BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Doug Pederson was surrounded by a group of reporters in the Philadelphia Eagles’ locker room on Sunday night, his voice loud and confident, blazing with elation.
He had just one more question left to answer, mercifully, before he could re-join the Super Bowl celebration, one more question before he could share the moment with the group of men who now revere him following their thrilling 41-33 victory over the defending champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
And as the gaggle of reporters each yelled their questions out, hoping to get the last one in, Pederson turned to his left and chose to answer a question from Kansas City. It was about his mentor, Andy Reid, and on a night he’d been asked everything under the sun, he couldn’t let the highlight of his professional career end without a word on the man he lovingly calls his mentor. Reid counts Pederson as one of seven NFL coaches who once learned under him.
“He obviously gave me the ability to lead and be myself,” said Pederson, a former NFL quarterback who joined Baltimore’s John Harbaugh as the members of Reid’s coaching tree to win Super Bowls as head coaches. “He taught me a lot through playcalling and the different things that have allowed us to be successful. He’s been a big mentor for me.”
Reid was quick to congratulate Pederson via text following his win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 21, and with good reason. Back when he was the Philadelphia Eagles’ coach, Reid first hired Pederson as an offensive quality control coach in 2009, and promoted him to quarterbacks coach a few years later. Pederson eventually served as Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City from 2013-15.
What’s more, in the months leading up to Pederson’s hire as the Eagles’ head coach in January 2016, Reid empowered Pederson by giving him more input in the offensive game plan, giving Pederson an important play-calling checkmark in an area all owners want their head coaches to have.
On Sunday, the aggressive approach that Pederson learned under Reid paid off in a big way, as he made two fourth-down calls that led to touchdowns in one of the all-time greatest Super Bowl shootouts.
“Doug Pederson is unbelievable,” Eagles tight end Brent Celek said. “The play-calling, man. Tonight he let loose.”
Particularly late in second quarter, when Pederson — whose Eagles were nursing a three-point lead — had the guts to not only eschew a field-goal attempt, but also call an end-around pass from tight end Trey Burton to quarterback Nick Foles on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. That touchdown put the Eagles ahead by 10 at the break instead of six.
“That play, we’ve been working on it for the last couple of weeks, and we just needed the right time, right opportunity,” Pederson said. “The guys executed it brilliantly.”
The additional four points that resulted from that play-call made a difference at the end of the game, when the Patriots had the ball back at their own 25 with a little over two minutes left. Instead of trailing by one, New England trailed by five, which meant they needed a touchdown, not a field goal.
In turn, the Patriots opened up their play-calling, and star quarterback Tom Brady was strip-sacked by Brandon Graham. The Eagles then kicked a field goal that extended their lead to eight and held on for the upset.
“He told us last night he was going to be aggressive, that he wasn’t going to change for anybody,” Eagles tackle Lane Johnson said of Pederson. “We came out and, hey, he had some good calls on fourth down. … That’s how it was. Crazy.”
Pederson showed similar confidence following the Eagles’ season-ending injury to quarterback Carson Wentz in early December following a win over Los Angeles.
“We had such an awesome win, it’s the biggest win of the year, and we lost Carson,” defensive end Chris Long said. “We came into the meeting room and Doug just erased any doubt that anything was going to change. That’s a leader.”
But the same aggression that has both endeared Reid to Chiefs fans (via Hungry Pig Right), and angered them (via their pass-first nature in the recent wild-card loss to the Titans), was not all that Pederson learned from Reid.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s game, Pederson’s coaches and players practically lined up to mention how much they appreciate the way he leads them. Chiefs players speak the same way about Reid.
“I think when people are smart and they know how to treat people, it makes things so much easier,” defensive line coach Chris Wilson said.
“I love Coach Pederson,” veteran receiver Alshon Jeffery said. “He is awesome. He is a great guy to me, him and his staff. Best staff I have been around.”
Former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, who is now Philadelphia’s executive of football operations for player development, told The Star on Sunday that there are indeed some similarities between Reid and Pederson.
“The way that they try to attack you from a lot of different angles, a lot of different personnel groupings,” Dawkins said. “They both are aggressive.”
Dawkins also pointed to some differences between the two, at least as it related to Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia.
“He’s in favor of the run more than Andy,” Dawkins said of Pederson. “There would be times where Andy would just let it ride when it comes to throwing the football. And I think Doug has shown that he would lean on the run a little bit more. Even when it’s not being productive, he’ll find different ways to run the ball, but still stay with it.
“And the other thing is, probably, the time-management part of things. Doug relies on individuals to help him. They do a great job of helping him out.”
To be fair, neither issue has been a major problem during Reid’s tenure with the Chiefs. He has generally been good at clock management, and the Chiefs have ranked 20th in passing-play percentage since Reid’s arrival in 2013.
On Sunday, as Pederson started to head toward the door, he took time to answer a final question about Reid before disappearing into a mass of fans, friends and family.
Had he heard from his mentor yet?
“Not yet — I haven’t had time to check my phone,” Pederson said. “But I will.”
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