Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Pederson isn’t sure what kind of reception he’s going to get on Sunday.
Will he get booed? It’s not out of the question when he makes his return to Lincoln Financial Field (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Especially with the big-game atmosphere surrounding Pederson’s surprising Jaguars (2-1) taking on the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles (3-0). It’s a chance for the Jaguars to prove they are a legitimate contender in the AFC South and for the Eagles to further show that they’re the team to beat in the NFC.
Pederson did lead the Eagles to their only Super Bowl title to finish the 2017 season. That should warrant some support when he returns to the stadium for the first time as an opposing head coach.
“I don’t know. I mean, it could be mixed,” Pederson said. “Listen, I’ve got to get this team here ready to go and I’m not going to be concerned with that, you know? You hope it’s a good one, obviously, for the things you did there, but I also know that crowd and they could be a little hostile.
“Hey, even when I was there and we were winning games or losing games, you were still getting booed, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Pederson spent five seasons as Philadelphia’s head coach beginning in 2016. In his second season, he led the Eagles to a 13-3 record, the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. That was the city’s first NFL championship since 1960 and its second major sports championship since 1983.
He was fired three years later following a 4-11-1 season, but that doesn’t discount those accomplishments, and he deserves a warm welcome in his return. That’s the last thing on Pederson’s mind, though. And while he won’t admit Sunday’s game might mean a little extra because of the way it ended, he did say he has a lot of good memories in Philly.
“I’ve spent [nine] years there, once with coach [Andy] Reid and then once, obviously, as the head coach and brought that city a championship and [that’s] something to be proud of,” Pederson said. “We’re really looking forward to getting back there. I understand that city. I understand the passion for football. But now I’m on the other side. …
“We’ve got to prepare this week like we have these last couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to it, getting back up there … looking forward to, hopefully, the welcome.”
Pederson isn’t the first head coach to lead a franchise to a Super Bowl and return to that city with another franchise. Actually, he is the 12th head coach to face the team he won a Super Bowl with and the third coach to do so with the team in sole possession of first place entering the game (he joins Bill Parcells and Mike Holmgren), per Elias Sports Bureau research.
To get an idea of what he might experience, ESPN talked to four former coaches about their experiences:
Bill Parcells, Giants/Patriots
Parcells spent 11 seasons as an assistant or head coach with the New York Giants and led the franchise to a pair of Super Bowl titles. A lifelong Giants fan, he grew up less than 2 miles from Giants Stadium. So Parcells’ first trip back there as the New England Patriots’ head coach on Nov. 21, 1996, was a monumental moment.
“I was excited for the game and the game was important to me,” Parcells said. “And, quite frankly, it was a little personal. I don’t have, and I’ve never had, an antagonistic feeling at all to the Giants; it’s a special place for me. … It was kind of, kind of an emotional day for me.”
He still knew many people working for the organization, such as head athletic trainer and longtime friend Ronnie Barnes, then-chief of security Mike Murphy (both of whom are still with the Giants), numerous members of the support staff and of course the front office. Even the security staff that greeted the Patriots’ team buses.
“When I came off the team bus and walked down the tunnel where I’d been walking for years and I know all the security guards and they all said hello,” Parcells said. “[They said], ‘You doing good? Good to see you.’ All that kind of stuff. When I go there today to watch the game, it’s the same way.
“It’s a pleasant place for me. It’s always been that, and it has a special place in my life.” The Giants fans apparently loved seeing him, too, because Parcells said they gave him a warm welcome. No boos. “I think I would have been surprised if that happened,” Parcells said. “Now, I got booed plenty of times when I was there.
“New York is a sports town. What I would say from experience is that if you’ve ever won for them, they don’t forget. [Former New York Yankees manager] Joe Torre, he’s mentioned the same thing to me. Once you’ve won for the people in New York, they’re appreciative.”
Maybe not so much after that game. The Patriots rallied from a 22-point halftime deficit and won 23-22 on Drew Bledsoe’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Ben Coates on fourth down with 1 minute, 23 seconds remaining. That won the Patriots the AFC East — just the third division title in franchise history at that point — and secured a first-round bye in the playoffs. That’s what Parcells will remember most about that day, because the victory gave the Patriots the spark that propelled them through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl.
“The team was almost out of control with happiness because it was the division and it was the playoffs,” he said. “So the team was excited for their accomplishments. I know there were one or two guys that were, ‘Hey, I know this must have been special for you’ and gave you a hug and stuff like that, but [my return] wasn’t a point of emphasis.”
Mike Shanahan, Broncos/Washington
Shanahan had a lot of good moments during his 14 seasons as Denver Broncos’ head coach — two Super Bowl titles and five other playoff appearances — so he was looking forward to his first trip back to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium on Oct. 27, 2013, as the head coach of Washington.
Shanahan spent an additional seven years in Denver in two stints as an assistant. When Shanahan returned, it was almost like a family reunion, with those inside the organization and those working the game, to celebrate the success they had.
“Heck, I had spent 21 years with the Broncos organization and we had been to a lot of playoff games as an assistant coach, as a coordinator, as well as a head coach,” Shanahan said. “So when you do come back, there’s a lot of great memories and you really enjoy the people that you were with during those times because you shared those memories with those people.”
Like beating the Jaguars in a wild-card playoff game in 1997 en route to a Super Bowl title. And beating the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets in the playoffs in Denver the following season en route to a second consecutive Super Bowl title.
Those were some of the things Shanahan cherished from his time with the Broncos, and they were on his mind in his return. It’s a good thing, too, because he wasn’t very happy after Washington blew a 21-7 third-quarter lead and lost 45-21.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown just before the two-minute warning to drop Washington to 2-5.
It’s hard, even now, for Shanahan to separate the emotions and good feelings he had about his return from the results of the game.
“We just got our ass beat,” Shanahan said. “I mean, we just got beat. You remember the game because it had been a while since you had been back — [I] left [after] 2008, this is a number of years later — but at the same time you do remember a lot of the good times that you experienced at that spot. But I think everybody’s into the moment, and when you don’t take advantage of that opportunity, you’re always disappointed.”
Mike Holmgren, Packers/Seahawks
Holmgren’s kids wanted to be there for his return to Green Bay in 1999, but he thought it was best if his family stayed away.
“I told them, ‘I love you for wanting to come up to the game, but I don’t want you to go. I don’t know what the reception is going to be,'” said Holmgren, who coached the Packers from 1992 to ’98, leading them to a Super Bowl title during the ’96 season.
“The people of Green Bay are great, but football is football — it’s crazy.'”
The November Seahawks-Packers game was on Monday Night Football, making the environment even wilder. Holmgren had just left the Packers 10 months earlier to become executive vice president, general manager and head coach in Seattle.
Most coaches go to the “it’s just another game” well to deflect the gravity of the moment, but Holmgren’s players knew better with him. He didn’t mask it well on such occasions.
The first time he returned to the San Francisco 49ers, with whom his professional coaching career started, he walked past the Green Bay visitors locker room and into San Francisco’s, where he was politely told he was in the wrong place.
“They said, ‘Coach, your locker room is up there.’ And I said, ‘You know what? You’re right. I’m sorry.'”
Leading up to Seahawks-Packers at Lambeau Field, Holmgren intentionally didn’t mention the significance of the game to his players. But he said they sensed it, and later told him, “‘We were always going to give it everything, but we gave it maybe a little more.’ I loved them for that.”
When Holmgren stepped onto the field for warm-ups, the crowd greeted him with cheers. There were signs welcoming him in the stands, including one that read simply, “We Still Like Mike.”
“I almost broke down, honestly,” he said. “It’s a special place. It’s a unique place. And it was a gift for me to work there. To have them treat me that way when I went back there, I got pretty emotional. I had to kind of settle down when I went back into the locker room and gather my thoughts because the people couldn’t have been nicer. It was a thank you. I didn’t know what to say or do. When I came back out when the game was about to start, I’m in full-blown coaches mode, but for that earlier time, I couldn’t thank them enough.”
The Seahawks crushed the Packers 27-7, handing Green Bay just its second home loss in 35 games. Brett Favre, Holmgren’s longtime pupil, committed six turnovers. Holmgren called it “the start of our building the program up in Seattle.”
Holmgren took time to share a moment with Favre. He embraced former members of his Packers staff, including Ray Rhodes and Sherman Lewis.
As he got on the bus and exited Green Bay victorious, he remembers saying: “I wish I had allowed my kids to come, because it was such an uplifting experience.”
Mike Ditka, Bears/Saints
There has been perhaps no better match between coach and city in sports history than Mike Ditka and Chicago.
It’s a shared identity manifested in gruff talk, winter-warm mustaches and love for Da Bears. That identity was still firmly entrenched in Ditka when he returned to Soldier Field as head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 1997, nearly five years after being fired by the team he won two titles with — one as a standout tight end in ’63 and later as head coach of the revered ’85 Bears.
“The Saints, I just ended up there, but the Bears were my team,” Ditka said, “as a player and a coach.”
The goal for Ditka heading into the reunion game was simple: don’t get embarrassed.
Mission accomplished. The Saints weren’t great, turning the ball over three times in a sloppy affair, but they handed Ditka a 20-17 win while dropping his former team to 0-6.
Despite the fan base’s grumpy mood, Ditka received a positive reception overall.
“It wasn’t bad. The fans were pretty good,” Ditka said.
His hold on the city was still apparent. In the stands there were signs that, per the New York Times, read ‘Ditka for President’ and ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd but Ditka Is My Saint Coach.’ But Ditka was now with the guys with the fancy fleur-de-lis on their helmets instead of the classic ‘C’ decals, so the warm and fuzzies extended only so far.
“I don’t care if you’re an iconic figure or you won a Super Bowl,” Ditka said, “they’re Bears fans.”