It’s easy to take a coaching staff for granted.
Fans celebrate a beautiful touchdown throw, but don’t always think about how the quarterback knew to throw it there. They cheer a long run without thinking about how the scheme made it happen. A big third-down sack is credited to the player that got it — not the strategy that allowed the blitzing player to get into the backfield.
A good group of coaches can be the difference between a successful season and a disappointing one — no matter what level of talent the players have.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is entering his seventh season wearing the red and gold. He has yet to have a losing campaign, and has earned a reputation as an innovative offensive mastermind.
Reid gets the most out of his players. Former Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith went from a good signal caller to a great one. Undrafted free agents like running back Spencer Ware and wide receiver Albert Wilson got paid after taking advantage of their roles in his system. Current stars like quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill developed quickly and were able to be productive very early in their careers.
As good as Andy is at teaching players, he may be even better at developing young coaches and surrounding himself with experienced ones.
Reid’s coaching tree is arguably the strongest in the league. Entering the 2019 season, six of the NFL’s head coaches were assistants to Reid at some point. They include both offensive and defensive-minded coaches. John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles have both led their franchises to championships. Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera took his team to a Super Bowl.
These coaches all started under Reid’s tutelage, and they won’t be the last to leave his side to take a head coaching gig.
The potential head coaches
It’s shocking that assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub isn’t already a head coach. 2019 will be his 16th season as the head of a special teams unit, and his seventh in Kansas City.
During his years with the Chicago Bears, Toub’s special teams units were dominant. The Dallas Morning News ranking system labeled two of his seasons with the Bears as the best special teams in the league. That included the 2006 season, in which his unit — including all-time NFL return touchdowns leader Devin Hester — helped the Bears reach the Super Bowl. He was named special teams coach of the year.
He followed Reid to Kansas City in 2013 — and didn’t skip a beat. That season’s unit broke an NFL record by averaging 29.9 yards per kick return. During his tenure, his units have manufactured 11 return touchdowns (including playoffs), while not allowing a single return to be taken back for a score.
The promotion to assistant head coach in 2018 is a good indicator that he can be a leader of a whole team — not just his particular unit. The Chiefs won’t be lucky forever; a team will want him to lead their franchise sooner rather than later.
While Reid isn’t known to get in players’ faces to fire them up, his offensive coordinator is known for exactly that.
Eric Bieniemy is also entering his seventh season with the organization, serving initially as running backs coach. He coached up running back Jamaal Charles — and deserves credit for the team seeming to never miss a beat when backups have filled in. His promotion to offensive coordinator in 2018 shows that Reid trusts him with being the vocal leader of the offense. He may not be the primary play caller, but you can be sure he makes his voice heard when they all sit down to construct each week’s game plan.
He interviewed with four teams for their head coaching vacancies this past offseason, and surprisingly remained with the Chiefs. It’s only a matter of time before he’s stolen away.
Coordinators get most of the credit when their units perform well. First-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should absolutely receive praise if the defense shows good improvement this year — but he won’t be doing it alone.
Former University of Kentucky defensive coordinator Matt House is the team’s new linebackers coach. In his three-year tenure at UK, he helped turn Kentucky from a perennial loser in the SEC to a team that finished 12th in last year’s final Associated Press Top 25 poll. They gave up an average of 16.8 points per game in 2018, which was sixth in FBS. Three of his defenders were drafted in the top three rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft — including the seventh overall pick: pass rusher Josh Allen.
He was so important to the university that they initially refused to let him leave for the Chiefs job, citing a $150,000 buyout that would need to be paid. According to Kentucky radio host Matt Jones, Reid spoke directly to House by phone and confirmed that he wanted to join the Chiefs staff. After that, Kansas City took care of the buyout and got House in the building.
Just 41, House is relatively young for his position. Don’t be shocked if he eventually works his way up to being an NFL defensive coordinator.
Spagnuolo isn’t the only new defensive coach with experience winning a championship.
First-year defensive line coach Brendan Daly comes from the New England Patriots, where he was part of two Super Bowl runs over five seasons. He was a popular choice to be the next defensive coordinator after Brian Flores left to become head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gave him defensive play-calling duties in the last preseason game of 2018, indicating that Belichick believed in him and wanted to see if he had what it took.
Daly worked under Spagnuolo while he was defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. He is an expressive, fiery individual. While with the Rams, he once celebrated a victory by head butting a player still wearing his helmet — resulting in a bloodied forehead. His familiarity with Spagnuolo — and the experience with Belichick — are just two reasons why he should be a great addition to the defensive staff.
Spagnuolo has brought together an impressive group.
The young riser
Entering his third year with the Chiefs organization, quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka is a good bet to be the next offensive assistant under Andy Reid to become a popular head coaching candidate.
Kafka’s first year with the team was Mahomes’ rookie season. He has played a big role in developing the star quarterback — and will continue to aid in his progression.
His career path is eerily similar to current Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy, who went from Chiefs quarterbacks coach to head coach in just three seasons. Nagy was offensive coordinator during his last season in Kansas City. Kafka has yet to be promoted to that position, but once Bieniemy inevitably moves on to an open head coaching vacancy, it’s a safe bet that it will happen.
The Chiefs have put together one of the most talented coaching staffs in the NFL. They have great offensive minds, passionate defensive coaches, and arguably the best special teams coordinator there is.
When the three phases of the game are led by coaches of this caliber, great success is expected.