The message to fans is that losing is acceptable. Or that next year -- next year! -- will be the year. Or that no one else out there is any better than the man already at the helm. Or that, well, that contract is awfully big and the economy isn't what it was and eating one remaining year is one thing, but two would cost too many custom suits.
At almost exactly the same time on Tuesday, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie announced in roundabout fashion that Andy Reid would return to Philadelphia for the 2012 season and Chargers president Dean Spanos announced that Norv Turner, as well as general manager A.J. Smith, would return to San Diego. Fans did not immediately race to the teams' practice facilities with brooms ablaze -- in Philly, at least, it was frigid outside -- but neither announcement was popular with the respective fan base.
The Eagles and Chargers were huge disappointments this season. Each was projected to be a Super Bowl contender, and yet here they are at 8-8, waiting to watch the playoffs from the couch. Heads were supposed to roll like they did earlier in the week in St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and Chicago.
Eagles and Chargers fans are desperate for a championship. Neither franchise has won a Super Bowl. For San Diego, only the 1994 Chargers even made it to the Super Bowl, and San Francisco blew them out. Two Eagles teams made it -- 1980 and 2004 -- but both times they walked away empty-handed.
So simply being competitive, at least to the fans, is not the goal.
But it was safer for Lurie, after 13 seasons and no championships, to stick with Reid and for Spanos, after five seasons and no championships, to stick with Turner than it was for either man to have to send a helicopter to fetch Jeff Fisher.
Winning isn't everything or, apparently, the only thing. Being paper champions is OK, too, especially when next season is only eight months away.
In laying out his case to keep Reid, which sounded more like a case to fire him, Lurie used three-pronged analysis to come to the only decision he was ever going to make: What is the overall track record of the coach? What is his most recent track record? What are the intangibles?
So let's take a look at both coaches.
Since 1999, Reid has posted a 136-90-1 record. He has led the Eagles to postseason berths in nine of his 13 seasons and won 10 playoff games. Reid has guided the Eagles to the NFC title game five times and been to one Super Bowl, losing to New England.
That's pretty impressive.
Whittle it down to the last three seasons, though, and there is this: The Eagles have won 29 games but zero in the playoffs.
Turner has only been in San Diego for five years -- remember, he replaced a guy who went 14-2 and got fired -- so his sample size is smaller but telling nonetheless. Turner is 52-34, including 3-3 in the postseason. He hasn't had a losing season, although there have been two .500 teams. In Turner's first season, he guided the Chargers to the AFC title game before losing at the Patriots.
But in the last three seasons, his team loaded with talent, there is this: San Diego has won 30 games but zero in the playoffs, despite being the No. 2 seed in 2009 with a week off and home- field advantage.
The intangibles are trickier, and you can look at what you want based on which side of the argument you fall. If you wanted to keep Reid, you look at how his players love him, how free agents want to play in Philadelphia, how his teams typically improve as the season progresses, how they always win after a bye week, how you rarely hear of an Eagles player getting arrested or doing something stupid. If you wanted to fire Reid, you could look at how he mismanages the clock or calls silly plays at the wrong times or is short when he addresses the media and, by extension, the fans.
The same goes for Turner. His players love him and wanted him back. He's a straight shooter. Although his teams have a tendency to start slowly, they typically finish strong. He is 21-3 in December and January. Or you could look at the talent Turner has had and surmise that he isn't hard enough on them, that they can't close out games because the coach doesn't have a killer instinct. He should let someone else call the plays. He's overly sensitive. Whatever.
If the bottom line is winning a championship, neither Reid nor Turner deserved to be back. Lurie and Spanos insist they want to win championships, but ultimately neither wanted to make a coaching change. They like the structure they have in place and were not willing to risk changing it.
So they pointed their focus at 2012. No ultimatums or win-or-else decrees, but the message was clear. Fix it, and fix it fast.
"I think a proper analysis and a more rational analysis is to figure out where did it go wrong this year and is this the right coach next year to maximize the talent we have and the opportunity we have," Lurie said. "And for our fans, it's really a very confident yes in my opinion. [Reid] has all of the ingredients to take the team to the playoffs and take them far."
Or else. Ditto for Turner. After all, it is much more palpable to eat one remaining year on a contract.
Ashley Fox is an NFL columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyMFox.