EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Brad Childress hears it, and he worries. The labored breathing. The constant throat-clearing. The small coughs, as if he just can't get enough air into his lungs.
Those sounds worry Childress much more than the buzz this season from frustrated fans about his longtime friend, Andy Reid, and the Eagles' inconsistent play.
That external noise born of the manic highs and lows of this season, Childress knows, Reid can handle, because he pays little attention to it and, after all, you don't get into the coaching profession without having skin as thick as an elephant's.
But the stress of an erratic season and the nights spent in his office combined with the weight Reid has gained over the dog years that he has spent in Philadelphia? Now that scares the hell out of Childress, because he hears the toll it is taking just about every time he talks to Reid, and he knows.
The Eagles might have sneaked into the playoffs, might even mute the critics with a win at the Metrodome tomorrow over Childress's third-seeded Vikings, but some noises won't go away easily.
"There are two stand-alone factors in heart disease: smoking and obesity," Childress said the other day, sitting in his office at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility in suburban Minneapolis. "Forget everything else. Your ticker can be good, blood pressure good, but those are separate drags on the spectrum.
"It's amazing the discipline [Reid has] in every other area, but you've got to bend somehow, I guess, and that's it. I hear him breathing through it. I hear the same thing, and it's scary."
They are adversaries, yes, and will never be more so than for three hours tomorrow, when a week's worth of planning transfers into a do-or-die game. But more than anything, Childress and Reid are friends, confidantes and contemporaries, and have been for more than 20 years.
In 1986, Childress was the offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona in need of an intelligent, savvy, dedicated offensive line coach, and Reid, then at San Francisco State, fit the bill.
Reid, his wife, Tammy, and their two little boys lived behind Childress, his wife and their two young children. The families would barbecue together, and Reid and Childress carpooled to work.
Although they were together in Flagstaff, Ariz., for only one season, and their careers traveled divergent paths, Childress and Reid remained close. Childress was the offensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin in the 1990s while Reid was an assistant with the Green Bay Packers, and when the Eagles hired Reid as their coach in 1999, Reid hired Childress to coach the quarterbacks, which ended up including a rookie named Donovan McNabb.
An Illinois native, Childress quickly learned about the pressures of coaching in Philadelphia, where football is a way of life, and losing isn't tolerated. It wasn't easy. The Eagles' offices were in what Childress called the dungeon at Veterans Stadium. Cats defecated everywhere. Homeless people hit up the coaches for money when they came to work in the early morning. On Mondays after games, beer soaked through the walls, and the stench of vomit was overwhelming.
"The Veterans Stadium stories alone could fill up a book this big," Childress said, spreading his thumb and forefinger six inches apart. "One after another after another after another. That's why you have to have a sense of humor and laugh."
Which is what Reid did.
After Childress, who went on to become the Eagles' offensive coordinator, left for Minnesota in 2006, he and Reid continued to talk. They have had weekly conversations throughout this season, and Reid never hinted that anything was amiss. Not after the tie with Cincinnati or the loss to Baltimore.
"He really is the same from week to week," Childress said. "We talk about mutual problems, mutual solutions, but by the same token this deal makes strange bedfellows. All of a sudden, here we are head-to-head, so while we talk, there's still that competitive thing there, whether it's for free agents in the off-season, or if I talked bad about my right tackle sometime during the season. We're both mindful.
"We have fun and can tweak each other, but competitively you know he's always listening, always tracking. So am I. That's just the nature of the beast until we get on the same side sometime."
Artis Hicks entered the NFL in 2002 as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Eagles. In four seasons in Philadelphia, he said he rarely, if ever, saw Reid get frustrated or angry.
"Andy's the type of guy who keeps a lot of stuff close to himself," Hicks said. "He's more reserved than a lot of coaches, and because of that he's able to thrive there, because he's not going to let too much of what goes on on the outside, as far as the media and the fans, influence what he does. I think you have to be like that to be a head coach in a town like that. . . . The fans there, they have little patience for losing."
That's the truth. Rhea Hughes of WIP-AM (610) said that of the calls into the morning show in the last two months, only one was pro-Reid.
"I've never seen a team where everything starts and ends with the coach," Hughes said. "It's not the defense. It never starts with the players. It's amazing to me. It's whether or not the coach is going to do the right thing and call the right game plan, and the fans don't trust Reid to do that. They think he's too stubborn."
Childress used to smoke. Who knows why he started? Maybe it was stress or a mid-life crisis. Some men buy sports cars when they turn 40. Childress bought a pack of Marlboros.
So he gets it. Even though he sucked down his last cigarette outside of the Rose Bowl in early 1999, Childress understands that even the toughest or most resilient man needs an outlet.
"I could have gone to Philadelphia and gotten a cigarette anywhere I wanted," Childress said. "I thought 100 times inside the Vet, I could have walked out to any employee at any time day or night and said, 'Hey, can I bum a smoke?' and it would've been, 'Yeah, Coach, here.' "
These days, Childress will have an occasional vodka. He understands that Reid isn't a "closet put-a-dip-in-his-lip guy," but that he "loves to cook, loves to eat," Childress said. Everyone has something.
And Reid loves his job, no matter the stresses or strains.
"There's a juice to [coaching] that sitting behind a desk ain't going to get you," Childress said. "He's passionate about it. Everybody in that building knows he's passionate about it. He's a good man. He's a good football coach. He's got a great personality, can belly laugh with the best of them, can needle.
"You don't get into this thing because you've got thin skin."
Here are details about Eagles coach Andy Reid:
Hired: Jan. 11, 1999.
Named NFL coach of the year in 2000 and 2002.
Compiled the best win total (105), winning percentage (.606), and playoff victory total (8) in Eagles history.
Won five division titles.
Made four trips to the NFC championship game and one to the Super Bowl.
This season, Reid became the 37th head coach in NFL history to reach 100 wins, the 22d to win 100 games with one franchise, and the 17th to reach 100 wins in his first job as head coach.
Only Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick have exceeded Reid's .606 winning percentage among active coaches with 100 games coached.
Reid is the 18th coach in NFL history to remain with his original team for 10 or more years.
He was promoted to head coach and executive vice president of football operations on May 8, 2001. His contract was extended to 2010 in the 2004 season.
Reid was an assistant coach at Brigham Young University, San Francisco State, Northern Arizona, Texas-El Paso, Missouri and the Green Bay Packers.
Reid graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in physical education and a master's degree in professional leadership in physical education and athletics.
Reid's five children - sons Garrett, Britt and Spencer, and daughters Crosby and Drew Ann - were each born in a different state. He met his wife, Tammy, at BYU.
Head Coaching Record
Year Season Playoffs Overall Result
1999 5-11 0-0 5-11 5th in NFC East
2000 11-5 1-1 12-6 2d in NFC East Reached divisional playoffs
2001 11-5 2-1 13-6 1st in NFC East Reached NFC championship game
2002 12-4 1-1 13-5 1st in NFC East Reached NFC championship game
2003 12-4 1-1 13-5 1st in NFC East Reached NFC championship game
2004 13-3 2-1 15-4 1st in NFC East Reached Super Bowl
2005 6-10 0-0 6-10 4th in NFC East
2006 10-6 1-1 11-7 1st in NFC East Reached divisional playoffs
2007 8-8 0-0 8-8 4th in NFC East
2008 9-6-1 --- 9-6-1 2d in NFC East
Reached wild-card playoffs
TOTAL 97-62-1 8-6 105-68-1