How the Andy Reid coaching tree came to be + why it looms large again for Chiefs
JANUARY 20, 2024 5:30 AM To the doubts of many 25 years ago last week, the Philadelphia Eagles hired a man who’d never been so much as an NFL coordinator or a head coach at any level to revive an organization that had gone 9-16-1 the previous two seasons. Nevertheless, Andy Reid, who last had been the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers, had distinguished himself in numerous ways in the interview process. That included through the contents of an enormous notebook that Reid lugged along.
The tome was brimming with a stunning depth of detail on an array of topics but one that would prove particularly salient and pivotal then … and going forward. What most struck Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and then-executive vice-president Joe Banner, Banner told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2020, was that Reid had created “literally … a draft board of coaches. He would have a wide receiver coach as the sixth-rated guy, and you’d ask him why he was No.
6, and the extent of detail and insight he showed in answering those questions was really stunning. ” All the more stunning is how prophetic Reid’s visions came to be: Of the 11 men who worked for Reid for at least a full season and went on to become NFL head coaches, eight were on his first Eagles staff. A ninth, Doug Pederson, played for Reid that year and joined him as an assistant a decade later.
From that group, Pederson and John Harbaugh went on to win Super Bowls — before Reid did with the Chiefs — and Ron Rivera guided Carolina to the Super Bowl in the 2015 season. Most to the point right now, this postseason is teeming with Reid proteges — including the head coaches of the three other remaining AFC teams as the Chiefs seek to return to the Super Bowl. Up next on Sunday is Buffalo, of course, coached by Sean McDermott.
Should the Chiefs prevail, they’d likely meet Harbaugh’s top-seeded Baltimore Ravens team. Or they could face the Houston Texans and coach DeMeco Ryans — who in a different iteration of the coaching tree played for Reid in Philly. On the NFC side of the bracket entering the weekend is Tampa Bay with coach Todd Bowles, who also worked for Reid with the Eagles.
What all the familiarity with each other might mean in the grand scheme this time around remains to be seen. But typically it’s gone something like this: “Challenging,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo recalled of facing Reid when Spagnuolo was head coach of the Rams in 2011. “Don’t tell Andy,” added Spagnuolo, an original Eagles assistant to Reid, playfully glancing to his side in case Reid was in earshot.
“We had him beat, I thought. ” Well, not quite. The Rams scored on their first play from scrimmage but got blasted 31-13 on an injury-riddled day.
As McDermott can more freshly and painfully attest, that wasn’t the only time a former Reid assistant might have thought he had him beat and didn’t. In fact, Reid is 21-9 overall against his former assistants, including 4-0 in the postseason. If you want to stretch a bit to count Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski, who as an Eagles training camp intern impressed then-Eagles assistant Brad Childress to earn his first job in Minnesota, Reid is 23-9 and 5-0 against the men who helped build his career, even as he made a pivotal difference in theirs.
As much as Reid’s impact on the game will be remembered for his offensive innovation and mind-melding with Patrick Mahomes, it also can be measured by his influence in the coaching ranks. ‘SEEING ALMOST EVERYTHING THE HEAD COACH SEES’ Perhaps best illustrating Reid’s uncanny acumen in putting together that crucial first staff was the most inauspicious of those hires: McDermott, who had joined the Eagles as a scouting administrative assistant just before Reid was hired. As Reid assembled a vital inner circle, he saw something in McDermott he wanted to encourage and thought suited to the available role of … assistant to the head coach.
If this sounds like a vague and unglamorous position, it is. But it’s also one of those jobs that looms as exactly what you make of it, and McDermott seized it. Future Chiefs general manager Brett Veach understood that a few years later, hustling through the drudgery that could include anything from picking up Reid’s laundry to figuring out late at night, from a Pittsburgh hotel, how to acquire a specific Sharpie pen Reid favors.
(Longtime Ravens assistant James Urban also held that personal assistant role with Reid, as did current Chiefs assistant line coach Corey Matthaei and assistant running backs coach Porter Ellett. ) In McDermott’s case, he told the Charlotte Observer in 2016, the gig featured picking up players at the airport for free-agent visits, sitting in on salary cap meetings and once changing a tire on the treacherous Schuylkill Expressway. Beyond the grunt work, though, the unique opportunity featured hours and hours spent with Reid.
“You really get to see almost everything the head coach sees,” Reid said earlier this week. “And not that you’re making the decisions, but you at least have your eyes open to that. “If you go right into being a position coach, you normally don’t see all the behind-the-scenes.
So it’s a good way to start. ” ‘THEY’RE ALL OVER THE LEAGUE’ Then McDermott essentially followed Spagnuolo up the ladder and ultimately became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator before Reid opened up his path in another way: by firing him after the 2010 season — after he’d already spoken with Rivera about hiring him. In the years since, McDermott has continued to speak of Reid with reverence and gratitude.
He’s also won nearly as many games against Reid, four, as the rest of his Reid-tree peers combined (five). But he’s 0-2 against Reid in the postseason, punctuated by the Chiefs’ rally in the final 13 seconds to beat Buffalo 42-36 in overtime two years ago. What began as the Reid-McDermott connection also includes Spagnuolo still being close to McDermott.
And then there’s Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, who went 0-1 against Reid when he was coaching the Bears. As an Eagles intern and quality control coach, Nagy used to type up McDermott’s defensive game plans “and kind of had the ins on how much he worked and how much he didn’t sleep. ” But Nagy figures any perceived advantages, from either direction, to that kind of history are offset by many factors since.
“Guys within the (Reid coaching) tree … they’re all over the league,” Nagy added. “You have a respect factor for them and what they do schematically. “But in the end they also change, they adapt, they get with other people who have ideas and suggestions and then you kind of create your own.
” ‘IT’S HOW YOU DEAL WITH PEOPLE’ One of these days, perhaps as soon as Sunday, this testimony to Reid’s prodigious career surely will boomerang on him in the playoffs. And it will hurt. But enabling so many other prominent careers will always be a telling part of the mortar of his own work and own story along the way to becoming the fourth-winningest coach in NFL history.
Reid wasn’t asked much on the topic this week, in part because it’s become rather an annual phenomenon to ponder — particularly as the Chiefs have played in three of the last four Super Bowls and won two of them. Heck, you could call the playoffs the Andy Reid Invitational, or Six Degrees of Andy Reid. But as he was preparing to play Stefanski and the Browns a few years ago, he spoke to the fundamental point of all the passages.
Coaching, he said, is “not all X’s and O’s. It’s how you deal with people and take care of your players and at the same time give them whatever they need to be the best they possibly can be. ” As you see the coaches mature in the work, he added, “You go, ‘Well, heck, they sure deserve a job, to have an opportunity to run their own building.
And then teach others how to do the same things. ’ “I think it’s kind of a neat process as it works out over the years. I’m part of that process, because of Mike Holmgren (hiring him with the Packers).
So I’ve lived this. And it’s kind of a neat deal. ” A concept he perceived from the start and has perpetuated ever since — and one that stands as another revealing element of his considerable legacy.