Montreal Alouettes coach Mike Sherman says Doug Pederson was as much a coach as a player when both were with the Green Bay Packers more than a decade ago.
So Sherman was not entirely surprised to see Pederson, in his second season as head coach in Philadelphia, take the Eagles to the Super Bowl. They will face five-time NFL champion Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Pederson was the backup quarterback to Packers great Brett Favre when Sherman coached the Packers in the early 2000s.
“Doug was a student of the game even back then,” Sherman said in a telephone interview from the game’s host city, Bloomington, Minn. “Did I think he’d be a Super Bowl coach in his second season? No. But I knew he’d be a heck of a coach.
“I’m not surprised that he’s here but it definitely happened faster than I expected.”
Pederson has drawn rave reviews for leading the 13-3 Eagles to first place in the NFC East, then winning twice more in the playoffs despite losing starting quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL in December.
When asked this week which coaches had influenced him most in his career, Pederson named former Packers coaches Sherman and Mike Holmgren.
“But he was with us for five years. We did a bunch of different things that he was privy to. He was a smart guy back then and probably grabbed onto the things that worked and got rid of the things that didn’t work. But Doug Pederson is where he is because of who he is and he’d be there with or without me, I’m sure about that.”
With experienced backup Nick Foles behind centre, the Eagles went with a conservative attack to edge the Atlanta Falcons and reach the NFL championship game, then switched tactics completely, gunning the ball downfield to overwhelm the Minnesota Vikings.
Sherman said Pederson showed his ability to adapt the game to the healthy players available to him.
“That’s the definition of a great coach,” he said.
It seems Pederson was thinking like a coach even when he was a player. In Green Bay, he rarely got a snap. Favre was not only one of the best quarterbacks in the sport, he was also an ironman. Pederson gained Favre’s trust and often offered advice from the sidelines during games.
“Doug had great vision of the field and was able to communicate that to the coaches and players,” said Sherman. “So he was coaching the whole time he was the backup to Brett Favre.
“This is not something he’s just stumbled upon. He’s been a coach since I’ve known him because of how he took his role as backup quarterback.”
Now Pederson is facing the biggest test of his coaching career. The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl. The Patriots are looking to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers’ record of six NFL titles.
Sherman was cautious when asked if he’ll be cheering for his former player. After all, the 63-year-old is from Patriots country in Norwood, Mass.
“I live in Massachusetts so that’s a tough one,” he said. “I do want to see Doug have success, there’s no question about that.
“Anybody has a chance. In the Super Bowl, anything can happen. The ball bounces funny sometimes. But Bill Belichick has been there a lot of times, so has Brady. And the team’s been there. So it’s going to be an interesting contest. Certainly the Patriots are the favourites, but it would be exciting to see Doug go out and have great success. I can’t lie about that.”