The next chapter seemed as inevitable as a botched third-down play.

Eight months ago, the next chapter for Andy Reid seemed as identifiable as the man himself. His football team was a mess, his coaching staff was a mess and the chants emanating from the uppermost rows of Lincoln Financial Field began with his name but didn't end there.

He must go, they said.

Not should, could, or clearly, would go.

He must go.

It wasn't just the Eagles record at the time, which, until a late flurry of meaningless victories, was filled with late-game losses and dubious game-management decisions. It was the man himself. Beloved by those with whom he spent hours out of the public's view, he had become to be viewed as the polar opposite by the ticketholders outside those walls - brusque, condescending and indelibly distant.

His public demeanor became such an issue that owner Jeffrey Lurie felt compelled to address it in his end-of-the season news conference. "I think it's a legitimate question, but to describe it as arrogant is completely wrong," Lurie said in January. "It's protective, and there's a difference how you interpret protectiveness. You can convert it to arrogance if you misjudge it. There's no arrogance in this man. One of the analyses I do when I meet with Andy for multiple times in the last month - and I do it every year - is how humble he is and how self-critical he is, and that goes into my analysis. So you're dealing with a completely non-arrogant man who blames himself for a lot of the troubles with the team . . . If I felt that there was too much rigidity, arrogance and a sense of separateness then I'd be changing coaches."

A byproduct of Lurie's end-of-the season review was a more personable Andy Reid. At least he has tried to be. He was on television a little more than normal in the spring, even told jokes and played "Quick Six" during an episode of "Daily News Live" on Comcast SportsNet. He gave reporters a little bit more access to do features.

But it was no sea change. He was still the Andy Reid of the previous 12 seasons - guarded, careful, defensive.

And then came the unthinkable. His eldest son, whose public battle with drug addiction had challenged every attribute this coach has been praised for, was found dead in a Lehigh dorm room in the early hours of Sunday, Aug. 5.

And instead of wanting him gone, the overriding sentiment of Eagles nation was to throw a big bearhug around the man.

This city has a rich history of tortured relationships with its most accomplished sports figures, a byproduct of great expectations and unfulfilled promise. Those who survive it - none has really thrived, if we're honest - tend to fall under two categories.

One includes those whose effort and results are so beyond reproach that we don't really care they have nothing to say afterward. Steve Carlton comes to mind. Chase Utley, too. Until their performances waned repeatedly in the postseason, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter got away with it, too.

Then there are those guys whose willingness to bleed for us is literal and figurative. They are more than willing to share with us what they were thinking when they failed, as well as succeeded. Dick Vermeil comes to mind. Jeremiah Trotter, too. Allen Iverson, Curt Schilling, Charles Barkley. Ron Hextall, absolutely. And Keith Primeau and Ken Hitchcock and, yes, yes, yes, Doug Collins.

Andy Reid has clearly been in the former category. Among active NFL coaches, only Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been less warm and fuzzy with his public. The difference of course is that Belichick has won three Super Bowls and been to five over Reid's tenure as coach, so his public gives him a pass the way we gave Carlton one and give Utley one now.

With expectations again high for this Eagles team, it will be interesting to see how this season unfolds. The best scenario would be for the team to stay healthy, play up to those lofty expectations and deliver that eternally longed-for Super Bowl championship. The best scenario would be for Reid to continue an effort to show us what his team sees, what his family sees, what we saw over what is likely the most trying part of his life.

A rock, yes. A tough guy, yes. But one who was genuinely moved by the embrace of a populace that he so embittered that some actually rooted for him to lose games last December, just to be rid of him.

Now? Now who isn't rooting for the guy?

"Life is going to throw you some curveballs, all of us, and you're not going to bail," Reid said a few days after his son's death. "You're going to stand in there and you're going to keep swinging. I think that's very important."

Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon. For recent columns, go to philly.com/SamDonnellon.