Andy Reid is the perfect fit for the Kansas City Chiefs. Absolutely perfect, with a capital “P.”
His use of Jamaal Charles through the first 5 games of the 2013 season has been masterful. He’s been able to give quarterback Alex Smith an environment in which to seamlessly continue the success he enjoyed in his previous two seasons as San Francisco’s signal caller. He’s gotten production from guys like Anthony Sherman, Junior Hemingway, and Sean McGrath. He’s encouraged his players to have fun and be themselves, and in turn, he’s done the same.
But the success of Reid’s team and his players isn’t solely about production on the field. Sure, the object is to win. But winning doesn’t come from a playbook, or an offensive philosophy. Playbooks hold plays. Philosophies guide decisions. Winning doesn’t come from a better scheme, though a better scheme always helps. Experience certainly doesn’t lead to winning either. Winning happens when things fall together, when people grow, when a team believes in themselves, when the talent peaks, when a group of men have a single goal, when “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
A “perfect fit” would not describe the Chiefs’ 2012 coaching situation. Romeo Crennel, though loved by his players, seemed overwhelmed as a head coach – at one point he threw his hands up and plainly admitted that he wasn’t sure why Charles, his team’s most dangerous and explosive offensive weapon, was limited to only 5 carries in a loss last October. Romeo stuck with Matt Cassel too long (though as we all speculate, Scott Pioli may have been insistent upon Cassel starting), benched him too late, waited too long before naming a true defensive coordinator, hired the wrong offensive coordinator, and refused to adapt to the changing game. Failure to adapt is a death knell for any coach. In the academic world the phrase is “publish or perish.” In the football world, it’s “adapt or die.”
So Andy Reid is the perfect fit for this team, and it’s not because of his playbook. Coaches with great playbooks have come and gone in the NFL, with varying successes and failures. No, Reid is perfect for the Chiefs because he’s the leader they have been looking for. He’s the mentor they need. He’s the guy this team has needed to give them hope and to pull them together as a team.
Just as Aristotle once mentored a young Alexander the Great, Reid is mentoring his own Alex. He’s teaching his young Chiefs Aristotelian lessons, either directly or indirectly, for not only thinking, but also living. This is why Reid is perfect for this team, and this is why the Chiefs are winning.
Lesson #1 “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Andy Reid knows himself, and knows himself well. He’s shown this to us before. Just last summer, after his son overdosed in a dorm room at Eagles training camp, owner Jeff Lurie suggested Reid take the 2012 season off to heal. Though Lurie was merely attempting to be kind and to offer Reid a chance to re-charge his batteries, Andy would have no part of it. He’s a coach. It’s what he does, and he realized that. He knew that regardless of the outcome, he had to coach in the face of adversity.
Reid knowing that he was meant to coach may seem obvious on the surface. I admit that if posed the question, most, if not all coaches would tell us that they feel as if they were “meant to coach.” But Reid has taken this realization to a new level. He’s no longer trying to play personnel man. In fact, in Kansas City he’s now able to put full faith in GM John Dorsey, and leave the personnel side of the game on someone else’s desk. In 2012, the “dream team” Reid helped assemble seemed to be a change of direction for the Eagles. It felt as if it came from a place of desperation; as if they were making one final push to send the team to the top. It was their last shot, and unfortunately, they missed.
This isn’t what Reid started coaching for. He didn’t pursue this career to sign players, and cut players, and build a roster. He started coaching because he wanted to coach. In his Monday Morning Quarterback column on SI, Peter King quoted Reid saying just that about his new gig in KC:
“When I got into coaching a long time ago,” he said, sitting on the RA’s couch in the Spartan room on hour north of Kansas City, “I got into it to coach. That’s the fun part of the game to me. Now I’m able to do it again – all of it. The hands-on coaching at practice, the install [installation of plays and the gameplan], and to call the plays.”
Andy Reid knows himself. He’s learned this lesson, and he’s teaching it to his players. A Head Coach “knowing himself,” and to getting back to the fundamental principal of “love what you do” can be an inspiring sight for young players. As players see their leader being himself, and finding great joy in it, they will follow him. They will find pleasure in being themselves again, and with pleasure comes a striving for perfection.
Lesson #2 “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
When someone loves what he or she does for work, that thing ceases to be work, and becomes a living. Coaches that catch the “coaching bug” tend to become obsessed. They pour over the details, endlessly watch film, wake up entirely too early, and go to bed entirely to late. It’s why Gunther Cunningham used to get to Arrowhead Stadium at 4:00am during his time as the Chiefs’ head coach. Obsession comes with the territory. This obsession can be considered unhealthy for some, foolish for others and effective for a small few.
The bottom line, however, is that “pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” Finally detached from the burdens of player personnel, Andy Reid is again happy in his role, is having fun, and is back to teaching the little things. Just ask Branden Albert. As quoted in Peter King’s article, “He gets down and actually teaches us little technique things. One day out there, in this thing we call the cut-off drill, he’s out there sprawled on the ground showing us the right technique. I don’t see many coaches doing that. You say, ‘Wow, our head coach is really into line play.'”
Picture that for a second: Andy Reid, sprawled onto the ground, teaching, getting into the minutia of offensive line play. If Reid was unhappy; if he was depressed, or burned out, he wouldn’t be getting into the mud, and teaching the big boys in the trenches. But Reid has found his roots (he was an offensive line coach for the first eight years of his coaching career). He’s once again taking pleasure in the job, and putting perfection in the work.
Lesson #3 “Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain.”
In 2012, in the middle of Eagles training camp, Andy Reid’s son Garrett overdosed on Heroin and died at the age of 29. It was sudden, and tragic, and a strain on Reid. He dealt with the tragedy as best he could, and tried to use football as his medicine. Instead of walking away from the game to grieve, and re-charge – something no one would have questioned – Reid stuck with football, and though an admirable decision, Reid ultimately lost his job. His team’s 4-12 record from last season may not be a direct result of Garrett’s passing, and it would be foolish to blame a sub-par season on that event and that event alone, but it couldn’t have helped.
In August of 2008, then 49ers quarterback and current Chiefs signal caller Alex Smith got a phone call that would change his life. He received news that his childhood best friend David Edwards had taken his own life. Smith told Jeffri Chadiha in 2009, “I was in complete shock […]. I just didn’t want to believe it.” Smith followed up with the best season of his career in 2009.
Alex Smith and the Reid family haven’t been the only ones in the NFL who have been jarred by a tragedy. In fact, it happened in the Kansas City’s backyard just last year. The Belcher, Perkins, Charles, and by extension, Chiefs families were all struck by an unthinkable tragedy when Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, Cassandra Perkins (cousin to Jamaal Charles’ wife), and then drove to the Chiefs’ facility where he eventually took his own life in the parking lot as members of the Chiefs’ staff looked on in horror. Reality came crashing down on the then 1-10 Kansas City Chiefs. As then Chiefs’ quarterback Brady Quinn was quoted in the Washington Post, ““We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”
“We cannot learn without pain.” It’s what Aristotle said long ago, and most likely taught young Alexander the Great. It should be no secret why Alex Smith responded to the untimely death of his best friend with the best season of his career. It should be no secret why Andy Reid is again finding success in the NFL, and it should be no secret why the Chief players who were effected by the 2012 Jovan Belcher tragedy have seemingly grown so much. They’ve experienced pain, and are now learning through that pain.
Lesson #4 “Hope is a waking dream.”
Hope is a rare thing in the NFL. Most teams become caught in the quicksand of their own despair. They focus on the negatives until the negatives are all they see. The Chiefs aren’t doing this. They believe in each other, and that belief has turned into true hope. Andy Reid is a huge reason why the Chiefs currently have so much hope. As Chiefs’ legend Len Dawson told the Philadelphia Inquirer in September, “[Reid] is bringing hope because it’s been a long time since they tasted the opportunity to really be in a position to win, and win championships. We see that in him, as he has perhaps the staff and everything else to get this accomplished, and that is what we all want.”
Hope is a waking dream. Some players have nearly stated this exactly. In Dave Skretta’s AP article, “Chiefs Off To Perfect Start Under Andy Reid,” Jamaal Charles, in reference to the Chiefs’ fast start to 2013, is quoted as saying, “It’s a dream.”
Why is Andy Reid perfect for this team? There are many reasons why, and I’m sure if you asked two different players, you’d get two different answers. Reid has a great playbook. He’s been willing to adapt. He’s in love with the game again. He can relate to his team. He’s surrounded himself with a great staff. But above all else, he’s teaching. He’s using experience to teach, and he’s – consciously or not – using lessons from one of the greatest teachers in the history of the human race.