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Reid’s Roots: the coaching tree that shaped Andy Reid, and the tree he’s growing now

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From young graduate assistant to Super Bowl contender, here’s how Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s coaching tree came to be — and where its seeds are planted.

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

In order for a single seed to become a tree, it must first land in the right situation. While many seeds fall in areas that aren’t suitable for growth, the seeds that do grow into trees are the ones that fall in the right places — where there are sunlight and moisture, and the soil has the nutrients they need to thrive.

This concludes our fifth-grade biology refresher, and brings us to the story of one of Kansas City’s strongest trees — one with the deepest roots: Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid — whose journey to the NFL dates all the way back to 1978 in Provo, Utah.

Learning from LaVell

Following his graduation from Brigham Young University in 1981 — where Reid played offensive tackle under head coach LaVell Edwards from 1978-1980 — he accepted his first job as a graduate assistant with Edwards’ team for the 1982 season.

Edwards had taken over as head coach of the struggling program in 1972 after serving as the defensive line coach at BYU for 10 years. He had taken the team the two bowl games and led them to back-to-back nine-win seasons — a program high — in the three seasons before Reid arrived as a player in 1978.

The key component in Edwards’ early success at BYU was an unconventional offensive model that focused on passing the ball instead of the run-heavy schemes that had long dominated the game.

The origins of that model — which we know as the West Coast offense — lie with Bill Walsh and began in 1970 when Walsh was an offensive assistant for the Cincinnati Bengals under head coach Paul Brown.

The Bengals had just lost their starting quarterback Greg Cook to a shoulder injury and were forced to adjust their offensive scheme for Cook’s replacement Virgil Carter.

Carter lacked Cook’s big arm but possessed great intelligence, accuracy and mobility. In order to emphasize his strengths, Brown and Walsh crafted a strategy around Carter that focused on short, horizontal passes, rollouts and choice run options.

The Bengals went 8-6 that year, and from there, the West Coast offense began to grow in both success and popularity — especially when Walsh became head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and won three Super Bowls with quarterback Joe Montana during the 1980s.

But Edwards had seen the potential of the West Coast offense before then. He had noticed the success Walsh had with the West Coast offense in Cincinnati with Virgil Carter because Carter was a BYU product — and Edwards had been there to see Carter’s 1965 season.

During that year, Carter set school records in passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense to earn WAC Offensive Player of the Year honors. He finished ninth in the nation in passing yards, as well as third in the nation in total yards, passing touchdowns and total touchdowns.

Edwards’ pass-centered philosophy would become the recipe for his long-term success at BYU, allowing him to become one of the first coaches in the country to compete with longstanding powerhouse programs by spreading out the field and passing the ball — fast and often — to a number of receivers.

A young witness to the early and successful stages of Edwards’ blossoming philosophy — as both a player and a coach — was Andy Reid. Working with Edwards during the early stages of his football career allowed Reid to gain a deep insight into the West Coast offense from both the field and the sideline.

But even though Edwards gave Reid his first hands-on introduction to the offensive style that he still uses as his foundation to this day, Reid mostly credits Edwards with valuable lessons that go beyond his playbook.

“It’s the intangible things that we learned — that you can be a good person and still coach,” Reid said of Edwards at a 2017 tribute to the late coach. “You don’t have to yell, scream and use profanity. You’re a teacher,” Reid said. “If you take the principles of the church, we’re here to be teachers. You can truly incorporate that into coaching and still have success doing it. I think that’s probably the thing that we’ve all taken with us in our different ventures.”

From BYU, Reid went on to coach at four different colleges through the 1980s and early 90s before landing his first NFL gig as an assistant coach with Mike Holmgren’s Green Bay Packers in 1992 — the same year that Brett Favre became the team’s starting quarterback.

A reunion in Green Bay

When Reid joined Holmgren and the Packers, it wasn’t the first time the two had worked alongside one another. During Reid’s season as a graduate assistant at BYU in 1982, Holmgren had been working his first major college job as the team’s quarterback coach — learning and developing under Edwards just as Reid had done.

Still the student, Reid absorbed as much knowledge as he could under Holmgren at Green Bay.

“I took diligent notes and I analyzed everything,” Reid said about his time in Green Bay during his introductory press conference with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999.

Reid’s unmatched dedication to the game quickly earned him the reputation of being a “grinder” around the Packers organization. When quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg left for the 49ers to work with Steve Mariucci — his predecessor in Green Bay — Reid was bumped from tight ends coach to Mornhinweg’s role as quarterback coach.

Starting quarterback Brett Favre was less than thrilled.

“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Favre said in an ESPN interview. “All I could think about was, ‘We are going to meet forever because Andy was such a grinder.’ Everyone loved Andy but, man, everyone else was going home and the tight ends are still meeting.”

Favre even doubted what Reid — as a former offensive lineman — could teach him about being a quarterback. However, in his two seasons working with Reid, Favre’s opinion quickly changed.

“I could not have had a better coach than Andy,” Favre said. “That guy was tremendous. We didn’t really meet that long — not as long as the tight ends [had] — but it was productive. I really enjoyed and learned a lot from Andy.”

Reid’s reputation as a hard worker, exceptional leader and brilliant football mind started to gain momentum within the league. Then, just before the new millennium, Reid got his first shot as an NFL head coach.

“I don’t recall who first raised Andy’s name to us,” former Eagle’s president Joe Banner said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “What I do remember is panning coaches and players and agents, laying out our criteria for the job, and asking, ‘Give me the name of someone, regardless of job or title, whom you’ve met and immediately thought, “This guy is a great leader.”’ And Andy’s name kept coming up.”

Evolving with the Eagles

When Reid replaced Ray Rhodes as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, more criticism than praise followed the decision.

“He’s been a Packer aide for the last seven years and wears a Super Bowl ring, but he’s never been a head coach at any level and technically hasn’t been a defensive or offensive coordinator, either,” wrote Terry Larimer of The Morning Call.

Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon called Reid “a large, lumbering, slightly rumpled man with a walrus mustache.”

“We lead the league in jumping to conclusions, and sure enough the early wisdom is that a quarterbacks coach from Green Bay was not what the Eagles needed,” Lyon continued.

However, the men responsible for hiring him in Philadelphia — Banner and Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie — were confident that despite the concerns raised by fans and media, the rewards that could come from Reid’s unique strengths and character would outweigh the risks.

“The interview with Andy only confirmed what we’d heard,” Banner said. “He brought a big book in with him — like most coaches do — and after we asked him about philosophy and his beliefs, he opened the book for us. Inside were detailed reports and grades on assistant coaches, and rankings for each position. He had potential coordinators ranked 1-10, just as he had prospective quality control coaches ranked 1-10.”

And that book was full of insights gained as a result of diligent notes taken from learning under Mike Holmgren throughout most of the 1990s.

“He was a great teacher,” Reid said of Holmgren in his introductory press conference after being named the Eagles head coach.

“After hiring him, it wasn’t long before we had a pretty good feeling that we hadn’t fouled this one up,” Banner said. “There wasn’t a moment of clarity so much as a series of them. Where some coaches spend time setting up explanations for why certain things within the program may not work, Andy never seemed to give a second thought about failing. It didn’t occur to him that was possible.”

The confidence that team executives had in Reid stemmed in part from Reid’s confidence in himself.

“I obviously feel I have confidence in myself,” Reid told the press on his hiring. When asked if he thought he could win with the players the Eagles then had on their roster, he said, “I’d never put myself in a bad situation. From that, you can plug in the answer.”

And that answer over his 14-year tenure in Philadelphia included 120 wins, 10 playoff victories, six division titles, five trips to the NFC Championship game and a Super Bowl appearance — along with sending 19 players to 44 Pro Bowl appearances.

Not bad for a guy that the local press figured back in 1999 would be “eaten alive” as Eagles head coach.

But after a 4-12 finish in 2013 — the worst season of Reid’s coaching career to date — the Eagles fired Reid, and it was time for a fresh start elsewhere.

Coming to Kansas City

That fresh start took Reid to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he first penned a five-year deal with the organization on January 4, 2013.

The Chiefs had finished the 2012 season 2-14 — tied for the worst season in franchise history, One year later, after one draft that yielded offensive tackle Eric Fisher, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Knile Davis — and with a few veteran acquisitions that included fullback Anthony Sherman, cornerback Sean Smith and quarterback Alex Smith — the Chiefs finished the season 11-5, took second place in the AFC West and made the playoffs.

Two more second-place finishes — and another playoff appearance — would follow. But in 2016, the Chiefs would win the first of three consecutive division championships and playoff berths, and in 2018 entered the playoffs as the number one seed in the AFC.

While the Chiefs have yet to make it past the divisional round of the playoffs under Reid’s guidance, the acquisition of quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL draft — a player who fits perfectly within in the offensive scheme Reid has been crafting since his BYU days — might just be the quarterback-coach marriage that could bring Andy Reid to his first Super Bowl ring, not to mention the Chiefs’ second championship after a near-50-year drought.

Reid’s own tree

The remarkable coaching trees of Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren have provided a solid foundation for Reid to grow a successful tree of his own.

Take a look at this:

While all 12 of the head coaches in the playoffs in 2018 do indeed stem from the influences of Bill Walsh or Bill Parcells, what’s notable is that four of the coaches on this list — in addition to Reid — are a product of Andy Reid himself: John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens, Matt Nagy, (Chicago Bears), Doug Pederson, (Philadelphia Eagles) and Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts).

In addition, at the start of the 2018 season, Reid and seven of his former assistants accounted for an impressive 25 percent of the league’s head-coaching jobs: Ron Rivera, (Carolina Panthers), Todd Bowles, (New York Jets), Sean McDermott, (Buffalo Bills) and Pat Shurmur, (New York Giants) — along with Harbaugh, Nagy and Pederson.

Two more former NFL head coaches have been assistant coaches for Reid’s teams: Steve Spagnuolo, (St. Louis Rams 2009–11 and New York Giants 2017) and Leslie Frazier, (Minnesota Vikings 2010–13).

A coaching tree that’s this large and successful doesn’t just happen randomly, though. It takes the right people and vision — and the right framework to make it happen. For Reid, the formula is fairly simple.

“I look for good teachers and good people, and so normally that’s a foundation for a good head coach down the road,” Reid says. “Normally, good teachers and good people are decent leaders, so they can do all that stuff. They can communicate, they’re good with others, all of that.”

Now, as Reid makes what is probably his strongest playoff bid since he led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2004, he’s doing it with a just-right situation sitting before his very eyes — a team that’s built around one of the best quarterbacks in the league: Patrick Mahomes.

Regardless of how the Chiefs’ season ends, one thing is certain: in the decades to come, Andy Reid’s coaching tree will continue to grow, and his seeds of influence, education and experience will plant themselves in the minds of the next generation of NFL coaches.

We know this for one reason: it’s already happening.