Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Andy Reid's ordeals and triumphs

The office door would close softly behind him. The man who always worked, who never took a break, who essentially lived at the office, was leaving early.

Andy Reid walks off the field with his son, Britt, after the Eagles beat the Giants in 2004. (Yong Kim / Staff file photo)
Andy Reid walks off the field with his son, Britt, after the Eagles beat the Giants in 2004. (Yong Kim / Staff file photo)Read moreYong Kim / File photo

The office door would close softly behind him. The man who always worked, who never took a break, who essentially lived at the office, was leaving early.

Andy Reid had to go see his sons.

Every Thursday night for nearly two years, Reid would quickly eat dinner in his office and then put aside his job as the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and drive, sometimes longer than an hour, to a prison. For one son, Reid had to go to three prisons.

He was a very successful coach of a very successful franchise in the National Football League. But for a few hours every week, he had no ego, no pride, no status. Reid was just a father concerned about his incarcerated sons, who were addicted to drugs.

Reid went to the prisons to help, to offer support, to give a lifeline to Garrett and Britt, who were in jail on drug-related offenses. It did not scar him, but it did leave calluses.

"It was a good experience," the 52-year old Reid said. "But not one I'd like to do again."

It changed the coach, made him stronger and more real - to his players, to his bosses and to his family. Andy Reid, the man who controls all football decisions by the Eagles, who gets the credit when things go well and the blame when they don't, was now sympathetic to the way of the world, a world he'd lived beyond football.

Just another visitor

The Montgomery County Correctional Facility sits on 175 acres on a hill far from view from the road below. Since 1986, it has housed the county's criminals, but it has become overcrowded.

Past the brown metal-and-glass doors, the prison lobby has shoebox-size lockers against a wall where visitors can stow their belongings - cell phones, car keys, purses and wallets - and kiosks where they can deposit money into a prisoner's account for use at the commissary.

Beyond a thick, sliding metal door that harshly locks behind each visitor is the main prison command center, where armed guards keep watch over the facility, its 536 cells, and its approximately 1,730 inmates, who live a floor below, sometimes four to a cell.

The walls are cinderblock - cold and confining. Here, men and women are doing time for screwing up their lives. They're living, but it's a life of bars and barbed wires, and just a few comforts, like the sparse weight room, the library with nine electric typewriters, and the dark chapel with five rows of pews where the prisoners can pray to whichever deity they feel can best help them out.

Down a long hallway about half the length of a football field is a bright turquoise room filled with eggplant-colored plastic chairs and a dozen tables. Cameras hang over two doors, and another films from underneath a sphere in the middle of the ceiling. Here for one hour, the prisoners can touch, hug, and talk to whoever has made this lonely journey.

And it is here that Reid, in shorts and a T-shirt, was not at all special, or privileged, or unique.

Reid was just an evening visitor, like so many others in the hours before him, to see the most precious part of his life, his sons. For nearly two years, from 2007 to 2009, Reid kept a Thursday night vigil, sometimes here, where Garrett and Britt were introduced to prison life, sometimes at a prison in Chester, sometimes at Graterford. It changed him. How could it not?

Reid Part II

The lights are out, and the film projector is rolling. Reid is sitting behind his desk at the bustling NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia, remote control in hand, quietly watching practice tape on a large screen hanging from a wall across the room. This is the infancy of Reid's 12th season in Philadelphia, one that has begun, for the first time in his career here, without Donovan McNabb under center.

In fact, every significant leader Reid has had in the last decade is gone. McNabb. Brian Dawkins. Brian Westbrook. Jeremiah Trotter. Jon Runyan. Tra Thomas. Ike Reese. Hugh Douglas. Troy Vincent. Sheldon Brown. Reid let them all go.

It was a gradual phase-out, but given the full measure of talent no longer here, it's impossible not to view Reid Season 12 as the beginning of Reid Part II.

By NFL standards, Reid has been wildly successful. He has 118 career wins, including 10 in the playoffs. His winning percentage is .616. He has won five division titles and made five trips to the NFC championship game.

But there is a gaping hole on Reid's resumé: a Super Bowl championship. With the talent that has passed through the building - not just in 2004, the Super Bowl season - Reid, one can argue, should have raised the Lombardi Trophy by now.

That is part of the reason he isn't beloved here, and why, although the Eagles extended his contract last season, Reid might be on the clock.

With a new group of players - the "Young Guns," as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie calls them - there are questions, sure, but none yet that are about the new quarterback's accuracy, or his toughness, or whether he lost his lunch during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX. Everything now is fresh. Young players. Different problems. More unknowns and uncertainty. But genuine potential.

"You know what? I think with as much emphasis as is put on the quarterback position in the National Football League, and as long and as great as Donovan was when he was here, I would say it is a new era," Reid said, sitting in a black leather chair with his back to the windows overlooking three practice fields. "I don't know if that's the definition, if that's what Webster would give you, but I believe it is a little of a changing of the guard here."

Trading McNabb to an NFC East rival, the Washington Redskins, was a huge gamble, in part because everyone involved with the decision - Reid, team president Joe Banner, owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman, and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg - believes McNabb has good years left in his 33-year-old body. McNabb's replacement, the 25-year-old Kevin Kolb, has made just two starts in three seasons and inevitably will go through growing pains. All first-year starters do.

But after 11 years, and with a young offense, it was time to make the change. It wasn't an easy call, nor a knee-jerk call. Reid, Banner, Roseman, Lurie, and Mornhinweg discussed it at length, and in the end, Lurie said, Reid wasn't "risk-averse."

"I'm OK with that," Reid said. "Yeah, I'm all right with that. Inevitably it was my decision to go that route. I'm proud of all the things Donovan did, the way he handled himself, the legacy he's left here in Philadelphia. You never want that part to end, but this business is crazy that way."

Reid said this three weeks before his backup quarterback, Michael Vick, a convicted felon to whom Reid gave a second chance, had a 30th birthday party in Virginia that ended with a codefendant in Vick's 2007 federal dogfighting case getting shot in the leg. Police have identified the shooter, who they've said is not Vick. The NFL and the Eagles have investigated the incident, and neither have taken action against Vick. But the incident raised anew the question of why the Eagles brought Vick here in the first place, and why they picked up his option for 2010.

That big issue aside, there is an ease to Reid that hasn't always been there. He seems comfortable, reflective, rejuvenated, is counting the days until training camp, and looks as though he's lost weight.

Perhaps most important, for the first time in years, there apparently is peace in the Reid house. No drugs. No chaos. No lies. On this day.

"I think Andy's in the best place I've seen him since the first few years he was here," said Banner, whose office is just down the hall from Reid's. "I think he's feeling this renewed energy and excitement and optimism about everything - his home life and his work life."

Condition critical

That certainly wasn't the case in 2007. The Reid family was in crisis. For years, the Reids had shuttled their eldest son, Garrett, to one drug treatment facility after another. He'd enroll in college, then drop out, play football for a junior college, then quit. After his second stint in an in-patient rehabilitation center, Garrett went to Arizona State and eventually spiraled so far out of control he lost nearly 100 pounds, virtually quit communicating with his parents, and then, finally, living out of his car, cried out for help.

Garrett was all over the map with drugs. Opiate pills when he could get them, heroin when he couldn't. He sold drugs. He took drugs. He bragged about his status as a son of the Eagles' coach.

And then on the second-to-last day of January 2007, with his parents on vacation in Los Angeles, Garrett crashed his car into another in Plymouth Township, injuring the driver. He was high on heroin. Six hours later, Britt Reid was arrested for having flashed a gun at a motorist in West Conshohocken, and, like his brother, was busted with illegal drugs in his possession.

The family's secret was out. Reid subsequently took a 39-day leave of absence from the Eagles, and accompanied his sons to a detox center in Florida. It was condition critical.

Although a team insider said the Luries weren't happy with the negative attention Reid's family problems brought to the franchise, Reid said he never feared he'd get fired over it. He had bigger issues.

"I think you get to the point where you really don't care," Reid said. "You know, when that thing happens, you don't . . ." His voice trailed off.

"That's the right answer," Banner said.

Firing Reid "was never a consideration, I can tell you that," Banner said. "It's funny because we were probably wondering if he was going to quit more so than it was ever a thought that we were going to do anything. That was never anything that came up with Jeff and I at all. It was more, 'What do we need to do? We need to do the right thing here, help him,' and, from our perspective, maximize the chance that he stays here as the head coach in a way and a mind-set that he can do so well."

Still, it was a tumultuous time. "I didn't think he was going to quit," Banner said, "but I wasn't sure he wasn't going to quit. If you said, 'Make a prediction,' I would've predicted he'd stay. But if you said, 'If he quit, would you be completely shocked,' I would've said, 'No.'

"If you have kids and haven't walked in his shoes, you can at least picture a little bit what his shoes must feel like then. Everything else has to feel completely irrelevant."

Wired for Philadelphia

Being "wired for Philadelphia" is one of the criteria Reid uses when evaluating quarterbacks. In 1999, Reid felt there were five NFL-caliber quarterbacks in the draft, but "I thought Donovan was wired the best for this city," Reid said.

"He had the ability to laugh things off that needed to be laughed off and not take things too serious from the outside influences. At the same time, he was able to focus on the job at hand. You have to be able to do that here."

Kolb has that, Reid said. It's part of the reason the Eagles drafted Kolb with their first pick, a high second rounder, in 2007, and why he is the starter heading into training camp.

"They probably get to it a different way," Reid said, "but [Kolb] has that ability to not let the outside things influence his game inside. I think that's important."

Reid thought he was wired for Philadelphia when he arrived in January 1999, but even he didn't know exactly what that meant. The Eagles had just limped through Ray Rhodes' fourth season, finishing 3-13 and last in the NFC East. The team was on life support, and although experienced coaches like Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, and Jim Haslett were on the market, Lurie turned to a large, mustached man who had never been a head coach, never been even a coordinator in the NFL.

Outside of the crumbling Veterans Stadium, the collective reaction to Lurie's second coaching hire was: Who?

Philly Fan is many things. Passionate. Dedicated. Knowledgeable. Demanding. And unquestionably skeptical. Reid had been the quarterbacks coach at Green Bay, but had Holmgren allowed it, Reid would have left the Packers in 1997 to become the offensive coordinator in San Francisco for his friend Steve Mariucci. Holmgren used a NFL rule that no longer exists to prevent Reid from leaving.

"I think he was upset, and Tammy probably, too," said Holmgren, now the president of the Cleveland Browns. "I said, 'Look, I'll pay you. I'll fix your salary and then I will help you get a job. You have my word.' "

After Holmgren left Green Bay for Seattle in early 1999, Lurie called him.

"I'm doing this with Andy Reid," Lurie said. "Is it the right thing to do?" "Absolutely," Holmgren told Lurie.

"My conscience was wiped clean," Holmgren said.

Rhodes and Reid had worked together in Green Bay, and Rhodes told Reid about the unique pressure of coaching in this gritty city.

"I think I had a pretty good idea what it was going to take to come here, but until you do it, you really don't know," Reid said. "You can think you're wired for Philadelphia, but at that time in your life you think you're wired for any challenge, and pretty confident. And maybe you don't have quite as many scars as you have after you've been in it a while."

Philadelphia has left Reid with scars. He doesn't specify, but they are obvious. Questions about his inability or unwillingness to make in-game adjustments. Criticism of his clock management. The fourth quarter of the Super Bowl loss to New England. The four NFC championship game losses, two of which were at home. His weight. His sons.

"This is pretty simplistic," Reid said. "I think the media, the fans, coaches, players, your owner - who's very important - they want the Philadelphia Eagles to win, and it makes all our jobs better. So I think if you lose focus of that, which can happen with the media and the passionate fans, you can let that become an external force that's controlling that end result. You don't want to let that happen.

"You have to stay focused on what you think is best to win and put the rest aside, and know that will make all the jobs better. That's probably the hardest thing to do."

Reid paused. "Callus is probably a better word," Reid said. "Scar isn't a good word."

Family in crisis

Reid's sons put him, and their mom, through hell. In August 2007, Britt landed back in jail for violating his parole after he was found incoherent and behind the wheel at a sporting goods store in Plymouth Meeting. Police found 2371/2 pills in his pickup truck and 31 in his pockets. A week later, Garrett barely failed a drug test. Four weeks later, after missing another, Garrett unequivocally failed one. He, too, went back to jail.

By the Reids' sentencing hearing on Nov. 1, Common Pleas Judge Steven P. O'Neill, who was presiding over both cases, had had enough. Armed with the additional knowledge that Garrett the day before had smuggled 89 pills in his rectum into prison - which brought a contraband charge that included a mandatory prison sentence of at least two years - O'Neill bluntly undressed the Reids in a packed courtroom.

"I have some real difficulty with the structure in which these two boys live," O'Neill said. "What is the supervision? . . . It sounds like a drug emporium there with drugs all around. . . . This is a family in crisis."

Boom. Andy Reid sat red-faced next to his wife in the front row.

"It wasn't a very flattering situation, period," Reid said. "The whole thing wasn't very flattering. The judge, in his statement, he got everybody's attention. None of us liked it, but that's reality. He knew it was a high-profile deal. He knew he was under the microscope. And he did what he thought was right.

"He has this program [drug court], and he spends so much time on it. So he's got a whole lot more experience than I did. I was new at all this. So I'm looking at a guy I know is smart and has been doing this a while and been dealing with these types of kids, and I guess as parents you believe in tough love, and that's kind of what he was giving the whole family. Tough love. Yeah.

"Sometimes you don't like that, but sometimes you need it."

"It wasn't about me"

When Julio Algarin, warden at the Montgomery County Correction Facility, got word in 2007 that he was going to have Andy Reid's sons as inmates, his reaction was: "Aw, jeez."

"I'm suspicious by nature, because it's my job," said Algarin, a man with dark eyes and salt-and-pepper hair, "and I'm saying, 'Andy Reid and his kids in here, what's going to happen now? Is it going to be a media blitz? And am I going to have to do this, and do that?' "

Algarin could see it. The never-ending phone calls asking for special favors, like private meeting rooms and direct money drop-offs. There would be the attitude, and the denial, and the misplaced blame. Algarin expected textbook celebrity entitlement.

That's why, early on, Algarin asked his guards: "Mr. Reid, Mrs. Reid, any problems?" "No sir. Not at all," was the response Algarin got. "Very, very friendly. Very polite."

Going in, Reid had made a series of conscious decisions. He wasn't going to hide. During his Thursday night visits, he was going to be accessible, friendly, polite, and accommodating to everyone in the prison - the guards, the inmates, the other visitors, the warden.

"It was important so the boys didn't get razzed about me more than they were going to get razzed, that I didn't walk in there going, 'I'm Andy Reid,' " he said. "I'm not that way anyway, but, I mean, I thought it was important that they saw I was a normal guy. I was a coach, but I was normal."

Britt spent four months in C-Pod, a two-story collection of cells housing from 36 to 40 inmates, with two communal showers. Britt was in cell C-288 on the second floor, which overlooked a small communal area with chipping paint where the inmates ate their meals. He had a bed, and a toilet, and little else, aside from the daily expectation of breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and lockup at 9:30 p.m.

C-Pod also has a square outdoor space smaller than a basketball court, surrounded on all sides by brick walls and barbed wire - just a place to smell the air and feel the sun.

According to Douglas Tennett, who works second shift observing C-Pod, Britt was never a problem. He kept to himself, worked out, and didn't say much.

His brother, everyone at the prison knew, had deeper issues.

"It's hard," said Algarin, the warden. "It's very, very hard. It's easy to get into jail. It's hard to get out. It's easy to get into drugs. It's hard to stop. And it's an epidemic. It's a problem. It's a huge problem."

There isn't empathy in prison. By being accessible, Andy Reid opened himself up to abuse. He wasn't joking when he said the reception he got on his Thursday night visits depended on how the Eagles had done on the previous Sunday.

"The guards are very strict," Reid said. "I told them, 'Listen, I'm OK with it. I'm all right. I can take the razzing. I've been callused. . . . It was nothing I don't hear when I walk through the tunnel at the end of a game."

And as one Thursday turned into a dozen, Reid started seeing familiar faces and hearing stories to which he could relate.

"As time went on, I knew I wasn't the only one going through this," Reid said. "It's crazy how rampant it is. It wasn't about me. At that point, you become the parent, and you go, 'It's about them,' and you check your ego at the door."

Prison is all about routine, so the officer, Colleen Collins, who registered Reid one Thursday night, did it all the others, too.

"He was real down to earth," Collins said. "So was his wife. He was pretty much the same the whole time, very nice. He'd stop and shake hands, and he'd talk to all the guards."

As November pushed into December and then into January, the guards kept chuckling over Reid's wardrobe. Regardless of the temperature, Reid was always, without fail, in shorts.

The guards also reported back to Algarin when Reid gave the shirt off his back to an inmate who had been released into a frigid winter evening with only a T-shirt to wear. On Reid's final Thursday night, after Britt had been diverted into drug court and just before Garrett was moved to another facility, Reid left a box of Eagles hats in the prison lobby.

"That was his way," said Algarin. "I would've never expected that out of that person, that much. I don't know what side you've seen of him, but I've seen a concerned parent, I've seen a polite person, I've seen a person that went out of his way to make sure he was there for his family."

Deadly disease

"Who are you?" Judge O'Neill asks Charles Seager, a 22-year-old in a blue prison jumpsuit. It is a Friday in late June, and the thin Seager is standing at the same podium where Britt Reid stood inside O'Neill's drug court.

"I'm tired of being a junkie," Seager tells the judge.

For four years, O'Neill has presided over drug court because, as he says matter-of-factly, "It works." Studies have shown drug court, which treats the addict rather than keeping him locked up in a world where drugs are prevalent, reduces recidivism by 35 percent, which, O'Neill said, "is an incredible statistic."

Because he smuggled pills into prison, Garrett Reid couldn't go through drug court, but Britt Reid did. After serving five months in jail, Britt Reid entered the rigorous drug court program that included drug treatment, participation in a 12-step program, and multiple drug tests a week. He also had to keep a job and report to drug court on a regular basis. Another arrest, and Reid would've been booted from the program. A hot or diluted urine sample, and he would've earned an overnight stay in jail.

Drug court isn't, as O'Neill said, "hug-a-thug."

"We treat [addiction] like any other disease - heart disease, cancer, diabetes," O'Neill told Seager. "It's a much more complicated, a much more pernicious, a much more deadly disease."

At Britt's admission into the program, O'Neill asked Britt the question he always asks: "Who are you?" In a voice barely audible in court, Britt replied: "I'm a young man who's made some bad decisions."

Send a lot of flowers

None of it was easy. Still isn't. But life inside the Reid house is better. Britt Reid completed the drug court program in 15 months, which is almost unheard of. He never missed a test, an appointment, a meeting, a job shift, or a school assignment, according to someone in the court system who would know. Britt worked at Carlino's, a gourmet Italian market in Ardmore, at St. Joseph's Prep, and with the Eagles, and he's now enrolled at Temple and working as a student assistant on Al Golden's football staff.

"He loves it," Golden said of Britt. "When you're at that age, if you don't love it, you'll get out of it quickly. It's so hard in the beginning. If you want to do it, the love will pull you. You won't need to be pushed."

After completing a prison drug treatment program that included a failed drug test in May 2009 while living at a halfway house that landed him back at Graterford, Garrett Reid is now living at home, working full time. In June, he earned the right to no longer have to check in at the halfway house because he's been living clean.

Neither Britt nor Garrett has been back in prison. "That's one good indicator," said Algarin, the prison warden. Reid said neither Britt nor Garrett would comment for this story because, as he said, they "don't have anything to brag about yet."

Through it all, Andy and Tammy Reid, who also declined comment, managed to stay together. Early on, an attorney told the Reids that 80 percent of the parents he represents who have a drug-addicted child end up divorced.

"I'm sitting there going, the genius I am, 'OK, we've got two kids. Is there a 160 percent chance?' " Reid said.

It didn't happen.

"You've got to have a good foundation to start with," Reid said, "and then the moms, I think the moms take it even harder than the dads. It's tough on moms, especially if they're stay-at-home moms. As guilty as you feel, they feel even guiltier.

"I think it's important that the guys that are out there working, you've got to let your wife speak and ventilate and listen and communicate at the same time. And, send a lot of flowers. It's tough on everybody. It's tough on the family, and it's really tough on the moms."

Not that it was easy on the father.

"All the blame goes on you as the parent," Reid said. "It's kind of like a press conference after a loss. You feel you're the leader of the pack. You're the dad, and the head coach. You feel a lot of responsibility.

"As a football coach, you look at the hours you put in and you go, 'Wow.' You should be home more or you should do this. You go through and you analyze everything. And then you find out there are a lot of parents who are home a lot. It hits everybody."

Reid has survived his sons' drug addiction, but, like his career in Philadelphia, the journey isn't over. It's really only beginning, calluses and all.

"In this business, we're always harping on every play, forget the last one, and make sure the next one is better," Reid said. "You have to do that with your life, too."


Reid and Banner: The Birds' odd couple. Sports, D1.