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Super Bowl LIV: How football helped Andy Reid cope with the death of a son

After Andy Reid was let go by the Eagles seven years ago, friends urged him to take a year off, grieve for his dead son and spend time with his family. Reid ignored their advice and took the Kansas City Chiefs' head-coaching job. On Sunday, his team will play in Super Bowl LIV.

A smiling Andy Reid addressed the media Tuesday at a news conference in Miami, five days before his Kansas City Chiefs face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
A smiling Andy Reid addressed the media Tuesday at a news conference in Miami, five days before his Kansas City Chiefs face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.Read moreBrynn Anderson / AP

MIAMI — The hardest thing Jeffrey Lurie ever has had to do in the nearly 26 years he’s owned the Eagles was tell Andy Reid to hit the road.

Everything has a shelf life, and after 14 very successful years as the Eagles’ head coach, Lurie knew he had to make a change. For the good of his football team. And for the good of the man he was cutting loose.

The 2012 season had been an absolute disaster. Their four wins had been the Eagles’ fewest since 1998, when they finished 3-13 under Ray Rhodes, which triggered the hiring of Reid.

Reid spent the season coaching with a heavy heart after losing his eldest son Garrett to a drug overdose that August. The Eagles won three of their first four, but then the roof caved in. They lost 11 of their last 12, many in embarrassing fashion.

Lurie’s gratitude for what Reid had done in the 14 years he had coached the Eagles -- nine playoff appearances, six division titles, five NFC championship game appearances, 130 regular-season wins and just three losing seasons -- was evident in the way the Eagles owner chose to say goodbye .

He didn’t point Reid to the NovaCare exit and tell him not to let the door hit him in the butt on the way out. No. What he did was put his arm around his fired coach and lead him to the team’s cafeteria, where every member of the organization was assembled for a final farewell, complete with a standing ovation, a cake, and a football signed by everyone in the Eagles’ organization.

“Tears and hugs,’’ Lurie said Monday, recalling that day seven years ago. “I’ll always remember bringing the employees together and them giving him a standing ovation on his last day. That meant a lot to him and to us.

“From the day he got there 15 years or whatever-it-was earlier, he was beloved in that building, and appreciated. His work ethic, his attention to detail, his caring about individuals on a human basis; things the public never has easy access to or gets to see. ‘’

Many of Reid’s friends and colleagues advised him to take a year off from coaching after the Eagles let him go. Recharge his batteries. Finish grieving for Garrett. Spend time with his wife Tammy and their four kids.

Lurie hoped Reid would do that as well. But he didn’t think it was his place to tell him what to do.

“I didn’t advise him because I always feel with Andy, he knows best about what’s best for him,’’ the Eagles owner said. “I was a little surprised he wanted to get right back into it and not take a year off. But he knew himself better than any of us did.’’

Just four days after getting that standing ovation at NovaCare, Reid signed a five-year deal to become the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. On Sunday, Reid and the Chiefs will face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

“There were a group of us who were communicating with him directly or indirectly,’’ said Joe Banner, who had stepped down as Eagles president the summer before the 2012 season. “I was in Cleveland [as Browns CEO] and Mike Holmgren was there. Both of us were telling him you really should take a year off. You’ve got to regroup. Support your family. Take your time. You’ll have no trouble getting another job in a year.

“Everybody I know was telling him the same thing. But he was like, ‘This is what I do. I’m ready to go. Sitting around with all that idle time would be deadly to me.’

“We were all worried about how it would go. But he proved that he knew himself better than everybody else. He kind of got a second wind. He got more engaged and took over things like running the offense and doing the play-calling and stuff like that that he didn’t do his last few years in Philly.’’

Tom Melvin, who has known Reid since the early ‘80s when he played for him at San Francisco State and has spent the last 21 years as one of his assistant coaches, didn’t find it surprising that Reid wanted to get right back in the saddle.

“What was he going to do? Sit on a beach and mull it over?’’ Melvin said. “You’ve got to move on. That’s the best thing for you rather than sit and stew on it. That’s when you get into trouble when you do that.’’

Melvin acknowledged that the change of scenery helped.

“It was good that we had a new environment,’’ he said. “It would’ve been hard staying in Philly. [He needed] a new start. Having everything in front of you. A new life.’’

While it might’ve seemed that Reid used coaching to run and hide from his grief over Garrett’s death, that wasn’t the case. He used it to help him cope. He understood that. Tammy and the kids understood that. Eventually, his friends understood that as well.

“I didn’t [consider taking a year off],’’ Reid said Monday night. “I loved what I was doing. I thought [coaching] was good medicine. It helps you through. There’s nothing like the camaraderie. As long as my family was OK with it, I was good with it. So I kept on rolling.’’

Rolling right into seventh place in all-time wins among NFL head coaches. Rolling right into Sunday’s Super Bowl.

In his seven seasons in Kansas City, the Chiefs have averaged 11 wins a year, have made the playoffs five times and have won four division titles.

Banner thinks football hasn’t been the only thing that has helped his friend deal with the tragedy of his son’s death. He thinks Reid’s strong Mormon faith also has been a huge factor.

“It doesn’t get talked about much because he doesn’t talk about it much,’’ Banner said. “But Andy is very religious. Talking to him around the time of Garrett’s death and subsequent to that, his faith presented what I want to call a foundation that supported him and kept him kind of strong and positive.

“I mean, he was devastated by the loss. But he kind of held on to this kind of inner strength that came from his faith. I think the combination of a fresh start [in Kansas City] with something to prove and his incredible faith allowed him to rebound and move forward in a way that I don’t think many people could have.’’

Lurie and Reid have remained close since parting ways that December day in 2012.

“We either call or text each other often,’’ the owner said. “On the few occasions during the year that I see him, it’s very personal and honest and genuine.’’

After the Eagles won the Super Bowl two years ago, one of the first people Lurie called was Reid.

“I wanted him to know how big a part of us winning was him,’’ he said. “I really wanted to convey that to him.’’

Lurie said Reid also was instrumental in his decision to hire Doug Pederson to replace Chip Kelly in 2016. Pederson was Reid’s offensive coordinator at the time.

“His recommendation of Doug meant a lot to me,’’ he said. “It impacted us. This wasn’t a casual phone call. We had a few calls in the process. We had talked about virtually every candidate we were interviewing and spent a lot of time on Doug.

“Andy was genuine and very helpful. It gave me the confidence that what Doug was doing with Andy was very important and worthy of giving him the chance to be the head coach.’’