By ROB MAADDI, AP Pro Football Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Still reeling from personal tragedy, Andy Reid now faces his toughest personal challenge.
Reid enters his 14th season as head coach of the Eagles with no promises he'll be back for No. 15. In fact, owner Jeffrey Lurie made it clear the Eagles must win for Reid to keep his job.
"We need substantial improvement," Lurie said. "As I said, 8-8 was unacceptable."
While Lurie's directive on Thursday was perceived by a majority of the media as an ultimatum, he didn't flat-out say Reid has to win a Super Bowl to stay.
Would an NFC East title be good enough? How about a wild-card berth and the team's first playoff win in four years?
"I don't have a level or anything like that," Lurie said. "I just want to be clear about that. You just try to make the best judgment you can after the season."
It's impossible for Lurie to put a number on success because there are so many intangibles, especially injuries.
Suppose Michael Vick is injured for much of the season — he's already been hurt twice in preseason and missed three games in 2010 and 2011. That would change things. Vick's not the only one, either. An injury to All-Pro RB LeSean McCoy significantly decreases Philadelphia's chances of contending.
"I'm not going to make blanket statements," Lurie said. "I really wanted to try to explain to you that 8-8 was unacceptable. Yeah, I guess if two-thirds of the team is not playing, there are always exceptions. That was a really unacceptable outcome. I just want to reiterate that."
Lurie was so bothered by the team's record last season that he admitted a few days after the season that he seriously contemplated firing Reid. The Eagles never lived up to the Dream Team label backup QB Vince Young irresponsibly gave them and failed to perform up to enormous expectations. They started 4-8 before winning their last four games.
That almost was the final straw for Lurie, who is desperate to win the franchise's first championship since 1960. Under Reid, the Eagles have made nine playoff appearances, won six division titles, played in five NFC championship games and lost one Super Bowl.
All that's left to do is hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"It's a big emptiness because I feel like we've accomplished everything else," Lurie said. "It's kind of the one remaining situation, the one remaining goal, and I think we have the means to do it. It is just a question of if we make it happen."
Reid's contract runs through 2013, but Lurie will not give him an extension during this season. When Reid's agent, Bob LaMonte, told reporters a few weeks ago that his client would coach the Eagles for as long as he wanted, Lurie quickly denied it.
"We don't talk publicly about contracts with coaches," Lurie said. "We don't talk about the performance of the key executives and coaches. We don't do that. There would never have been a situation where I would have made a commitment that is not philosophically consistent with what I've always done, which is just be very analytical and try to stand back and make judgments. It's the nature of the coaching perspective that it's not the most stable profession."
Predictably, Reid brushed off Lurie's comments. If Reid was bothered, he would never show it publicly. However, a person close to Reid told The Associated Press the coach truly didn't view Lurie's message as an ultimatum and that his public stance was indeed the way he felt behind closed doors.
"We surely would not be satisfied with 8-8," Reid said after the Eagles beat the New York Jets 28-10 to close out their first undefeated preseason since 1995 Thursday night. "We're striving for better than that. I think that's the important thing.
"I'm not sitting here telling you that's what I want to be or what this football team wants to be. I'm not worried about all of that. I understand the business. I completely understand, and I have a great relationship with Jeffrey. We go play. I don't worry about all of that stuff. I worry about each game."
This has been a devastating month for Reid and his family. Garrett Reid, the oldest of Andy and Tammy Reid's five children, died on Aug. 5. Reid returned to the sideline three days later and received overwhelming support from the organization, players and many around the NFL.
Despite Reid's tremendous loss, Lurie won't allow it to affect his future decision.
"I think he will always have our support," Lurie said. "Andy will always have our sympathy and support, but this is a business. You are there to win and win big and you have to separate the two. All of the analysis will be on Andy Reid the coach."
Reid's relationship with Lurie is so tight that Reid seemingly won a power struggle with former team president Joe Banner, who was Lurie's longtime best buddy.
Banner stepped down to pursue other opportunities a few months ago, and all indications are he's going to join the Cleveland Browns' new ownership group. Banner has been mentioned as possibly taking over for Browns president Mike Holmgren after the league approves the team's sale to Jimmy Haslam III. For now, Banner still has an office at Philadelphia's practice facility and is an adviser to Lurie on non-football issues.
Surely, he won't be giving advice on Reid.
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