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HOW IS ANDY REID ATOP HIS PROFESSION WHEN HE’S HAVING SO MUCH FUN?
In a life of triumph and tragedy, the lessons of perspective are evident in a Super Bowl where his current team faces his former team, including a young head coach he once had to fire in Kansas City
He has it all figured out, doesn’t he? So many coaches are prisoners to their inner monsters, incapable of having fun as they scream and seethe, but Andy Reid wears no stress at 64, the age when Paul McCartney wondered whether he’d be fed and needed. Reid certainly is fed, wearing a very large Hawaiian shirt in Chiefs red somewhere inside a media mosh pit in downtown Phoenix, eagerly fielding a question about his favorite cheeseburgers.
“I grew up on In-N-Out,” he says, “but I’ve had a few Five Guys, and the Shake Shack … you know, I don’t turn any of them away.”
Enjoying another night of hoopla during another Super Bowl week, in his life of glory and tragedy, Reid is asked about a swirling rumor: Is it true he does the best imitation of Patrick Mahomes’ voice, which can sound like that of Kermit the Frog? We’ve seen the coach mix devilishly with his quarterbacking creation on a State Farm ad, where Reid secretly draws mustaches on his players’ faces during team charters. Does he actually punk Mahomes for real?
“You’ve got to let the voice crack,” he confirms. “That’s a unique voice.”
And, make no mistake, Reid is still very much needed, never more essential in the frenzied football village of Kansas City and the ever-evolving domain of the NFL. As Tom Brady fades into a mysterious gap year between retirement and the broadcast booth, while Bill Belichick keeps missing postseasons, the collaboration of our favorite grandpa and the most magical QB maestro of a generation forms the centerpiece of American sports. Let’s never forget, in gathering discourse about Mahomes and far-off potential G.O.A.T.-hood, that Reid is the whisperer who helped discover him at Texas Tech and ultimately orchestrated his professional development. You also might say, as Sean McVay oddly struggles with millennial burnout at 37, that Reid is showing an entire coaching brat pack how it’s done.
In khakis and white tennis shoes, he connects with players two-thirds his age, commanding their love and respect, never out of control, always in their corner. At a time when securing a franchise quarterback makes or breaks a career, Reid has achieved much more than that: He has gifted the sports world a dazzling, dual-threat artist who led the Chiefs to their latest AFC title on a bad ankle. Mahomes is the one man, at the most important position in sports, who can challenge Brady for all-time supremacy while wowing us with showmanship that includes no-look and underhanded passes, crazy formations and elements we’ve yet to witness because they just come to him, on the ad lib, thanks to the long leash of an enabling coach.
“I like to think of myself as a creative mind,” Mahomes said this week. “So I like to just be creative out there on the football field.”
His role in the Mahomes phenomenon has lifted Reid atop his profession, one Sunday victory from a Super Bowl championship that would place him among 13 other coaches to win multiple Vince Lombardi Trophies. A third title, with more possible as Mahomes just enters his prime at 27, would vault him into a heady quartet — Belichick, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs and his mentor, Bill Walsh — as the only three-time winners. His teams have made the playoffs in 18 of his 24 seasons, a remarkable run of continuity that explains why he’s fifth all-time in victories and second in postseason wins. Andy Reid doesn’t have much more to prove, guiding Mahomes and the Chiefs to their third Super Bowl in four years when Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees never returned for a second. The social magnitude of this moment, marking the first time two Black QBs have started a league championship game, is hardly a new experience for Reid. He has coached Black quarterbacks for decades, drafting Donovan McNabb and rescuing Michael Vick from scandal and prison. Now, he has produced an all-time great in Mahomes.
“The best player on the planet,” said the opposing coach, Nick Sirianni, who has helped nurture one of the best in Jalen Hurts.
The Reid legacy, as the Hall of Fame awaits, has come full circle this week. He is facing the Philadelphia Eagles, the team he coached 14 seasons in the hard-bitten town that continues to love him … at least until kickoff at 6:30 p.m. ET. Only Reid could share hugs, to this day, with the man who fired him, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who cried when Reid finally won his first Super Bowl three years ago. They never won a championship together, but it was in Philly where Reid gained a blessing more valuable: perspective. His 29-year-old son, Garrett, died of an accidental drug overdose in training camp before the 2012 season. The Eagles plummeted to 4-12. It was time for a change, on both ends.
“It was 14 years, so that’s a long time to be someplace and they were 14 great years, I loved every minute of it. Jeffrey Lurie is a phenomenal owner and did a great job for me, my family, everything. But it got to that point,” Reid says now. “They needed — I thought it would be good, and Jeffrey felt this way, would it be good for them and would it be good for me? And I appreciated his feeling on that. And we left with a ton of respect for each other.”
The same applied in Kansas City, where the Chiefs and a close-knit football community were living their own horror. Late in the 2012 season, linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, then took his life at the team’s practice facility in front of coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli. In came Reid, who orchestrated an immediate culture change within a toxic organization. The transition included necessary fallout. He had to replace Crennel’s staff, which included a young wide receivers coach.
Reid wanted a familiar hand, David Culley, to coach the receivers. Then 31, Sirianni had to uproot with his future wife, Brett, who grew up in Kansas City and taught him the importance of local barbecue. Reid had heard good things about him, but football — where have we heard this? — is a business. Nick and Brett moved on to southern California, where the Chargers would be the next stop in a journey leading him to Philadelphia in 2021 and Super Bowl LVII. He hasn’t forgotten the day he was fired by Andy Reid.
“Do you always have this little chip on your shoulder? Sure, yeah, you do," Sirianni said. “But that's who I am as a coach and as a person -- I want to make sure I'm working my butt off to get as good as I possibly can. And sure, you hold on to some of those things. Did I want to leave Kansas City? No. We were engaged at the time, she had a nice teaching job there, she had all her friends there, her mom and dad were a half-hour down the road. But when I look at it, God's always put me in great positions and guided my paths. I know I don't say stuff like that all the time, but I know he has.”
So the pre- and post-game handshakes will be interesting, though not at all contentious. No one — and I mean, no one — can hate or hold a grudge against Andy Reid, including Sirianni. "Andy came in because we weren't good enough in Kansas City. And he stepped in and did an unbelievable job,” he said. “What I really appreciated is that he brought everyone in and talked to them. He was complimentary. He knew I would be down, so he gave me strength when I was down. I appreciated that, and it sounds like that's who he is as a person and a coach." Only one Super Bowl, Belichick vs. McVay four years ago, has featured dueling coaches with such pronounced gaps in age and experience. What does the old man have in store for Sirianni, just 41 with bro-dude facial stubble?
In a league of nasty rivalries, this is a cross-pollination Super Bowl. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, who rebuilt the roster and discovered Hurts, was hired by Reid from a non-football background as the Eagles were playing in five NFC title games and a Super Bowl in 2005. “I would not be in this position if it wasn't for coach Reid," Roseman said. “I think about the fact that I was this 34-year-old guy and untraditional, and he was willing to have me as the GM and take the time to talk to me and teach me and be patient with this passionate, persistent person. It just means the world.” When the teams met with the global media Monday night, Reid made sure he greeted two of his former players, embracing Brandon Graham with a bear hug and tugging on Jason Kelce’s beard.
“I love Philadelphia, love the city,” Reid said. “I’ve been blessed, blessed to be in phenomenal places in the NFL. And I’m loving every minute in Kansas City.”
The people in the heartland love him, too, willing to support him even as another family crisis spilled into the news. Two years ago this month, another troubled son who worked for him as an assistant coach, Britt Reid, was speeding at 83.9 mph when his pickup truck slammed into two stopped cars and seriously injured 5-year-old Ariel Young. Last November, at 37, he was sentenced to three years in prison for one felony count of driving while intoxicated. Like Garrett, Britt had struggled with drug addiction since their teen years in Philadelphia.
One son is dead. One son is behind bars.
So it’s easy to understand why Andy Reid pours himself into his job and his relationships with people. And it’s commendable that he’s doing his best work, with the sport’s standard-bearer taking snaps and prepared to overwhelm us again. Would his coach retire if victorious? “I think Andy is having too much fun coaching the Chiefs right now,” said team CEO/chairman Clark Hunt, dismissing the thought. “I think he's really enjoying what he's doing. Hopefully, he'll stay with us a bunch of years and win many more Super Bowls.”
Why wouldn’t he? There are burgers to eat, commercials to make and superstar voices to mock.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.