Making Sense of Joe Banner's Departure

Making Sense of Joe Banner's Departure

I've always felt the rampant conspiracy theories that often dominate newspaper headlines were signs that a civilian had spent too much time in the cloak-and-dagger world of the NovaCare Complex. To this outsider, the heavily-guarded access to the Philadelphia Eagles has more to do with the secretive nature of any well-run pro football organization, not the diabolical plots of a penny-pinching mastermind named Joe. Cynical readers eat it up though, and for the front office's part, they fueled that distrust through a variety of actions and inactions.

So when a respected reporter from the Los Angeles Times described a power struggle within those walls from nearly 3,000 miles away -- mind you, not the first instance a conflict of that nature was rumored -- I chalked it up as more of the same. After all, when Sam Farmer's story was filed back in March, who predicted it would serve as the backdrop for the departure of Joe Banner less than three months later?

Given the circumstances, the Eagles team president of 18 years could never walk away gracefully.

Banner was already viewed as something of an ogre by the fan base, every misstep remembered with careful detail, even events he likely had little or nothing to do with -- the franchise's inability to win a championship chief among them. The contentious nickname "Nickels" recently began to take, an homage to fiscal responsibility that mostly sent prominent-but-aging veteran players packing when their contracts were up for renewal. His association with the other unpopular kids (Lurie, Reid, Roseman) didn't do him any favors, either.

But after Farmer's entry into the fray, no amount of press conferences or candid interviews will make people forget about the alleged animosity behind closed doors. Never mind that to this day, part of the yarn stands out as particularly ludicrous, that the Eagles were in any position to seriously consider pursuing Peyton Manning. Somebody wanted to push the idea that Banner and Andy Reid weren't getting along, and now that one of them is suddenly out the door, observers are clamoring for Tom Smykowski's 'Jump to Conclusions' mat.

Everyone jump to "Joe Banner was pushed out"

Removed, demoted, dismissed -- whatever makes his exit sound controversial.

I can't refute there was a rift between Banner and Reid, and there's actually a compelling case for there being plenty of truth to that. The two of them became increasingly divided over some of the biggest changes inside the Eagles locker room in recent years, well documented during DeSean Jackson's contract drama, and before Donovan McNabb was ultimately traded as well. Additionally, Banner personally cited losing Brian Dawkins to free agency as a regret, and it's hard to believe anybody on the coaching staff was fully on board with that.

Others would suggest Banner especially strained relations with the head coach when he basically announced to the world that Reid needs to win the Super Bowl in order to earn an extension from the club. With Andy's deal set to expire after 2013, there aren't too many folks who would bother to disagree with that assessment, but it's a vastly different approach than the big guy takes in dealing with the media. A man who has a reputation for constantly shielding his players from criticism could not have appreciated being left under the spotlight to squirm by his own superior.

Chances are it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows in the front office. Still, something isn't quite lining up here. How did Andy Reid, head coach and director of personnel, defeat Joe Banner, chief operating officer and lifelong friend of owner Jeffrey Lurie, in a power struggle? That could only mean Lurie finds Reid more vital to the success of his franchise than Banner, who has been his right-hand man from the very beginning, right?

You buy that?

Critics be damned, Reid is a great coach, but he is an interchangeable piece of the puzzle. Win or lose, eventually he'll move on, and another one will take his place. That person will win or lose, and then another, and so on. All head coaches, to some degree, are propped up or dragged down by circumstances beyond their control, which explains why certain men do poorly in their first job, then win championships elsewhere -- think Bill Belichick -- while others build a trophy case, but can't duplicate the results in a new locale -- a road Mike Shanahan could be headed down at the moment.

Banner, on the other hand, might be one of just a handful of executives in professional sports who could achieve the magnitude of what he did in Philadelphia. He turned a dysfunctional organization into one of the most profitable franchises in the NFL. He is credited for being the key figure in the building of Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex. He helped develop a structured front office that fields a competitive team season after season, and he shouldn't have to apologize to anybody for that. Finally, he managed the salary cap in such a brilliant, precise manner, the Eagles never had to cut players or let one go via free agency simply because money got too tight.

If anything, Banner might have been a victim of his own success, because truthfully the Eagles don't need him any longer. The franchise will have a license to print money long after he's gone. There are no more buildings to construct. They have a qualified front office in place to handle day-to-day operations. The one football-related job Joe had left, negotiating player contracts and managing the cap, he ceded to Howie Roseman, who was described as a "Banner guy" when he was promoted to general manager in 2010.

When you look at it from that perspective, it almost makes sense why Banner would be pushed out the door: he made himself obsolete. That ignores the fact that he and Lurie are pals, and everything the owner has, he owes to Banner... but it is controversial!

Legacy

The final goal Banner had left to accomplish was delivering the Lombardi Trophy to Philly, but obviously he recognizes now that was always out of his hands after a certain point. Banner will never lace 'em up, and he'll never grab a headset and call in a play to the quarterback. While he may know how to assign a dollar value to a player, he's not a full-time talent evaluator, so he's not going to set the depth chart or run the draft, either. He hired people to do all of that for him. That was never his area of his expertise.

Which is why I don't understand why anybody would doubt the sincerity of his motivations. What can he do here to bring the Eagles closer to that elusive Super Bowl championship? Apparently nothing, so why not embark on a new endeavor while he's 59 years old and up to the task? The fact is, even if the Birds finally reach football's pinnacle in the immediate future -- anytime over the next five to ten years at least, and perhaps for far longer -- Banner's work over the past two decades will have been instrumental to that end, no matter where or how he lands next. You can't take that away from him.

Maybe there was a power struggle, maybe there wasn't. I haven't had the luxury of being one of the shadowy figures lurking around the hallways at the Birds' facilities, trying to catch Lurie, Banner, and Reid hatching their next evil scheme. I do have my own theory though: Joe Banner, not Andy Reid's camp, was responsible for the leak in the LA Times story, and in making the head coach look strong on his way out, he did his last great deed for the Eagles franchise.

Given his history here, I'm not so sure that's any less plausible.

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't see a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).