He’s regarded now as one of the greatest coaches ever. An offensive mastermind who can see a creative play on film, scribble it onto an index card, install it and unleash it upon an unsuspecting opponent.
Game after game. Week after week. For 22 years and counting.
But the Chiefs’ Andy Reid hasn’t always been viewed that way. He used to coach offensive lineman and tight ends as an unheralded assistant in Green Bay. While there, he once wondered aloud: How would Vince Lombardi, the Packers’ legendary coach, handle the modern NFL player?
“It was one of our old scouts there that we had on that staff … and he said (Lombardi) would adapt to these players,” Reid recalled before delving into a story about how Lombardi altered his game-day dress code at the urging of one of his younger, more stylish players.
“At a young age I learned that adaptability becomes important as a coach,” said Reid, an assistant in Green Bay from 1992 to 1998. “Whatever field you’re in, whether it’s dealing with the players or the scheme.”
Reid, 62, has championed adaptability and has the sixth-most wins (215) in NFL history — and a Lombardi Trophy — to show for it. His players love him. His peers revere him. And on Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium, the Raiders are the unenviable team that must contend with him and the vaunted Chiefs after their bye week.
His teams are 18-3 after byes, a mark on the minds of many in Las Vegas this week.
“It goes back to the extra time to prepare and make all adjustments necessary to neutralize the opponent’s strength,” said Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito, who factored Reid’s record after byes into an opening line that deemed the Chiefs a 7-point favorite in Sunday night’s game.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden already orchestrated one victory over Kansas City earlier this season. It’s an accomplishment he deemed worthy of a victory lap around Arrowhead Stadium.
But a second victory over Reid and the Chiefs is an even taller order, especially after a bye week for Kansas City. Gruden also knows the power of Reid’s preparation.
“Legendary,” said Gruden, who worked alongside Reid in Green Bay from 1992 to 1994. “He’s got great experience, great confidence in his players, and he’s not afraid to pull the trigger and use some unconventional ways to do it.”
Credit the lesson taught by that veteran scout in Green Bay. He unknowingly helped spark a coaching career that includes 15 10-wins seasons, 10 division titles, two conference championships and one Super Bowl win.
Reid’s seven-year stint as an assistant in Green Bay pre-empted his first head coaching job in Philadelphia. He was hired in 1999 and tasked with reinvigorating a once proud Eagles franchise that in 1998 had gone 3-13 — still its second-worst record since the AFL-NFL merger.
But under Reid, Philadelphia quickly blossomed into one of the best teams in the NFC and a perennial Super Bowl contender. They were armed with some of the league’s most talented players, like Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook, who still recalls and lauds Reid’s meticulous attention to detail.
“Andy was always letting you know why we’re doing something. And that’s important for a lot of players, because if you don’t know the why, then some of the details just go flying out the door,” said Westbrook, an All-Pro in 2007. “He’s smart. He’s innovative. But he’s also reasonable (about) the things that will work and that won’t work.”
Westbrook played college football at nearby Villanova and followed Reid’s Eagles from afar as he concluded his college career. He fondly remembered meeting Reid at college banquets and playing eight years for him with the Eagles, where he emerged as one of the best pass-catching running backs in the modern era.
He said Reid would devise ways to get Westbrook and other shifty skill players in space. His genius manifests in the motions, shifts and formations that continue to trick opposing defenses.
Offensive coaches started to mimic him while defensive coaches were forced to adjust to him.
“We saw defenses changing into a lot more nickel, a lot more situations where they’re trying to get five defensive backs on the field to stop the three-receiver sets, but also the running back displacing and running routes and things like that,” Westbrook said. “A lot of that was due to some of the things Andy was doing.”
The Eagles dismissed Reid in 2012 after a 4-12 campaign, one of three losing seasons during his time in Philadelphia. The Chiefs hired him later that week and have qualified for the playoffs in six of his seven seasons, winning four division titles along the way.
Adjusting to personnel
There are certain concepts that Reid adores. Hallmarks of his offenses are the shovel pass, the screen pass, the quarterback rollout and the draw. But everything else is seemingly dependent on his personnel.
He tailors his system to his players. He identifies their talents and works to maximize them instead of pigeonholing them into archaic schemes that satisfy his ego.
“He’s not a dinosaur,” says retired NFL coach Brad Childress, twice an assistant under Reid and a former coach of the Minnesota Vikings. “He will look at plays, and as a coach, yeah, he’s looking at the players, and then all of sudden he will see a scheme and say, ‘Wow. That’s a hell of a scheme.’ Even if it doesn’t fit his scheme, if he thinks it’s a good play, he’s going to sit there … and he’s going to draw the thing up.”
Childress was an assistant in Kansas City from 2013 to 2017 and remembered evaluating with Reid then-college quarterbacks Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky and, yes, Patrick Mahomes, whom the Chiefs traded up to select in the 2017 NFL draft.
Childress said Reid would not hesitate to copy a play that worked for those quarterbacks in college.
He’ll still do that, too, scouring tape for every advantage he can find.
Alex Smith preceded Mahomes as Kansas City’s quarterback and called Reid a “really unique coach at the NFL level” who creates an environment conducive to player development.
He encourages players to be themselves on and off the field, and in turn, they love him for it.
“From afar, before I played with him, I knew he had a lot of different types of quarterbacks that had played for him. And they all had success in a lot of different ways. It wasn’t a cookie cutter thing,” said Smith, Kansas City’s starter from 2013 to 2017. “He’s a great teacher. At his core, I think that’s what Coach Reid is. He loves teaching. He loves developing, and that’s one of his greatest strengths, especially for young players.”
The Chiefs announced last week that Reid had signed a multiyear contract extension, keeping him in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.
A future that he’ll certainly adapt to, should he decide that adaptation is necessary.
“He’s seen every ebb and flow,” said NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, who is calling the game Sunday night. “He is what he is and he believes what he believes. And now all of a sudden, football has come to him, and what was once considered crazy is now considered innovative.”
Andy Reid’s records
2000: 11-5, reached NFC divisional round
2001: 11-5, NFC East champions, reached NFC championship
2002: 12-4, NFC East champions, reached NFC championship
2003: 12-4, NFC East champions, reached NFC championship
2004: 13-3, NFC East champions, reached Super Bowl XXIX
2006: 10-6, NFC East champions, reached NFC divisional round
2008: 9-6-1, reached NFC championship
2009: 11-5, reached NFC wild card round
2010: 10-6, NFC East champions, reached NFC wild card round
Kansas City Chiefs
2013: 11-5, reached AFC wild card round
2015: 11-5. reached AFC divisional round
2016: 12-4, AFC West champions, reached AFC divisional round
2017: 10-6, AFC West champions, reached AFC wild card round
2018: 12-4, AFC West champions, reached AFC championship
2019: 12-4, AFC West champions, won Super Bowl LIV