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Joe Banner Speaks


Future sportscasters grill Banner about everything football

(Photo Left) Play By Play Sports Broadcasting campers hang out with Joe Banner (center). Photo by Jeremy Treatman.

Former Eagles president Joe Banner said of the Birds’ decisions, under his tenure, drafting Trent Cole was the smartest; signing Michael Vick and Terrell Owens were the most controversial; not signing Brian Dawkins to a final contract was the most regrettable; and selecting Donovan McNabb was the most significant.

Banner made these revelations while speaking at a sports broadcasting camp at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, where he now resides.

He said amongst all of it, “it still pains me that we didn’t win a championship. To get so close, to make 5 NFC championship games in 8 years and get to the Super Bowl, but not win one is still hard to accept. I watched Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup the other night and it still hurts that we never won the Super Bowl. There are always reminders.”

Banner told the group of 50 camp kids that he was proud that he and owner Jeffrey Lurie made Andy Reid coach. He was the only one in NFL history who had no experience as a college head coach or NFL coordinator. He was also proud that he and Reid stood steadfast against everyone else in the Eagles’ hierarchy in that Donovan McNabb should be the team’s selection with the 2nd pick in the 1999 draft.

“To be honest, I had him rated no. 1 and so did Andy,” said Banner. “There were others in the organization who thought Dante Culpepper or Cade McNown or Tim Couch may have been the choice. If we had gone with the majority, we would not have gotten McNabb. But it proved to be the right move.”

Lurie and Banner insisted on choosing Reid as head coach although he was one of the most unknown hires in league history. “We got killed for hiring him,” said Banner. “Many people thought we did it to save money. But nothing could be further from the truth. We made him one of the highest paid first-year coaches of all time. It’s just a perception we had to deal with for a few years.”

Banner said that he earned football players and “football people’s” respect, ultimately, by making strong salary cap decisions and by creating a positive locker room with very few players with risky backgrounds. He conceded that he was only moderately interested in signing Michael Vick in 2009. He said that Andy Reid was all for it and Lurie was opposed. “But after many talks about it, we decided for it. We always tried to have all three of us unanimous on any big decision.”

Banner feels vindicated on many tough decisions that all three endured together, especially trading McNabb in 2009.

Letting safety Brian Dawkins walk and sign with the Denver Broncos was a decision that has not allowed him to sleep as peacefully. “We usually make decisions when people started to decline physically and try to prepare for those moments, and make football decisions over personal decisions, which is tough,” he said. “Brian was the best leader I ever saw. The way people flocked to him and followed him was unbelievable. I regret that we didn’t give him another contract and keep him an Eagle.”

Banner understands being a casualty of ESPN on its football insiders show was a financial one and not a personal one, but he didn’t comment on being let go by the Eagles in 2010. He was more forthcoming about not being happy about the Cleveland Browns letting him go as CEO in 2013. “I think Cleveland was a team that has been in disarray with problems for a long time and I think they made a mistake with me,” he said. “However, in the last year or so I think they are making some positive changes.”

Pundits have been critical of the Eagles’ drafting ability since Banner left. The last years under Reid, the three years with Kelly and Howie Roseman, yielded unbalanced results.

This year’s draft may be a hit, especially if second-round pick Sidney Jones recovers from an Achilles tendon injury. Under Banner, the team drafted “character” guys who could play, and fill roles. “Our philosophy was that when we drafted in the fourth, fifth, or sixth rounds, we were going to get a starter,” Banner said. “We looked at players who had injuries in their senior years or kids who came from small colleges. We definitely found ourselves with some key guys like Cole.”

After three successive NFC championship game losses, Banner said trading for Terrell Owens just prior to the Super Bowl season of 2004 was a gamble. The team benefited by going to the biggest game in the world, but they fell apart by the seams when Owens became a malcontent over a salary issue in preseason 2005. “Half the team was in TO’s corner and half were with Donovan and Dawkins,” said Banner. “We wanted the locker room to be a comfortable place and a place where people liked each other. It’s OK if someone is inflammatory but when someone becomes divisive then you can’t function.”

The campers asked questions of Banner and were appreciative of his candor.

He answered one, saying that Colin Kaepernick should definitely be in the NFL, despite the controversy he caused by kneeling during the National Anthem at 2016 games. “There are 32 teams in the NFL and they made decisions together, sometime on business things but not football things. I think it’s ridiculous that he is not on a roster. There are teams making a mistake. But he hasn’t been blackballed.”

One camper shocked the former Eagles top executive when he asked why they hadn’t taken Tom Brady when he graduated from Michigan. “I guess we, like 31 other teams, blew that,” he said. “We had him on our board in the middle rounds. But the honest truth is that was he was just a part-time starter for a major program at Michigan. If someone isn’t dominant in college, it’s not as easy to predict that he can have that kind of success in the NFL. But I’ll say this, ever since then, teams take quarterbacks in the middle rounds, hoping that maybe they can get a great quarterback that progresses like that at the NFL level.”

For now, Banner is enjoying retirement. “I can say there was a lot of pressure running a NFL team, especially in Philadelphia, but it was fantastic, fun fantastic. Imagine, growing up dreaming to be in sports, and when you look at a little guy like me getting this opportunity, it’s really something I’m grateful about.”

 

Joe Banner Speaks
Jeremy Treatman - Contributor

Jeremy Treatman is the founder and co-director of the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classics and Sports Broadcasting Camps. Over 50 NBA players, including Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Rajon Rondo played in his events when they were in high school. Jeremy wrote high school sports for the INQUIRER for 10 years, and was the first TV reporter for the HIgh School Sports Show on Channel 29 from 1994-2001. He currently is Comcast's announcer for all high school games.

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