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Origin of a play caller: Reid’s Roots

The play calling origin story of Kansas City’s head coach.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is a future hall of famer and is considered to be one of the greatest offensive innovators in the history of the game. So how does a 100% by-the-book West Coast Offensive coach become the mad scientist of playcalling we know today?

Reids roots

Reid earned his coaching chops as a tight ends/offensive line coach for head coach Mike Holmgren when he was with the Green Bay Packers. Holmgren himself got his NFL start as the quarterback's coach for the San Francisco 49ers — under the godfather of the West Coast Offense, Bill Walsh.

Mike Holmgren— backrow center, and Bill Walsh— frontrow center, pose with San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks and wide receivers and owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. ahead of Super Bowl XXIII
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to his time in Green Bay (from 1983-1985), Reid was the offensive coordinator at San Fransisco State University under longtime head coach Vic Rowen. Two years prior to Reid’s arrival at San Fransisco State, Rowen had another young coach as his OC — you guessed it, Mike Holmgren.

While Walsh gets a lot of credit for developing the West Coast Offense during his time at Stanford University, it was Rowen who gave two of the most influential offensive minds in NFL history their first opportunities at coaching.

In fact, Phill Ferrigno — one of Rowen’s former players who has coached at the high school level for 20 years and was named the 2022 San Fransisco 49ers PREP coach of the year — went as far as to say that he once heard Bill Walsh say that Rowen was one of the inventors of the west coast offense.

“Everybody talks about the West Coast Offense. That’s Vic Rowen’s offense. Bill Walsh said that when there was a testimonial of the great coaches alive. I was there.”

While Rowen may have been Reid's first offensive influence, it was his time with the Packers that gave him the experience that helped him become the play caller he is today.


Those Packers and 49ers teams effortlessly picked teams apart over the middle of the field — biding their time before they ripped your heart out with a deep post like they were Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

When you watch these teams, one thing stands out— every snap is under center. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. In my research for this article, I watched every snap of Super Bowls XXIV and XXXI.

Super Bowl XXIV

1989 was Holmgren’s first season as the offensive coordinator of the 49ers under George Seifert. Prior to 1989 this Bill Walsh called the plays himself. The game was a blowout. The 49ers dominated the Denver Broncos, rolling to a 55-10 victory, earning quarterback Joe Montana his fourth and final Super Bowl ring.

Super Bowl XXIV - Denver Broncos v San Francico 49ers

Holmgren called a pretty balanced attack in this game, dialing up 44 runs for 144 yards, and 32 pass attempts for 317 yards. Despite throwing for five touchdowns, the majority of Montana’s passes netted 10 yards or less through the air, relying on exposing space in the defensive secondary and maximizing yards after the catch.

This short passing attack — and success in the ground game — caused Broncos safety Steve Atwater to cheat closer to the line of scrimmage, which resulted in him getting burnt on three deep play-action passes resulting in touchdowns.

The emphasis on YAC is something you can see in Reid’s offense today. Despite leading the league in passing in 2022, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes ranked 23rd in the NFL in intended air yards per pass attempt (7.2 yards.) Of Mahomes’ 5250 yards passing, 2850 of them came after the catch.

Super Bowl XXXI

Seven years after winning a ring as an offensive coordinator with San Fransisco. Holmgren was back in the Super Bowl as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers— this would mark Reid’s first taste of Super Bowl glory as the tight ends and assistant offensive line coach for Green Bay. The Packers won the game handily over Bill Parcells’ New England Patriots.

Football - NFL - Super Bowl XXXI - Brett Favre Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

This game was 1989 all over again— Holmgren called a balanced game, running the ball 36 times for 115 yards while passing 26 times for 246 yards and two touchdowns. With Brett Favre under center, the West Coast Offense worked as well in the Midwest as it did in California. On their first offensive play, Holmgren caught Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy sleeping in single high coverage and beat him over the top on a deep post pattern to (later Kansas City Chiefs) wide receiver Andre Rison.

Reid gets his shot

Despite never holding a job as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, Andy Reid was given an opportunity to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999— Reid would attribute this to his preparation— he kept binders full of things he had learned from the coaches he worked under along the way. He used this knowledge to win over Eagles owner Jeffery Laurie and general manager Tom Modrak.

In his first season as a head coach, Reid assembled one of the greatest coaching staffs in history: hiring Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress, Juan Castillo, John Harbaugh, Sean McDermott, Ron Rivera, Pat Shurmur, and Steve Spagnuolo— while also having Doug Pederson and Eric Bieniemy on his team as players.

Reid took what he learned from Rowen and Holmgren and implemented the West Coast offense in Philadelphia while playing to the strengths of his rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb.

The Eagles lost 11 games in Reid's first season with the team, but they won their last two games, entering the offseason on a high note. McNabb rewarded his coach in his sophomore campaign, helping Reid to an 11-win season in the year 2000.

Four years later, Reid rode the West Coast Offense to Super Bowl XXXIX to face off against Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots. Recently while appearing on the Kelce Brothers New Heights Podcast, Reid stated, “When I was in Philly and Green Bay, went to three Super Bowls, two in Green Bay, one in Philly, and there wasn’t for any of the quarterbacks on our team that I had an opportunity to coach, that was in the shotgun. And today, very few times are you under center, probably less than 50 percent. So, it’s evolved that way.”

This statement is not entirely true by Reid, the Eagles did run a few plays from the shotgun in Super Bowl XXIX— six to be exact.

Reid would go on to say that this game forced him to evolve as a play caller, “When we lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots in Philly we had to get in the gun with all the double-A stuff that was going on.”

The double-A gap blitz puts pressure on the quarterback by sending two extra rushers up the middle between the guards and the center— since McNabb was under center, the distance between him and the pass rushers forced him to get the ball out of his hands before the play had time to develop. When you play out of the shotgun against this kind of blitz, you are afforded the space and time to hit your hot routes and capitalize on the vacated space left by the attacking defenders.

In the next part of this series, we will fast forward a few years and see how Reid flipped the script and learned to embrace the shotgun formation.

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