Eagles boss Jeffrey Lurie matches Andy Reid's power play with justifiable ultimatum

Michael Silver
Yahoo! Sports

At a time when hundreds of NFL players are losing their jobs, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie stood at a podium Thursday and put his head coach on blast.

Perhaps Lurie, who produced Hollywood films such as "I Love You To Death" and "V.I. Warshawski" and made cameos in "Jerry Maguire" and "Arli$$," was auditioning for a starring role in "The Turk."

Lurie's sharp remarks, especially his characterization of last season's 8-8 record as "unacceptable," and declaration that "substantial improvement" would be needed in 2012 for Andy Reid to receive a contract extension, were significant.

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First, Reid is the NFL's longest-tenured coach, having taken over in Philly before the 1999 season, five years after Lurie bought the team. A lot of younger fans probably don't even remember who the Eagles' coach was before the big guy took over (it was Ray Rhodes), and the thought of seeing someone other than Reid and his omnipresent black shirt roaming the sideline seems surreal.

Secondly, we now know that those of us who bought into last year's "Dream Team" hype were not alone – and that the night sweats that ensued burned more deeply in the owner's box.

Finally, if we were wondering whether Reid's recent personal tragedy might have caused his boss to tread lightly around the grieving father during the 2012 season, that case is officially closed.

Too soon? Hey, that's life in the City of Brotherly Love. Besides, Lurie surely felt it was inappropriately timed when Reid's agent, Bob LaMonte, showed up at Eagles training camp six days after the coach's son, Garrett, was found dead in a Lehigh University dorm room and told reporters that Lurie "has stated again and again, any time that I've been with him, that as long as he's the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles Andy Reid would be his coach."

As leverage plays go, it was decidedly bizarre. Reid has been a successful coach, with a 126-81-1 regular-season record, five NFC championship game appearances and one Super Bowl defeat on his résumé. However, even if Lurie actually said at any time that Reid could stay on endlessly, the owner surely didn't mean it – and surely didn't want such a statement broadcast to the world.

The reality is the Eagles haven't won a championship under Reid and haven't won a playoff game since the 2008 season, while their NFC East rivals just won their second Super Bowl in five seasons with the Giants' Tom Coughlin enduring plenty of job-related insecurity before and during that stretch. With two years remaining on his market-value contract Reid can hardly complain that he's getting the shaft.

Unlike some coaches, Reid can't accuse his owner of failing to spend aggressively in pursuit of on-field excellence. That's what the whole "Dream Team" push was about in the first place.

Even after last season's disappointment, Lurie kept spending, forking over cash to lock up key Eagles (LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Trent Cole) with long-term deals. Now it's on Reid to help guide this talented group to the playoffs, and probably deep into the playoffs – that's just common sense.

To be sure, someone with his track record and strong reputation in league circles would likely have other opportunities were he to lose his job in Philly. Possibly, in Reid's mind, that gives him the power to put his owner in a box.

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This is highly debatable, but let's go with that line of thought for a moment. Even if Reid were in a position to pressure Lurie into giving him an extension, doing it under that backdrop – and doing so publicly, with LaMonte as his henchman – was more reckless than Barry Switzer's, Bill Belichick's or Mike Smith's game-turning fourth-down calls combined.

So yeah, Lurie took offense. He issued a statement refuting LaMonte's coach for life contention the same day it was uttered, and on Thursday he went further, essentially confirming that Reid is on double-secret probation and that, to paraphrase my Cal-loving compadre Adam Duritz, surely this year must be better than the last.

Some may question Lurie's tone and wonder if he erred in applying undue stress on an already charged situation as the real games approach. Those critics are reaching. Reid knows the deal. Neither he nor any of his 31 peers has a lifetime lease on the head coach's headset, and the bottom line is that he'll be judged by the bottom line.

Sometimes, owners like to talk a little public smack to remind the paying customers who's in charge. More often, the boss does so to send a message to his employees – or, in this case, his most highly paid, non-chinstrap-wearing employee – that he is, in fact, the boss.

On Thursday, Lurie could have livened up his media conference by pulling a Clint Eastwood: setting up an empty chair, turning to an invisible Reid and declaring, "I'm not gonna shut up. It's my turn."

Instead, he told Reid, in essence: I'm the decider. And you are coaching for your job.

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