When Andy Reid left us after the 2012 season, an overarching local figure whose influence and power had waned to very little, there were two directions for the rest of his career to take.
He was only 54 years old but seemed spent at the time. Maybe that was just the sheer burden of trying to hold together a fractured team that was never allowed to crash under its own weight.
The Eagles who flowered in the mid-2000s, then aged and withered along with their franchise quarterback, should have been taken apart in order to be put back together. That’s easy to see now from the outside. But for the people charged with winning football games every year, keeping things going wasn’t just a logical decision but a reflection of their competitive nature, too.
By the end of the final 4-12 season, everyone agreed, some with hearts heavier than others, that it was time for a change. The organization needed a new voice — although, hoo boy, the one it picked! — and Reid would be best served by a fresh challenge where he didn’t know every turn in every corridor.
The two directions open to Reid were clear: up or down. He could revive his reputation by succeeding with another team, or he could drift along in his last decade or so, remembered as a one-hit wonder who never fashioned a sequel.
To be honest, with Reid’s appearing to be so overtaken by time and innovation in the NFL, the betting probably would have gone against him at that moment. And when he was hired to rebuild the 2-14 Chiefs, that landing spot didn’t seem conducive to a quick turnaround.
Shows what we know. All Reid has done in his seven seasons with Kansas City — capped by Sunday’s AFC championship — is put up a 77-35 regular-season record. He served notice that reports of his demise were premature with 11 wins in his first year there, and hasn’t had a losing season. The win totals have looked like this: 11, 9, 11, 12, 10, 12, and 12.
The Reid skeptics would point out that winning games in the regular season, and Reid is now No. 7 on the all-time list, was never his problem. The Eagles went through a similar stretch, a five-year run from 2000 to 2004 in which the win totals were 11, 11, 12, 12, and 13. The championship total, however, was 0.
The ends to the seasons in which the Eagles were very close were excruciating. A conference-final loss to St. Louis was considered an acceptable announcement of future intent, but following losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina on that doorstep, the Super Bowl frustration against New England, and the final conference loss to Arizona, were a pattern that Reid’s detractors seized upon as his fatal flaw.
With Kansas City, the pattern to this point hasn’t changed, and might have been even more frustrating. The Chiefs lost a wild-card-round game, 45-44, to the Colts in the 2013 playoffs despite holding a 28-point, third-quarter lead. Two years later, they possessed the ball for 37 minutes against the Patriots, including 21 in the second half, and still lost by seven points.
In the 2016 postseason, a divisional-round game slipped away against Pittsburgh when a two-point conversion to force overtime went awry. The next year, a 21-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter disappeared in a one-point wild-card loss to Tennessee. Last season, a four-point lead at the two-minute warning turned into an overtime loss to the Patriots in the conference finals.
The Chiefs can knock down that wall of personal frustration for Reid against the 49ers on Feb. 2, or they can stack one more large brick atop it. If his reputation as a great coach is secure, his twin reputation as a guy whose teams don’t finish the job is still in the balance.
It’s ironic that Reid this season passed Marty Schottenheimer, the only other coach to amass 200 career wins without a championship. In the last couple of years, he also slid by Dan Reeves, Chuck Knox, and Jeff Fisher, Nos. 10-12 on the all-time regular-season-wins list but similarly without a title.
Time appears to be on Reid’s side, even if the Super Bowl ring doesn’t arrive with this opportunity. He’s got a 24-year-old quarterback upon whom a team can ride. Of course, he also had a 24-year-old Donovan McNabb in 2000. Time can turn out to be an illusion.
Sports don’t always deliver what is fair, or even what is earned. Sometimes, you get what you get because life is just that random. A pass is tipped. A runner loses his footing. A stray gust of wind blows a field goal wide.
Andy Reid, the great football coach, has two conflicting patterns to his career: His teams are usually very good, and his teams don’t win championships.
In two weeks, another game will go into the stack of evidence that testifies about which of those patterns is really more random than the other.