This article about Eagles coach Andy Reid and his approach to Super Bowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots appeared in the Daily News on Feb. 3, 2005. Like his current assistant coaches in Kansas City, Reid’s Eagles assistants in the 2004 season said that Reid instilled a quiet confidence and trust in the players and coaches and was unflappable on the field.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — You’ve heard about the notebooks, about the meticulousness, about the devotion to preparation.
That and the minimalist approach Andy Reid takes to news conferences are the main things Eagles fans know about their team’s coach, even after 6 years and a franchise-record 71 victories. He’s a mustache and a monotone, and every now and then he pokes fun at his own corpulence, especially when doing so can get him out of answering a tough question. That really is the extent of the public persona, even now, as Reid occupies the national stage as only the second coach in franchise history to lead a team through Super Bowl week.
The essence of the man whose winning percentage of .664 (71-36) leads all active NFL coaches must be more than that, though. Lots of coaches are prepared; it's not the sort of job that attracts people who count on being able to wing it. And if holding boring news conferences was a secret to success, Marion Campbell and Rich Kotite would be revered icons by now.
What Reid does best is set a tone, people who work closely with him say. It's a steady, unflappable tone, one that they feel reflects his confidence in them, one that gives them space to do their jobs without interference, one that inspires them to justify his trust in them.
They make it all sound pretty simple. But if it were, a lot of teams, and corporations, would be better-run, and more successful.
"What Coach Reid does is unbelievable,'' offensive line coach Juan Castillo was saying this week. "He gives the backup players and the coaches a lot of confidence. You can't help but work your butt off for him, because he trusts you. He believes in you. You know what? That doesn't happen all the time. ''
Again, trusting the people who work for you sounds pretty fundamental. But defensive line coach Tommy Brasher, who worked under a lot of head coaches in five previous NFL stops, said yesterday that it's actually a rare and precious thing, in a sport where coaches tend to be control freaks.
"Andy is unusual in that he totally trusts the people around him. That's not the case with a lot of people,'' Brasher said. "He trusts the coaches, he trusts the players, and they respond to that. ''
Castillo said when a backup has to play, like Artis Hicks at left guard this season, after first-round pick Shawn Andrews went down in the season opener, Reid not only says that he has faith in the person coming in to play, he means it, and he makes that faith evident to the player. The same dynamic takes place when a coach or a player makes a mistake, Castillo said. There is no screeching or scapegoating.
"He'll get up there and he'll take the heat,'' Castillo said. "He's like, 'I know what happened, pardner, but I know you're going to get it right. ' All you're going to do is work harder for him . . . You don't want to fail him. ''
Reid said yesterday he thinks you can't demand that players and coaches make the sacrifices they make unless you are willing to take the heat for them, when they need you to. It's the thinking behind his "I need to do a better job of putting them in position to make plays'' whenever the Eagles lose.
Of course, all the stuff about Reid and preparation also is true, and important. Yesterday, at Reid’s eleventy-first news conference of the week, a reporter idly wondered whether, since Brian Westbrook is a lot like Marshall Faulk, if the Eagles had looked at how the Patriots handled Faulk in winning Super Bowl XXXVI.
It seemed a bit of a stretch, until Reid said: "You know, I did look at that. '' He said what he gleaned was that the Patriots were physical with the St. Louis receivers and challenged Faulk, which presumably might provide an insight into what the Birds can expect on Sunday.
"When he was my tight ends coach in Green Bay, it was like, 'Everything to the T,' '' Eagles tight end-long snapper Mike Bartrum said yesterday. Bartrum was a Packer in 1995, during Reid's time there, and Bartrum now has played 5 years for Reid with the Eagles. "Your steps, technique, catching the ball, snapping the ball - he knows a lot about everything. ''
Reid, 46, who was an assistant on two Packers Super Bowl teams, certainly doesn't seem to have tightened up in the spotlight this week. If anything, he's a degree or two looser than usual, answering questions in more detail, at least pretending to find them engaging. But he has stayed true to himself; viewers who caught the studio interview on NFL Network the other day were treated to Reid's sausage-like legs sticking out of his practice shorts, emphasized by what seemed to be a ground-level camera aimed at the chair he was sitting in.
"I'm sure he's being pulled in a million directions,'' Bartrum said. "But he hasn't let us see that. ''
Working with Reid, offensive coordinator Brad Childress said, "Is not a peaks and valleys type of thing. Whether you have a big win or you get your doors blown off, he's the same, because you've got to come back and you've got to keep those guys that you're coaching for 16, 19 weeks, realizing that the next one's the most important one. I think he puts that out there. Not that it doesn't hurt when you lose, but you've got to continue to move. ''
Childress, by the way, was the offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona in 1986 when Reid was hired as the new offensive line coach. It would be a great anecdote, if Childress had realized right away that the new guy was someday going to be a successful NFL head coach (and Childress' boss). But that was not the case, Childress said yesterday. Rather than being blown away by Reid's personality, Childress recalls being excited that "this was a guy who really understood pass protection. '' The rest of it kind of evolved.
Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is much more demonstrative than his boss; if you watch the Eagles' sideline, you'll see Johnson in heated exchanges with players every now and then. In 6 years, no camera has captured such a scene involving Reid.
Johnson noted yesterday that Reid "does not get flustered. Things just don't bother him, or if they do, he doesn't show it. He's just an excellent sideline coach. ''
Yesterday, Reid was asked about his coaching roots. He said he'd thought at one time of becoming a doctor (his mother, Elizabeth, was a radiologist), but he said he started to think about coaching after LaVell Edwards called him into Edwards' office just before Reid's senior year at Brigham Young and asked the steady guard from Los Angeles if he'd considered such a career path.
"I hadn't, at the time,'' said Reid, who began his coaching career as a grad assistant in 1982, the season after he graduated. "But it sounded pretty good. ''
For a long time growing up, Reid said yesterday, he didn't think beyond his playing career - he aspired to play in the NFL. But in the final game of his second year at Glendale (Calif. ) Junior College, he wrecked a knee, and Stanford subsequently withdrew a scholarship offer. Reid ended up at BYU, playing for Edwards, which turned out to be a good break, particularly after Reid realized he was going to be no more than a "pretty average'' college guard.
What Reid said about Edwards yesterday sounded quite a bit like what his assistants say about Reid.
"He treated you as a human being,'' Reid recalled. "It didn’t matter if you were first team or third team, or if you were a walk-on, he treated you the same way. On the sideline, he represented the university very well. He didn’t have any highs and lows, he kind of kept things consistent. ''
Bartrum said Eagles players know they might come and go, but the team's fortunes don't really rest with them, they rest with Reid.