Buddy Ryan’s passing proffers an opportunity to reflect on the best moments he and other champions in Eagles coaching history have given us, the fans. Here’s a look back:
We’ll move from present to past, and that means beginning with the most familiar figure on this list and the longest tenured coach in Eagles history by a long shot. Big Red took over after some lean years, tied his future to Donovan McNabb and the defensive genius of Jim Johnson. Herode a long wave of success. Starting in his third season in charge, the Eagles appeared in four straight NFC championship games and in 2005 finally broke through to earn the second Super Bowl appearance in club history.
While a run that includes six Division Championships in 10 years and zero Super Bowl victories will always have memories of heartbreak (and while the success that became so taken for granted in Philadelphia became harder to achieve by the end), Reid, always the first to accept blame for defeat, remains responsible for the last playoff victory the Eagles recorded.
By the time he arrived in Philadelphia for his first head coaching gig, Ryan had already been a member of the coaching staff for two of the most famous teams in NFL history: the 1968 Jets and 1985 Bears. It was with the Super Bowl Champion Bears that he perfected his “46” defensive scheme, intent on blitzing, pressuring and harassing quarterbacks.
He proved as talented at picking defenders as he was at putting them in the right places. He brought Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown and Eric Allen to Philadelphia around centerpiece Reggie White. Upon arrival he transformed the Eagles into the most feared defensive unit in the game, and the predatory attitude would leave its hallmarks in the most famous Eagles games of the era: the likes of the Bounty Bowls and the Body-Bag Game.
His second season was dismantled by the 1987 players strike, but in 1988 he took the Eagles to the top of the division. That division title was their last until Reid’s first, in 2001. Under Buddy it was as much about the moments as the big picture, and from fake kneel downs to referencing the “man in France,” Buddy never disappointed.
RELATED LINK: A look at every No. 1 pick in Philadelphiahistory
After the Eagles won the 1960 NFL Championship, they struggled in futility for the better part of two decades before Vermiel came to town in 1976. By 1978 they had a winning record and playoff appearance, by 1980 they had made the Super Bowl at the expense of the division bully, Dallas.
In contrast to Buddy’s years, Vermeil’s team is remembered for the exploits of offensive stars Ron Jaworksi, Wilbert Montgomery and Harold Carmichael. Fans with shorter memories might still recall the 1999 Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” and Priest Holmes record setting season with the Chiefs in 2003 as more recent examples of Vermeil’s offensive prowess.
His success in Philadelphia was short-lived; by 1982 the Eagles were 3-6 after a strike-shortened season and Vermeil was retiring from coaching at 46. The 1980 team’s success is still a crucial part of the best period in Philadelphia sports history, as the Phillies, Flyers and Sixers also found themselves championship contenders in their respective sports, and Villanova won the 1985 NCAA basketball tournament.
The coach of the last Eagles team to win an NFL championship, Shaw had a career “playoff” record of 1-0. It was enough. Shaw, like many others on this list, transformed a bad team into a winner. He did so by acquiring Norm Van Brocklin, proving a quarterback was as vital and a good quarterback as highly sought after six decades ago as today.
Unlike Vermeil, Ryan and Reid, who started their NFL head coaching careers with the Eagles, Shaw ended a long career in college and pro football by retiring at the pinnacle of the sport with Philadelphia. He played for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. He won two Sugar Bowls as the head coach of Santa Clara, and was the first coach in San Francisco 49ers history, where he went 71-39-4.
When Shaw’s Eagles won the 1960 title, he became the oldest coach (at 61) to do so. That record stood until Vermeil lifted the trophy at 63, 41 years later.
Neale actually had a playing career in Philadelphia before becoming the Eagles’ head coach — as a Phillie. If you like two-sport athletes, feast your eyes on a man who played baseball, played professional football, and coached college football at the same time.
He had quite some success too — Neale was the right fielder for the 1919 Cincinnati Reds team that won the World Series over the infamous Black Sox. He doubled as a basketball coach for Marietta and baseball coach for Virginia while coaching their respective football teams — and had a winning record at both.
Neale ushered in a new era of Eagles football. In the eight years the franchise existed before Neale signed on they won 19 games and lost 65. Over the next nine years Neale and his players won 63 games and two NFL championships in 1948 and 1949. He is — fittingly — in more than one Hall of Fame. Neale is enshrined in the NFL and College Football Halls of Fame.