The ever-evolving Philadelphia Eagles power structure has taken new form, with owner Jeffrey Lurie becoming more hands on than ever since buying the team in 1994.
League sources say Lurie has taken a more active approach to leadership, particularly since ousting Chip Kelly as head coach in December 2015. Whether it is personnel decisions, coaching matters or day-to-day operations, there have been instances in which Lurie has demonstrated a higher level of involvement.
Lurie is working with an inexperienced coach in Doug Pederson during a time of transition for the team. There is more opportunity -- and you could argue, more of a need – for a guiding hand.
Lurie recently turned 65 and is said to be shocked and pained that the franchise has not won a Super Bowl during his time as steward. It is fair to say the sense of urgency is as high as it has ever been.
Given those factors, it is not surprising that Lurie has become a more proactive owner. The Eagles and Lurie declined comment for this story.
The most recent example of Lurie's increased level of involvement occurred days after the regular season ended. The New York Jets requested permission to interview Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo for their vacant offensive coordinator position. According to a league source, Lurie stepped in and denied the Jets permission, preventing Pederson from granting the request as his mentor, former Eagles coach Andy Reid, typically had done.
Last offseason, sources say, the decision to re-sign quarterback Sam Bradford was driven by Lurie, who has been outspoken about the need to invest heavily in the position.
In December, Pederson revealed another way in which Lurie is more involved. Asked whether Lurie and Howie Roseman, the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations, had expressed the standard by which they were evaluating his performance, Pederson responded by telling reporters he met weekly with Lurie and Roseman, “and we discuss a lot of things and go over a lot of things, and every week it’s very positive.” Lurie traditionally has huddled with his head coaches immediately after games for quick macro discussions – and continues to do so with Pederson -- but holding an in-depth weekly meeting is a new practice.
The seeds of change were planted not long after Reid was fired in 2012 following 14 mostly successful seasons as the Eagles’ head coach. The power vacuum once occupied by Reid and then-team president Joe Banner was filled by Kelly and Roseman. That pairing quickly proved to be toxic. The degree to which Lurie realized this became apparent following the regular-season finale against the New York Giants in 2014, when Lurie responded to a question about whether Roseman would be back as general manager by saying: “Is that a question? Yes.”
Days later, Kelly aggressively campaigned to push Roseman out of the personnel side and take control himself. Lurie acquiesced. The move proved disastrous.
Kelly, who strongly advocated for the release of DeSean Jackson a season earlier, ramped up the personnel overhaul, including trading away one of the league’s premier backs in LeSean McCoy and cutting All-Pro offensive lineman Evan Mathis amid a contract squabble. The growing rift between Kelly and many within the organization came to a head as the 2015 season wore on, and Kelly was fired with a game left to play.
Many inside the building were made to feel alienated during the Kelly years, including to a degree, Lurie, himself, according to a league source. Lurie reportedly told confidantes in the final days of Kelly’s employment that he wanted to “take back the team.”
Now, it is pretty clear he has.
“He’s at practice almost every day,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said recently. “I’ve been here three years so I don’t know what it used to be, but he’s a pretty hands-on owner. He’s here every day – a lot different than with me coming from New Orleans where Mr. Benson is a little bit older, didn’t know all the players; he was around but very little interaction – where Mr. Lurie is pretty involved.”
“I think Mr. Lurie, he’s very visible, he’s almost at everything,” quarterback Chase Daniel said, “and guys really like that.”
Lurie has been a steady presence with the Eagles in his more than 20-plus years as the team’s chairman and CEO. He has built a reputation as an owner who will provide an abundance of resources for the team and his head coach, while cultivating quality relationships within the staff and with players.
“He supports the players. He’s around, he’s personable. Any player that wants to go talk to him, they can and there’s not that intimidating factor between ownership and players,” Jenkins said. “He’s built a pretty good environment here for the Eagles.”
Lurie long has been involved in the oversight of the operation, including, as well, during Reid’s years as coach. But the potency of personality and clear definition of roles during that span made the lines more clear.
Now, the dynamics have shifted.
Lurie watched as Reid allowed the likes of assistants Steve Spagnuolo and Ron Rivera to leave for more prominent jobs. Making a ruling to keep a valued coach as he did with quarterbacks coach DeFilippo – the man who works most closely with Carson Wentz, the team’s possible future franchise quarterback -- can be viewed as a move in the best interest of the franchise, by a man who has the benefit of experience. Lurie has seen plenty of turnover and instability in his front office, on his coaching staff and in his locker room, and might be inclined to take measures to slow the bloodletting – especially now that he is more in-tune with the inner-workings .
While Lurie’s involvement has not been met with any notable resistance, it does come with potential dangers. By inserting himself more into the decision-making process, Lurie runs the risk of blurring the chain of command while navigating waters outside of his expertise.
But, this is the current structure of Lurie’s choosing. An owner ultimately decides who will be in positions of power and how that power will be distributed. In this case, he has given himself a more prominent voice.
Meanwhile, Lurie’s public voice has grown largely silent. He used to speak several times a year, including a state-of-the-team address during training camp and again at the end of the season. Now, Lurie talks at the owners’ meeting in March and whenever a major move (like a head-coaching change) is made.
At the last owners’ meetings, held in Boca Raton, Florida, Lurie was asked about the impression that he has taken a more active approach to ownership.
“I’m always ... I think what I try to be is very hands on,” Lurie said, “and not very public about it.”