Local barbers are cutting Eagles and Patriots logos and other special designs into customers’ hair leading up to Super Bowl LII. Some fans are also getting their hair dyed green. Celeste E. Whittaker/Staff Photographer
Towards the end of Russ Horton’s tenure as Moorestown High School’s football coach, he sought a change in offensive identity.
First, he moved from the Wing-T to a new version of the scheme, It incorporated the shotgun snap. Later, he overhauled both.
Horton wanted to run the Air Raid. He had the quarterback for it in Andrew Lisa. He had the athletes to run the routes. He made the switch.
In the process, he mentioned that philosophical change to the father of his first-string receiver and safety.
The listener will lead the Eagles in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Doug Pederson, dad to 2013 Quakers’ grad Drew Pederson, chatted with Horton about his plans and made a simple gesture. It’s not been lost on the 48-year-old who still teaches health and physical education at Moorestown.
“He ran pretty much that same offense in Louisiana,” Horton recalled of the Eagles boss’ days as a head coach at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport. “He was very helpful and offered to give me some material he’d had from when he used the offense.
“He brought me about 20 DVDs and three or four binders full of plays. Just the fact of the amount of stuff he gave me, to take the time to make the copies and get it all to me, that meant a lot.”
Doug Pederson even made trips to summer workouts when his job on Andy Reid’s Eagles staff allowed.
“I told him, ‘Hey, go talk to the kids and feel free to jump in and help run quarterback drills,’” Horton recalled. “He did and did it without stepping on other coaches’ toes. It seemed like he knew more than we did, and of course he did. But, he never acted like he knew more than we did.”
Horton expected he’d have Drew Pederson play quarterback his senior season.
Instead, the star broke an ankle in preseason workouts.
“We had the offense ready for him,” Horton said. “I had some of the things like the RPOs (run-pass options) that the Eagles run now. It was perfect for him.
“He was a quarterback, but we had Andrew back there who’d already thrown for 2,500 yards his junior year so Drew played tight end (as a junior). He was tremendous there but he was really a top player at free safety.”
A Toms River native who didn’t root for a specific team until he relocated more than 21 years ago, Horton’s fervor for the Eagles now hits an extra level.
He’s still Facebook friends with some of the Pederson clan and said he’s “been telling anyone I know I coached his son. I’ll even talk to a stranger who’s a cashier at the super market.”
Horton led the Quakers for 10 seasons until 2012. He’s joined by another gridiron lifer with his connection to the staff that’s been lauded for its work since September.
Rob Hinson, the ever-successful Timber Creek coach, interned with the Eagles in 2015 as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship.
The three-decade old program’s used in part to help minorities get experience on an NFL level in summer training camps. Often times, former players are involved. Paulsboro’s Isaac Redman helped with the Arizona Cardinals in the past.
Hinson got the opportunity. He knew then-Eagles assistant Mike Dawson – now at Nebraska – and Jeff Stoutland, who became offensive line coach under former head man Chip Kelly. Stoutland, who came to Philadelphia after two years at the University of Alabama. Doug Pederson retained the tutor of the trenches when he revamped the staff in the 2016 offseason.
Stoutland and Hinson became friends when the Crimson Tide were interested in then-Chargers’ star Dajuan Drennon, who eventually wound up at North Carolina.
“Stout and I, we kind of hit it off, man,” Hinson said. “He would come up when he was in the area and we kind of stayed in touch over time.
“He even asked if I would come down and talk at Alabama. It was amazing, I enjoyed it. He and I still remain close enough where I can call or text if I need something important.”
Hinson and a dozen other coaches from around the country at all levels – Lou Holtz and Bill Parcells among them – spoke to Alabama’s staff.
That experience helped further cultivate the friendship with Stoutland. Hinson’s watched with admiration for what his pal’s been able to do with one of the NFL’s best groups in the trenches.
“It’s awesome,” Hinson said. “I know how good of a coach he is. He was phenomenal at Alabama, phenomenal at (the University of Miami), I mean, his reputation precedes him. He’s a pretty straight-forward guy. A real nice man, but when he’s coaching he’s fiery as heck.”
For a few weeks in that 2015 camp, Hinson went through day-to-day activities as an intern. The three current Birds who stood out most were Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins.
“Kelce was like a coach out there,” he said. “Malcolm, obviously was like a coach as well. Fletcher was one of those guys where you looked at him and he got at it pretty good, sheesh.
“You were like, ‘This guy’s a dog.’”
Hinson met Doug Pederson, too. Though it wasn’t at a clinic or the NovaCare Complex. Instead, he crossed paths with this season’s toast of the town when the Chargers played at Moorestown.
The 50-year-old who will coach in Sunday’s Super Bowl worked as a member of the home team’s chain crew on the visitors’ sideline.
“It was a game in the rain and we met after I kind of glanced over and said, ‘Man, that’s Doug Pederson,’” Hinson remembered. “He told us we were hilarious because we get kind of animated on the sideline.”
In tune with the coaches, schemes and plenty of material to show for it, Doug Pederson’s strengths – and Stoutland’s, too – have been accentuated in the team’s spectacular run.
Horton understands why.
“He would be a wonderful person to be on a staff and a wonderful coach to lead a staff,” Horton said of his thoughts after brief surprise when the salt-and-pepper haired former quarterback took over after a year as the Chiefs offensive coordinator. “He’s down to earth, humble and helpful.
“All the things he’s doing seem like things that should be common sense for all coaches. Players really around the fact he gives them ownership and listens to their ideas. I hoped it would work and obviously it did.”
Mark Trible: @Mtrible; (856) 486-2424; firstname.lastname@example.org
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