This has been an unusual offseason for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Since Andy Reid’s arrival in 2013, we haven’t seen wholesale changes in coaching or scheme from one season to the next — something we had been used to seeing during the (mostly) tumultuous years before Reid’s arrival. In those years, from one year to the next, there would often be changes in at least one of the three main coaching positions — head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator — if not more than one.
Since Reid’s arrival, however, there has been continuity from one season to the next. The only coordinator changes have been on the offensive side of the ball — and even when that occurred, the replacement was already in-house: someone familiar with the way things were being done.
This has been both good and bad. If what you’re doing is working — or at least progressing — then there’s no need to make a significant change; you simply build on what has gone before. But if it isn’t, problems can fester and become unmanageable.
And in essence, this is what occurred with the Chiefs defense.
As I’ve noted before, there was no need to make a substantive change on defense through the early years of Reid’s tenure. While many fans believed right from the beginning that defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was past his prime, through his first three or four seasons in Kansas City, he did field effective defenses — ones that likely would have rolled straight into the Super Bowl if placed alongside 2018’s offense under Patrick Mahomes.
But the steady decline in defensive production during Sutton’s final years could only lead to one place: a complete overhaul of the defensive coaching staff — including a change from the 3-4 scheme used under Sutton to the 4-3 Under scheme known to be the favorite of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
So as Andy Reid stood before the media on Monday — the first day of the Chiefs offseason program for 2019 — it was necessary for him to do something he’s never had to do as Chiefs head coach: address the lack of continuity between the 2018 and 2019 defenses. Reporters steered him there by asking how the defensive unit would make up for lost time.
“That is a good point,” Reid responded. “That is where the continuity of the defensive staff comes in. They’ve worked together. I think that becomes important in this situation. They have been working relentlessly to put it together, take the complex and make it simple to teach the guys. You have to be precise with how you teach it and present it. There is no time to waste. You can’t do that. I think that familiarity helps narrow that time margin down just a little bit.”
Reid was asked if he’s ever had this much of a change in his defensive staff from one season to the next. (Hint: he hasn’t).
“I’ve had changes before,” he said. “I don’t know how to compare. I am very confident in Steve. I’ve been around him for a long time. He knows how I roll and I know how he operates. That part has been easy. The guys we brought in are all workers. They have some affiliation to the defensive scheme and have been successful with it. I just think it has been a positive. What is new to the players today we have been doing for a few months. So we’re kind of in the grind, and [we’re] going.”
The head coach acknowledged that in some ways, the change in scheme would be drastic. But he also sought to make another point — one that we have been making in these pages, too: that the change is more about style than it is about scheme.
“It is a different defense,” Reid said. “It is going to be relatively drastic that way. It is a great challenge for the players that are coming back to learn. It is a four-man front as opposed to a three-man front. We had great success with the three-man front for the first few years. This four-man front I have had success with around Philadelphia. The one thing that probably needs to be noted is that [even in a 3-4 scheme] over 75 percent of that time now you are in a four-man front.”
Still, Reid said that he doesn’t intend to be more involved in the defense.
“I try to let those guys do their thing there,” he said. “They give me their plan and if I have my two cents to put in, I put it in. Normally, that’s not the case. We just roll. That’s how I like to do it. That’s the way I plan on doing it.”