Lurie accuses Banner of fueling negative perception of Roseman

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Lurie accuses Banner of fueling negative perception of Roseman

Jeffrey Lurie is not happy, and the object of his scorn is his boyhood best friend.

Lurie, owner of the Eagles, said former Eagles executive Joe Banner, his boyhood friend, top adviser for nearly two decades and now CEO of the Browns, appears to be the source of anonymous comments sharply critical of Eagles general manager Howie Roseman that appeared recently in a story on a national sports web site.

Im very supportive of Howie, and if theres any criticism coming from afar about Howie, its just off-base, and so I will support Howie completely, because thats not right, Lurie said.

And, you know, if there are league sources that are really based in Cleveland, thats not right. We see through it all.

In a Jan. 14 story that appeared on CBSsports.com, NFL reporter Jason La Canfora, quoting an anonymous source, wrote that Roseman was drunk with power and woefully out of his depth and was a detriment to the Eagles search for a head coach.

Banner released a statement through Browns spokesman Neal Gulkis denying in the strongest terms that he was the source of the comments in La Canforas story.

It is always difficult to comment on a quote that may or may not be accurate or in context. In this case, from the comments which Jeffrey made that were communicated to me, it is necessary for me to make this clear, unambiguous statement. Any implication that I had anything to do with Jason La Canforas story is completely false, outrageous and borders on being libelous.

I had absolutely no conversation with Jason La Canfora. Having demonstrated my character over the last 44 years to Jeffrey and the last 14 to Howie, it is beyond disappointing that they would suggest such a thing. As tempting as it is to go further, other than defending myself, I will continue to take the high road on all such matters as I have since the day I left the Eagles.

The Eagles and Browns both targeted coveted Oregon head coach Chip Kelly for their head coaching openings, pitting Lurie and Roseman against Banner in a very public, high-stakes battle among former friends for one of the most successful college coaches of the past decade.

In the middle of all this, La Canforas story compared the Browns coaching search favorably to the Eagles search and suggested that the Eagles search, led by Lurie, Roseman and team president Don Smolenski, was meandering and bizarre.

When the Eagles hired Kelly as head coach on Wednesday, it was widely seen as a strong measure of vindication for Roseman and evidence that the anonymous source who told La Canfora that Roseman would prevent the Eagles from landing a prominent coach was off-base.

Kelly said in Philadelphia on Thursday that the Browns were never in the mix, that he knew all along he would either return to Oregon or take the Eagles job.

It was evident to me that I was either going to go to Philadelphia or stay in Oregon, Kelly said. When I met with Jeffrey and Howie and Donald right there, I knew obviously I thought that this was the best spot.

Although the La Canfora story successfully fueled strong anti-Roseman sentiment in Philadelphia, it apparently had no effect on the Eagles search to replace long-time coach Andy Reid.

Lurie said he, Roseman and Smolenski were aware of the story and aware of mounting anti-Roseman sentiment but tried to ignore it.

For these two weeks during the search, we werent going to pay much attention to anything, Lurie said. But if Howie did, he just completely was able to deal with it.

He was annoyed by the unprofessional aspect. He was really annoyed. And hurt by it. But he wouldnt let that get in the way here. He was not going to deal with these people.

In a group interview with reporters on Thursday, Lurie said the three-man search committee was determined not to be distracted or discouraged by the growing hostility toward Roseman.

They knew eventually they would hire either Kelly or Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, their second choice, so they knew eventually the negativity would end.

We knew strategically what was going on with league sources and stuff like that, Lurie said. This was such erroneous reporting it was insane.

The people we interviewed and the people who called the people we interviewed were so positive that I think it dwarfed any of the individual agendas of anybody that was quoted as league sources. It was a joke to us, really.

Lurie said he and Banner have maintained a cordial relationship since their working relationship fractured.

He said he and Banner exchanged texts on Thursday, with each congratulating the other on their head coaching hires Kelly in Philadelphia and Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland.

He also said he believes the relationship between him and Banner can be salvaged.

Im intending to have an excellent relationship with him moving forward, he said.

Lurie said he hasnt spoken to Banner recently to discuss his suspicion that Banner was the one who planted negative quotes about Roseman in La Canforas story.

I havent done that, he said. But if I have to do it I will.

To put the depth of the bitterness between Lurie and Banner in perspective, its important to understand how close they once were.

On May 7, 1994, one day after Lurie officially became owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, he hired Banner as his top adviser.

For 19 years, they worked together to carry out a shared vision of the Eagles franchise. They got a state-of-the-art stadium built. They got a world-class practice facility built. They transformed the Eagles into the second-winningest franchise in the NFC from 1995 through 2010.

But Banner left the Eagles in June after losing a bitter power struggle with Roseman, his one-time protg. A few months later he joined Jimmy Haslams ownership group in Cleveland, soon becoming CEO of the Browns.

Reid alluded to the Lurie-Banner fracture earlier this month when he was asked in an interview with Philadelphia media about the Eagles decline in recent years, a decline that ultimately cost Reid his job.

I would tell you the most important thing is that everybodys got to be pulling in the same direction, Reid said after accepting the Chiefs head coaching position.

When that gets out of whack, bad things happen. Thats how this league works. If you get a little bit out of whack, youre not going to be successful.

As for Roseman, Lurie said the third-year general manager actually had outstanding relationships with all the coaching candidates.

One of the things I learned -- as an owner you learn as you go -- was the really great respect that Howie had across the league, Lurie said. People were calling our candidates to say, This is a young GM, but he is a very, very sharp guy.

Andy Reid also called some of the candidates and told them what Roseman is like to work with.

The benefit we had here, and I cant underestimate it, and it wasnt even our doing, but some of the real iconic names in the sport were telling our candidates before they came in that this was by far the best organization to come in and work for.

Roseman refused to call the Kelly hiring vindication. He said he tried to stay positive throughout the search process and stay focused on the ultimate goal.

Finding a coach who could restore the Eagles winning tradition.

I dont want to make this about me, Roseman said. I think its about our organization, our team and giving the fans back the kind of team theyre used to. That would be vindication for me.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

Joel Embiid now as dominant as Henry Sims

Joel Embiid now as dominant as Henry Sims

There are seemingly countless metrics one can use to detail Joel Embiid's supremacy as a Sixer, but perhaps no stats more clearly tell the story of how indefatigable the rookie has been this season than those of his free-throw shooting. Despite ranking just eighth on the team in total minutes, he's already gotten to the line 215 times this season and made 169 of them, about 250% more than the second-most made FTs on the team (Ersan Ilyasova, 65). What's more, his seven games with ten or more free throws attempted is already more than Thaddeus Young (six), Evan Turner (three) or Jrue Holiday (zero) ever had as a Liberty Baller. 

But yesterday against the Bucks saw JoJo hit a new level with his foul drawing. Despite essentially being shut down by the Bucks in the first half -- I can't remember if he even had a single bucket at the break -- The Process eventually imposed his will in Milwaukee in a major way, parading to the line in the second half, ending with 22 points (as well as 12 rebounds and five blocks) on 4-9 shooting, getting to the line an astounding 18 times. 

Who was the last Sixers giant to accomplish such a feat, you might wonder? Well... 

Yes, it's been an impressive season for our double-redshirt rookie, and every game he seems to add another immortal name to his list of historical analogues. But not until now could we afford to mention him alongside the great Henry "Lickface" Sims, two-year Process legend whose 18 trips to the free-throw line on April 4, 2014 totally helped us win that random late-season game against the then-rebuilding Boston Celtics. As impossible as it once seemed, it now appears that soon, Embiid's folk herodom will be as self-evident and undeniable to the Sons of Sam as that of Hammerin' Hank himself. 

Get this guy to the All-Star team already.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped, and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that, and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing and that’s a fair criticism on the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal before he turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside on the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t trust the process with the Flyers. Just enjoy the course.