When Andy Reid was fired on the last day on the calendar in 2012, the headlines would have you believe that the Philadelphia Eagles were letting go of a very good head coach. After 130 wins in 14 seasons on the sidelines in Philly, Reid had given the city a perennial playoff contender, a 10-9 postseason record, and an NFC Championship for his efforts.
According to a brutal Philly-based press corps, legions of fans, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, it wasn’t enough.
While it’s nice to average a winning season, the Eagles were tired of questionable play calling and use of the clock. There were concerns about timeout usage and personnel decisions. But beyond all of that, there was the failure to win the big game—or even get there. In 14 years, the Eagles had a middling postseason record, one conference championship, and zero parades to show for Reid’s tenure.
Thus, he was labeled.
For years, Reid was both lauded and loathed. His players swore by him. His organization was a model of success and positive culture. His coaching tree began to flourish. But that inability to reach and/or win the Super Bowl was the only thing that mattered. Suddenly everything was called into question, all because year after year featured other players celebrating, other coaches holding the Lombardi, other fans standing under confetti. At some point, the past began to project into the future.
Andy Reid’s success has made a mockery of the early labels applied to him.
This happens all the time in sports. The term “bust’ is applied to draft picks after a single season. Players, coaches, owners, executives—basically anyone associated with a pro sports franchise—is given easily-applied labels on a daily basis. Talking heads on radio and television certainly don’t help the situation, where nuance and common sense are replaced by slogans and stigmas. The loudest voice is the one that lingers.
Picture the Chiefs back in early 2014. Eric Fisher had just wrapped a decent enough rookie season for the Chiefs who had turned the corner away from their miserable 2-14 record back in 2012. Yet even then, because he was taken at No. 1 overall (in the worst draft in recent NFL history), labels began to be applied. Suddenly he was a disappointing pick, a reach, even a bust. Eight years later, he’s a two-time Pro Bowl anchor on a Super Bowl winner. The labels were shed.
Picture the Chiefs late in the 2017 season. With Patrick Mahomes sitting on the bench, Alex Smith delivers one of the best seasons for a quarterback to date in franchise history with a league-leading passer rating of 104.7, a completion rate of 67.5 percent, 26 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions, and over 4K passing yards for the first time in his career. After suffering through myriad labels—all negative—as another former first round pick for the San Francisco 49ers, Smith had completely reinvented himself in Kansas City. The labels were shed.
Back to Reid. The labels that had been so lazily applied to Reid—that he can’t win the big game—forced Lurie let him go. Eight years later, the Eagles owner has hired his third head coach, Nick Sirianni, after watching Chip Kelly crash and burn and Doug Pederson leave for reasons that are hard to understand. Meanwhile, Reid is currently shaking hands and working the proverbial room during another Super Bowl week of media appearances. After restoring the Chiefs to a floor of sustained success, he finally took the leap and won the big game. He’s on the verge of winning many more.
The labels have been shed.
The very idea that a head coach who consistently makes the playoffs cannot win the big game is one of the most asinine takes in any sport, as it is. Getting to the postseason allows for a blank slate each and every time. It’s hard to consistently win in the NFL, and a team has to have talent, good coaching, solid depth, and sheer luck to pull it off. Reid had not only given the Eagles franchise so many opportunities to potentially make it, but it was likely safe to assume he would have provided them many more.
If a coach doesn’t have what it takes to win, he would never be in the postseason in the first place. There is no “extra” level of talent in a head coach that separates from “playoffs only” to “Super Bowl worthy.” It’s just about opportunities. Each coach does his best to reach the playoffs, and then from there, it’s about pulling off the three or four consecutive wins necessary to lift the Lombardi. And there are myriad factors that go into a team’s ability to do it. It’s a convergence of elements, a planetary alignment, and it shouldn’t all rest on the shoulders of the one tasked with coaching the roster.
In short, if you’ve got a guy who gets you there, keep the guy that gets you there.
Then again, we’re trying to hold out reasonable expectations and maintain a common sense approach in a world where passion and emotion dictate almost everything. Fortunately the Chiefs gave Reid another opportunity, and the chance to win the big game finally came his way. Now he’s on the verge of lifting it once again, and it’s a reminder to us all that the labels so easily applied don’t always have to stick. In fact, they’re often wrong in the first place.