Andy Reid deserves to leave with dignity

Andy Reid has coached a winning team during most of his tenure in Philadelphia, but the past two seasons have him on the hot seat. Rob Carr/Getty Images

The anger is understandable. Given the way the past two Philadelphia Eagles seasons have gone, it's completely reasonable for fans to be angry. Andy Reid assembled a roster and presented it as capable of winning the Super Bowl they crave above all else, and it instead turned out to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. It's a colossal failure worthy of costing the man his job, and it appears as though it will do just that.

The Andy fatigue is understandable, too. Fourteen years is a long time to be one team's head coach in this day and age. There are Eagles fans who were too young to read or speak when Reid took over the job and are now old enough to feel real-fan pain and disappointment. If Reid is the only Eagles coach you've ever known, or the only one you can really remember, it's reasonable just to wish for a different voice or a new public face of the franchise. After 14 years, no one can say the Eagles and their fans haven't been patient.

But all of that said and understood, there are other things to consider as Reid's time as Eagles coach nears its end. One of those is the form that the ending will eventually take. This will be no ordinary firing, and it shouldn't be, because this is no ordinary coach, no ordinary tenure and no ordinary owner-coach relationship. Reid is the best coach the Eagles have ever had, and has accomplished much during his time in Philadelphia. His exit deserves to be handled with class, and he deserves to leave with his dignity intact.

Those who want Reid out now, this very minute, before the season's end, are misguided for several reasons. First, there is the question of what good it would do to fire him now. There's no hot young candidate on the coaching staff with whom the Eagles could replace him -- no clear successor who'd benefit from a five-game head start. If the Eagles fired Reid now, they'd replace him with Marty Mornhinweg or Todd Bowles, effectively moving from one lame duck to another. The only way you can approve of that is if all you want is blood -- for someone to visibly pay for the incomprehensible fact that the Eagles are 3-8 and haven't won since September. And while I know that sentiment is out there (evidenced by the glee with which Jason Babin's release and exile to Jacksonville were greeted this week) it should not, in this case, be allowed to carry the day.

Anyway, it requires more responsibility and accountability to finish out this wreck of a season than it would to be relieved of the headache. That's the main reason Reid himself wants to see it through, and he's earned that right. Maybe not over the past two years, but absolutely over his first 12. Lest anyone forget, Reid's first 12 years in Philadelphia included nine winning seasons (six in which he won at least 11 games), seven division titles, 10 playoff victories and an NFC championship. There's no one whose name isn't Belichick who can claim a record like that during the same period of time.

The bulk of Reid's tenure brought continual happiness to Eagles fans. For more than a decade, Eagles fans could rest assured that they had one of the very best teams in the league. They could plan playoff tailgate parties well in advance, talk trash to their friends who were fans of rival teams deep into January. No, Reid did not deliver that Super Bowl title, which is what many Eagles fans will tell you is the only thing that matters. But there's a lot to be said about a four-month and five-month feeling that your team is one of the ones with the best shot at it. Reid's teams gave you that feeling pretty much every year until the past two.

Which is why, when this season ends and it's time for Reid and the Eagles to part ways, the right thing to do will be to refrain from jeering and ridiculing him for the mess of the past two seasons but rather to applaud those first 12. The flops of 2011 and 2012, along with Reid's failure to win a Super Bowl, surely hurt him far more than they hurt any of the team's fans. To imagine that he wouldn't have loved to deliver that championship, to ignore the tireless, grueling, sometimes desperate work he did to try to make it happen, is to shun any kind of realistic perspective. There is a significant segment of the Eagles' fan population that, even through its present anger, appreciates and always will appreciate what Reid gave to the team and the city. Some of those folks even understand that you can't will a Super Bowl title -- that there's too much chance and circumstance involved, that worse coaches than Reid have won championships, just as better coaches than Reid have failed to do so. The best you can do is build an organization that finds itself in position to take a run at it every year and hope that it eventually works out. Reid surely did, and many Eagles fans understand that. Those are the voices Reid deserves to hear on his way out the door.

When owner Jeffrey Lurie announces that Reid will no longer be the Eagles' coach, Lurie is likely to be emotional. He's likely to express a strong positive feeling for the man who's coached his team for the past 14 years as well as a deep, shared sadness that Reid couldn't pull off what they all dreamed of together. Lurie is likely to focus, as he should, on the successes of the first 12 years and not the failures of the past two. If he does that, and if the fans can shake off their anger for a few minutes and join him, then Andy Reid will get the exit from Philadelphia that he's earned.