His reputation was always unfair, but for a long time Andy Reid coaching your football team felt like both the best and worst thing that could happen to it.
Best, because he quickly established a high baseline level of competence. He coached playoff teams in 15 of the 21 years he’s been the head coach of the Eagles and the Chiefs. Worst, because he had established a pattern of screwing up in the clutch.
Specifically, Reid botched clock management, particularly in the postseason. The Eagles lost three straight NFC Championship games under Reid before finally making a Super Bowl. Then they lost that game when they piddled away nearly four minutes scoring a late touchdown, leaving almost no time to get the second score they needed against the Patriots.
When Reid went to Kansas City in 2013, he took over a 4-12 team and immediately got it to 11-5. He has since missed the playoffs just once with the Chiefs, but he also introduced a formerly championship-starved fanbase to a new brand of heartache. In 2016 and 2017, his team once again moved at snail’s pace on crucial fourth-quarter drives in postseason losses. In 2018, the Chiefs had a 21-3 lead over the Titans in the Wild Card Round, and were shut out in the second half of a 22-21 loss. The next year, Reid suffered the fifth conference championship game loss of his career after a wild fourth quarter against the Pats.
In short, Reid’s teams consistently collapsed in pivotal moments, and masked everything that made him a brilliant head coach the 99 percent of the time when he wasn’t managing good teams in late-game situations.
By several measures, he is one of the best offensive minds the NFL has ever seen. Pro Football Focus determined Reid was one of the NFL’s top 10 play callers every season from 2014-2019, notably finishing first by its metric the last two seasons. In cruder measures, Reid-coached teams have finished top 10 in total offense nine times and top 10 in scoring 13 times in his 21 seasons.
Reid has been called “innovative,” but a better term would be “studious.” His offensive philosophy has evolved steadily from his West Coast education because he pays attention to what everyone else is doing, particularly at the college level. A good anecdote illustrating how Reid stays on the “cutting edge” is this from The Ringer’s Kevin Clark:
In 2013, I sat down with Reid in a plain room in a college building in St. Joseph, Missouri, where the Chiefs held their training camp. He told me that the college game is five years ahead of the pro game and that in five years, the spread offenses that had thoroughly dominated the college game would finally dominate the NFL. Five years later, it happened. The Eagles beat the Patriots in what Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley told me looked like a Big 12 game.
The game that arguably started Kansas City’s reign as the NFL’s incubator for offensive ideas was the 2017 season-opening win against the defending-champion Patriots, which included Travis Kelce running the read option. This year, the Chiefs leaned so far into researching college offenses that they successfully ran a play that Michigan used in the 1948 Rose Bowl.
Reid may be an offensive genius, but, more than that, he is open-minded and malleable. That is harder to accomplish than it sounds considering how many coaches get fired every year by clinging too tightly to a dogma they don’t realize is a sinking ship until much too late. In a profession where even if a coach doesn’t screw up the Xs and Os, they tend to fall afoul of personality disputes with players and upper management, Reid has only ever had long tenures.
Reid seems to nurture relationships. His assistants almost always come out better people than when they came into his fold, creating one of the strongest coaching trees in the game. In contrast, Bill Belichick assistants keep getting head coaching opportunities despite a terrible track record.
Reid and Belichick are arguably the two most accomplished active head coaches in the league. The difference between their coaching trees may have to do with their personalities. Both have succeeded in similar ways, foremost by never treating their prevailing philosophies as so precious that they can’t be re-thought. But where Belichick has also become a stand-in for curmudgeonly Do Your Job toughness, Reid represents nothing more than the importance of being utterly and simply oneself. And where Belichick’s assistants have failed by only adopting Belichick’s talent for being an inscrutable jerk, Reid’s example isn’t so easily misconstrued: Enjoy the game, and don’t ever believe you’ve mastered it.
Reid has never taken the game too seriously. Or at least, he’s not above being humbled by it. He has been tagged as a coach who Can’t Win The Big One since early in his Eagles tenure, and answered the same needling questions for decades now. Being the “winningest coach without a Super Bowl” is more an indictment than praise. But in response to the idea that he needed to win a Super Bowl to cement his legacy, he was adamant that football’s intrinsic value meant more to him.
Just then, Reid was answering a question from a reporter by explaining that, once he has taught players the right way to play, he wants them to enjoy it.
”Why ruin something they love doing?” he asked.
It seems the rest of us are intent on doing the same with Reid’s record. However much Reid may privately burn for that championship, everyone else seems to be in a rush to ruin something he has loved by pointing out its flaw.
”It’s not about me getting over the hump,” Reid said. “It’s about our team playing well. That’s what I’m into.”
More than anything, Reid is really likable. He is one of the few coaches who has found success without giving himself up to the current of hyper-machismo that has always run through football. He grew up under the dual influences of a radiologist mother and an artist father, and majored in English at BYU, where he wrote creative sports columns. Instead of grumbling through every public interaction, he does things like offer up his famous mac ‘n’ cheese recipe. He likes Hawaiian shirts and celebrates big wins with his team under the novel assumption that sports are supposed to be fun.
I’m fairly confident that almost nothing Reid does is an act, which may make him the only coach in pro football who isn’t posturing in some way. The outpouring of love for the coach from current and former players before and after Super Bowl seems to confirm as much. Even the Eagles organization was stoked to see him win the big one despite their bittersweet relationship.
Reid comes off as stable and consistent and amenable, and that has led to a team culture that feels the same way. If it took a while to lead to a Super Bowl ring, that may say more about the inherent cruelty of football than some inherent problem with Reid.
Ultimately, I think Reid’s career illustrates two things:
- Just how much one’s legacy is determined at the margins. That’s especially the case in football, in which the Super Bowl is disproportionately weighted within American sports culture, and the postseason is single elimination, making it easy for anyone to gain a reputation as a choke artist in just a few missteps. And …
- That being genial, patient, nurturing, hard working and empathetic is still, and can always be, a path to success. In football or otherwise.
Until Sunday’s Super Bowl victory, it looked as if the first point might submerge the second in the long story of Andy Reid. He shouldn’t have needed to win a Super Bowl to be properly appreciated, of course, but now that he will be getting a ring, it’s nice to know that the record will be corrected in every sense.
Reid is a champion, and no one can take anything away from him anymore. We no longer have to talk about him with arbitrary caveats. Finally, there is nothing standing in the way of appreciating his importance, and all the lessons we could have been learning if we hadn’t been so concerned about his legacy.