The coach won Super Bowl 52 by taking chances, which didn’t surprise anyone who knew him from his hometown of Ferndale. “He was always a guy who worked his butt off and knew where he wanted to be,” says his cousin.
Doug Pederson has been, of course, the buzz of Ferndale, the unescapable focus of the Whatcom County town of just over 10,000 for the past fortnight. I mean, how often do you get a native son coaching in the Super Bowl?
“We kind of hang on his coattails and follow along from afar — a small-town boy who does really good stuff,’’ said recently-retired teacher Rick Brudwick.
The clerks at the grocery store, the maintenance crew at the high school — all anyone wanted to talk about was Pederson and the Super Bowl, he said. Pederson is one of their own, born in Bellingham in 1968 but raised in Ferndale, and now the toast of the football world after engineering a monumental upset of the mighty New England Patriots as the second-year coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
They knew Pederson first, and best, in Ferndale, where he is remembered as an All-American “boy next door,” not just a three-sport star at Ferndale High School (all-state in football, basketball and baseball), but also student-body president and a member of the National Honor Society.
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“I cannot think of a finer example of a first-class student-athlete,” wrote Jim Pearson, who taught for 35 years at Ferndale High School, in an email. “Doug never acted better than any other student. His demeanor on the sidelines tells me he has never changed.”
Ferndale Mayor Jon Mutchler proclaimed Tuesday to be “Doug Pederson Day,” with all the requisite “whereases” and “therefores”. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, a slightly larger town by approximately 1.5 million, Pederson is also the toast, having reached instant legend status by outfoxing the sainted Bill Belichick in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory.
What remains so striking is how aggressively and confidently Pederson coached. He went for it twice successfully on fourth down (one resulting in the game’s signature play, a touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles, who had suggested the trick play, dubbed “Philly Special,” to Pederson on the sideline). That’s a far more successful formula for beating Belichick than a timid “play not to lose” strategy, and to those who knew Pederson, it was not a surprise.
“A lot of people say it was gutsy,” said Donny Finkbonner, a star running back on the Ferndale High School teams of the mid-1980s on which Pederson was the quarterback. “To me, it has always been his confidence. If a person puts in the work, then you’re confident in that work, and in your players as well.”
To Brudwick, who was an assistant coach at the high school when Pederson played, and is also his cousin (Brudwick’s mom and Pederson’s dad were brother and sister), it hearkened back to the days that Doug’s dad, Gordon Pederson, was their youth football coach.
“His dad was one of those ‘go for it’ kind of guys,’’ said Brudwick. “That was instilled at a young age — make things happen, don’t wait, make it happen yourself.”
Sadly, Gordon Pederson died last fall, but the father’s coaching legacy lives within his son.
“I told his mom, when I see clips of Doug talking to his team, it reminds me so much of Gordie,” said Finkbonner.
You want to talk quiet confidence? Brudwick will never forget Pederson’s first game as the varsity quarterback in 1983, when longtime coach Vic Randall made him the starter as a sophomore. Pederson’s very first pass? Intercepted. As his relative, Brudwick thought he should be the one to go over and comfort Pederson on the sidelines.
“It’s OK, big guy,” he said.
“I know it’s OK. In my career I’ll throw a few more,” replied Pederson.
Brudwick still laughs at the oft-told tale. “In other words, he was saying, ‘I plan to go a long ways.’ It was kind of cool. He was always a guy who worked his butt off and knew where he wanted to be.”
Pederson wound up at Northeast Louisiana University after his dad transferred jobs to Monroe, La. following his senior year. He still holds several passing records at the school now known as University of Louisiana at Monroe, and briefly owned the Division I-AA record for passing yards in a game with a 619-yard effort against Stephen F. Austin as a junior. How briefly? Andre Ware of Houston broke it in a game that same night.
Pederson’s professional career was mostly one of frustration — getting signed and released five times by the Miami Dolphins, being chosen in the expansion draft and then released by the Carolina Panthers, meandering through stints with two teams in the World League of American Football, and mostly doing a lot of sitting on the bench with a clipboard for a number of teams.
But Pederson had his moments. He played under a succession of stalwart coaches, including Don Shula, Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid, and behind quarterbacks as storied as Dan Marino and Brett Favre. He was the signal caller when Shula won his record-breaking 325th game (for which Pederson’s jersey was sent to the Hall of Fame in Canton), and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Packers. He got a brief opportunity to be the first-string quarterback for the Eagles while they groomed Donovan McNabb.
When Pederson’s playing career ended, he spent four years as a high-school coach at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, La., before Reid offered him the Eagles’ quality-control job, launching his pro coaching career at the lowest level. Reid would say later that he realized Pederson had coaching chops when he noticed Favre always went straight to Pederson when he came off the field. Pederson eventually worked his way up to offensive coordinator with the Chiefs before the Eagles hired him in 2016 — a move not without its critics in Philadelphia at the time of the hire, and through his 7-9 rookie season.
That sort of perseverance still resonates in Ferndale.
Finkbonner sent Pederson a text before the Super Bowl, saluting him for the “huge mountain” he had climbed to get to the top. Finkbonner also told Pederson he was praying for his strength and peace.
“Those are two words I thought would help him be at peace with his game plan,” he explained.
The game plan, and its execution, were both brilliant. And now they’re celebrating Pederson in two cities, 3,000 miles apart.