Andy Reid is back in his element
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- He is happier now. It is obvious. The pressure of Philadelphia is off his shoulders. The expectations. The demands. The politics. It is all gone.
Andy Reid can breathe again.
It isn't so obvious to Reid -- how his sense of humor is coming through in his coaching of the Kansas City Chiefs, how his new players are connecting with him in a way maybe his last few Philadelphia Eagles teams could not. Reid is more involved. That is a conscious decision. He is back scheming with his assistants, back installing his offense the way he did when he became a head coach in 1999. He's no longer in charge of personnel. He has gone back to his roots, to what he loves, to what made him successful.
For those who have been with him throughout his career as a head coach, the change in Reid in the past seven months is striking.
"I've seen life back in him," said Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, who played and coached under Reid with the Eagles.
"He's got so much energy. It's scary," said Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder, who was the Eagles' trainer throughout Reid's 14-season tenure in Philadelphia.
"I just see a rejuvenated guy, you know?" said assistant head coach David Culley, who served as a Philadelphia assistant during Reid's entire tenure there. "And it's good to see, especially with all the things that happened in the last year."
All the things. There was so much -- really dating to the 2011 lockout season -- with none more sad or sudden than the death of Reid's eldest son, Garrett, of a heroin overdose Aug. 5 at the Eagles' training camp in Bethlehem, Pa. There were also losses on the field, losses in the coaching ranks, the front office, the locker room. And there was the crushing pressure of unrealized expectations.
The Eagles had gotten so close to winning a Super Bowl in the 2000s, reaching five NFC title games and one Super Bowl, that nothing else but winning a Lombardi trophy mattered. Division titles didn't matter. Double-digit wins didn't matter.
So the Eagles started reaching, and Reid deviated from a plan that had produced much success. Instead of the team, there was the Dream Team. Instead of the day-to-day process, there was trying to jump over a bar that remained out of reach.
Last season, Philadelphia collapsed under the pressure of trying to win enough games to save Reid's job. The staff burned out. The result was disastrous: a 4-12 record that ultimately cost Reid the job he had held, remarkably, for 14 seasons.
Four days after Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Reid on Dec. 31, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt hired him. Four days. Reid probably could have gone anywhere he wanted. San Diego. Arizona. But Kansas City personnel flew to Philadelphia, interviewed Reid, then promptly offered him a chance to start anew.
"He's got that fire back in him again," Culley said.
Reid is a process guy. When he arrived in Philadelphia from Green Bay in 1999, he carried with him a thick binder that outlined in intricate detail his plan for how to deal with every aspect of his football team every day of the year. There were plans for how to deal with free agency, the draft, offseason practices, training camp, the regular season and the postseason. There were plans for coordinators, position coaches, trainers, equipment managers, ball boys and support staff.
At its core, the process was about discipline and detail.
That is the process Reid has returned to in Kansas City.
"We've reined in our process again," said Burkholder. "We're back to Andy Reid football: discipline, and everything's football, football, football."
Including for Reid. In the final four or five seasons in Philly, Reid would coach the team, but he would allow his position coaches and coordinators to coach the players. Reid would draw up plays and scheme and watch tape, but he would do so in the privacy of his office. He let offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg call the plays.
Now, Reid is in the offensive meetings. He opens the meetings. He closes the meetings. He schemes and plans and evaluates right next to Pederson and Culley -- who also serves as wide receivers coach -- and the rest of the staff.
Of the six coaches on offense, all but line coach Andy Heck have a Philadelphia connection with Reid. Tight ends coach Tom Melvin, like Culley, spent all 14 seasons on Reid's Eagles staff. Former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress, once Reid's offensive coordinator in Philly, is on the staff as a spread-game analyst. Former Eagles cornerback Al Harris is an assistant defensive backs coach. Two strength and conditioning coaches from the Eagles moved to the Chiefs, as did Mike Frazier, the team's statistical analysis coordinator.
They all know how Reid operates. Reid doesn't have to coach his coaches. He can focus on the players.
In February and March, before players reported for offseason workouts, Reid was in the position coaches' evaluation meetings, breaking down film of the previous season to get an idea where to start.
"He was in all those meetings with us, which he hadn't been in the last four or five years," Culley said.
During the Chiefs' first training camp workout with quarterbacks, rookies and selected veterans, Reid stood with Burkholder observing a passing drill. He checked on every personnel grouping on both offense and defense, then settled back with the offense, advising new starting quarterback Alex Smith on everything from footwork to vision.
At his core, Reid is an offensive coach. While he hasn't admitted to making significant changes in his approach to this season from ones past, his assistants said his attention to detail is welcome. Reid is also implementing more of a "high-tempo offense that he's always wanted to do," Culley said. And while Pederson, a first-time coordinator, said he is calling plays in practice so the quarterbacks get used to the sound of his voice, it is Reid who will be calling plays once the regular season starts, also a change.
"He loves calling plays," Culley said. "Loves it. There's no question. He's been diagramming the whole time. A lot of things we did when he wasn't directly in the meetings -- calling plays -- he always had his input. Now, he's back into it. He's in there, and it's good to see that in him again."
Mike Holmgren thought Reid should step away. After Garrett died during training camp and all of Reid's friends and peers poured into Philadelphia for the funeral two days later, Holmgren told Lurie he thought Reid should step aside for the season.
"He doesn't have to do this," Holmgren told the Eagles' owner.
"Often times, he would listen to me," said Holmgren, who gave Reid his NFL start in 1992 with the Packers and is one of his closest confidantes. "That one, he didn't."
Two days later, Reid was back on the sideline coaching the Eagles in their first preseason game.
Reid doesn't want to talk about Garrett or about how he processes his grief. He wants to look forward, not back. But he grieved, and grieved hard, and then he did what he thought Garrett would want: coach.
At some point after it became obvious his Eagles tenure was coming to an end, Reid and his wife, Tammy, discussed whether he should continue coaching another team or take a season off. It was a short conversation.
"This is what I enjoy doing," the 55-year-old Reid said. "I think you're given a window in your life where you can do this, and then you're too old. You're very lucky to be doing it anyways. You're one out of 32 guys in the whole world. And then, it goes by fast. Those 14 years in Philadelphia went by like that [snaps fingers]. And I'm not getting any younger. You sit out a year, you're taking away another year you have an opportunity to do this. I look at it as a privilege, so I felt like I still have the energy, passion -- all those things to do it. I really didn't go the other way."
Before deciding to take the Chiefs job, Reid said he talked to Holmgren, longtime NFL coach Dick Vermeil, legendary Brigham Young University coach LaVell Edwards, and Hall of Fame coach John Madden.
"They knew how I felt," Reid said. "They were good. They were supportive."
Still, Holmgren and his wife, Kathy, again asked Reid about his decision while at the NFL owners' meetings in Arizona in March.
"No, no," Reid told Holmgren. "My way of dealing with it is to dive into my work. That's just how I am."
Said Holmgren: "I know how he is. He was that way with me. He works very hard at stuff. But I still thought maybe it was the best thing for him."
Reid understands Holmgren's concerns, but also knows he understands his passion. The Cleveland Browns, under new ownership and management, had jettisoned Holmgren, their president, last season, leaving him unemployed, without a team to lead or a job to embrace.
"This one, he kind of knows," Reid said of Holmgren. "He knew he was leaving Cleveland and how much he'd miss it, and he misses it. That's the same thing I'm in. If I sit out, you miss it. You miss what you're doing. I could see that in him. He didn't have to say a word."
The Reids' other four children -- sons Britt and Spencer and daughters Crosby and Drew Ann -- are grown now. He and Tammy, as Reid said, are "empty nesters." So they bought a house in the trendy Plaza section of Kansas City, across from the upscale shops that line street after street. Valentino. Tiffany & Co. Sur La Table. Lululemon. Tommy Bahama. They're all there.
So is Reid's new favorite restaurant. Philadelphia has cheesesteaks. Kansas City has barbecue. Reid has tried them all, but his favorite is Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue. On his way home from work earlier in the offseason, Reid would call in an order and park his truck out front, and someone would bring him dinner to go.
"How great is that?" Reid said.
One night, Reid took Smith to dinner there. They talked about the BYU-Utah rivalry -- Reid played at BYU, Smith at Utah -- about their lives and about football. As Reid did with Eagles quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick, he is forging a bond with Smith.
"The thing that really jumped out at me was how much you could tell he enjoys coaching and teaching, and I didn't know that," Smith said of Reid. "A lot of times, head coaches get away from the classroom and on the field. So many times they're doing administrative things or different stuff. But it was very cool to see him in installations early, out on the field. How much he enjoys coaching and teaching -- you could see it right away."
Reid is enjoying himself. For camp, he has his hair and mustache cut tight. He knows his team has holes -- it desperately needs a No. 2 wide receiver and pass-rushers -- but there is talent there. Smith is a perfect fit for Reid's West Coast offense. Running back Jamaal Charles is a star. Dwayne Bowe is an elite receiver. The offensive line has potential. The secondary could be great.
How many wins is Reid worth? Can he make the Chiefs relevant in November? Can he turn around a team that was 2-14 last season as quickly as he did Philadelphia, which he got to the playoffs in his second season?
The process will play itself out.
"I think, sometimes, change is good," Reid said. "I think it'll be great for Philadelphia. I think it'll be good for the Chiefs. Personally, I feel good. I'm enjoying this. It's good to be challenged. When you're someplace a long time, you know the routine, and sometimes getting out of that routine can be good. Brings a little energy, maybe."
In moving forward, Reid also has moved back. He has rediscovered what made him successful -- coaching -- and that has made him happy. That much is obvious.