Despite leading the Philadelphia Eagles to their third straight postseason appearance in 1990, head coach Buddy Ryan was fired. The reason for his firing was simple. The Eagles had failed to win a game in any of the three seasons, even becoming the first team in NFL history to lose consecutive home wild-card playoff games.
Ryan’s replacement as head coach came down to two choices: brilliant offensive coordinator Rich Kotite, who was largely responsible for quarterback Randall Cunningham receiving MVP honors in 1990, or 30-year old defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher, who anchored a defense that specialized in sacks and turnovers.
Both seemed to be suitable replacements, but since Fisher had been working his magic for the past three seasons, all playoff berths, he seemed to be the logical choice. (Fisher had also been a defensive assistant on the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears.)
However, the Eagles’ management selected Rich Kotite to be the next Eagles’ head coach.
Fisher decided to head west to the Los Angeles Rams to reunite with his old coach, John Robinson. The Eagles did pick a more than qualified replacement for Fisher, pulling in Bud Carson, the defensive coordinator for Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense in the 1970s.
But they went without an offensive coordinator for the 1991 season. (Not that it would have mattered, because reigning MVP Randall Cunningham was lost for the season with a knee injury in the first game. The Eagles used five different quarterbacks that season.)
Kotite proved to be a complete bust as the head coach. The Eagles did win 10 games in 1991, possessing the league’s top ranked defense against both the run and the pass, but the success had nothing to do with Kotite, and all to do with Carson (and Fisher, for his previous development of the defense).
The Eagles won 11 games and a playoff game in 1992. They finished 8-8 in 1993. And they finished 7-9 in 1994, losing their final seven games. Kotite was fired after the season ended.
Despite the success of the Eagles over those four seasons, Kotite was as inept as any man to ever wear a headset. All you need to know about Kotite is that the Eagles were once trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 24-7, late in the game. They scored a touchdown and chose to go for two points instead of kicking the extra point. Obviously, the conversion failed. After the game, Kotite blamed the rain for soaking his papers.
Even my dear mother would have known to kick the extra point in that situation. My dog could have gotten that call correct.
Ray Rhodes was hired as the Eagles’ head coach in 1995, and he did win Coach of the Year honors while leading the Eagles to the postseason in his first season. The Eagles reached the playoffs again in 1996, but won just six games in 1997 (plus a tie) and won three games by a combined six points in 1998.
Goodbye Rhodes, hello Reid.
I can only imagine what the Eagles would have done had Jeff Fisher been hired as the head coach instead of Kotite after the 1990 season.
Let me set the record straight. I don’t think Fisher was ever a fantastic head coach, even though he coached the Tennessee Titans for 17 seasons. He didn’t win a Super Bowl, reaching just once, and his teams qualified for ‘only’ six postseason berths.
But I think he was much better than Rich Kotite. He was better than Rhodes. He is not better than Reid, but Reid wasn’t hired until 1999. By then, Fisher could have coached the Eagles for nine seasons.
I believe that the Eagles would have contended for a Super Bowl title in the first half of the decade. The team had the talent. Something was missing and it’s fairly obvious that coaching was the missing piece.
If Fisher had been named head coach, the Eagles also could have kept Kotite as their offensive coordinator. I wouldn’t trust Rich Kotite as the head coach of a middle school team, but he was a pretty good coordinator. There’s no denying that.
Imagine if the Eagles had prevented the Dallas Cowboys from becoming a dynasty in the mid-1990s and had instead become a dynasty themselves. Oh, how history would have changed.
We can only ask what if.