what he did.
Certainly, Pederson always wanted to win. But after four years of winning at Lurie’s heel, of winning despite Roseman’s flawed agendas, Pederson coached the 2020 season with disregard for his own future. He didn’t bow to Wentz. He insisted on (finally) hiring his own coaches. He wanted to win right away if he came back for 2021. Lurie disagreed. And so, Pederson was fired.
This did not devastate him.
With two years left on his contract, Lurie still owed Pederson between $8-$12 million, which would bring his career earnings as a head coach to about $20 million. Instead of living at the office, his late nights could now be spent on the water, his early mornings spent at the golf course.
First thing Doug did when he got fired?
He went fishin’.
Saw it coming
People close to Pederson were not surprised at his reaction. They said he was relieved to be shut out of the paranoiac prison the NovaCare complex had become. It had been a long time since Pederson has been his own man.
The last time he’d come close was Jan. 3, 2019. Pederson stood in the tunnel of MetLife Stadium, his Louisiana smile beaming. He’d just beaten the Giants and, with the help of a Cowboys meltdown, he’d won the NFC East.
Pederson that night praised offensive coordinator Mike Groh, his handpicked, embattled offensive coordinator. In 2018, coordinator Frank Reich took the Colts’ head coaching job and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo became the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. Pederson promoted Groh from receivers coach all the way to offensive coordinator.
Groh struggled to handle Wentz and his inflating ego, and injuries hindered Groh’s efforts, but Pederson credited Groh with the Eagles’ four-win surge at the end of 2019 that pushed the Birds back into the playoffs. That story ended sadly: Wentz got injured in the playoff game and the Eagles lost. The next week, Pederson publicly guaranteed that Groh would return for 2020. Less than 24 hours later, Lurie forced Pederson to fire Groh.
That was the beginning of the end. You could smell the saltwater from South Philly.
Rumors of Pederson’s discontent surfaced as teams prepared for free agency and the draft.
In July, I wrote a column that posited that Pederson and/or Roseman might be fired if the Eagles didn’t reach the playoffs in 2020. A former coaching colleague of Pederson’s was asked if he believed they were on the hot seat.
“Howie? Never,” he replied at the time. “Doug? No. He won a Super Bowl. But I don’t think he would be too disappointed if this was his last year.”
He was right.
Lurie and Roseman spent the offseason cobbling together a senior offensive coaching staff around Pederson, but the hodgepodge of voices made things worse. The offense foundered, Wentz regressed, and injuries mounted.
Pederson coached like a man possessed ... by the ghost of Joe Kuharich.
A fourth-down enthusiast, Pederson punted late in overtime and forfeited a chance to win against the Bengals.
He usually has a trick up his sleeve, but his predictable two-point conversion call, and its late delivery to the quarterback, doomed the Birds against the Ravens.
Pederson’s greatest strength in his five seasons as head coach lay in his ability to motivate his team no matter how long the odds. The Eagles and were firmly in the playoff hunt when, asked why Wentz was still starting instead of second-round rookie Jalen Hurts, Pederson said:
“I think, if you get to that spot, where you don’t start him, or you bench him, you’re sending the wrong message to your football team. That the season’s over. That’s a bad message.”
That message, of course, was insanity — or was it? Was Pederson trying to get fired?
Texted that question, Pederson’s former colleague replied: “See?”
Then, The Tank.
In Game 16 against Washington, with the game still winnable, Pederson benched Hurts in the fourth quarter in favor of backup Nate Sudfeld, who quickly made the game not winnable. An Eagles victory would have knocked Washington out of the playoffs and secured the spot for the rival Giants. Instead, the Eagles’ loss secured the No. 6 overall pick, three spots higher than if had they won.
The Tank might have stained Pederson forever.
“I don’t know how he comes back from this,” a longtime Pederson ally said the next day.
No big deal?
Maybe Pederson doesn’t come back from it. Maybe that’s OK.
Six teams needed a head coach when Lurie fired Pederson on Jan. 11. Pederson didn’t get a call. He says he wants to be a head coach again, but it doesn’t sound like he’d sell his soul for the opportunity.
In March, Pederson told NBC Sports Philadelphia that he’s “Seeing what God has in my future, as far as football goes ... I enjoyed my time. I’m just hoping that it’s not over. I feel like I still have some good years ahead of me.”
Good fishin’ years, anyway.
That might not be the worst fate for Pederson. He’s a smart offensive mind, and he’s a fine leader, but people close to him have told me for the past two years that being an NFL head coach is not the be-all, end-all it is for other coaches. Pederson doesn’t need to be The Man, and football doesn’t need to be his life. Pederson spent 14 years on the fringes of pro football as a quarterback. He spent the last 12 years coaching in the NFL. Maybe that’s enough.
Pederson did not respond to a text sent for this story. I’ve known him for 22 years. He’s probably had enough of me, too.
If he never returns to the league, Pederson, 53, would not be the first coach who won a Super Bowl then left the game with tread on his tires. John Madden burned out at 42. Tony Dungy quit at 53. Bill Cowher was 51. Jon Gruden walked away at 45, and it took $100 million to coax him out of the broadcast booth 10 years later.
And none of them likes fishing anywhere near as much as Doug Pederson.