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.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

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MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

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PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.