It's been more than three decades since Andy Reid played and coached football at BYU, and he still checks in with his old coach and former teammate.
He calls LaVell Edwards, the former BYU head coach and legend in residence, on a weekly basis. He texts and calls Kyle Whittingham, the University of Utah coach, every three weeks or so.
Reid was Whittingham’s teammate at BYU under Edwards and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant on Edwards’ staff in 1982. Since then, he has stayed in close contact with his Utah roots as he has climbed to the top of his profession. He called when he was an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers; he called when he was head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles; he calls now that he is head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He’s one of those guys who spends too much time at work,” says Edwards. “He goes in at 4 a.m. and gets home at 10. Maybe he just likes to have a change, 'cause we don’t talk much about football.”
Edwards has been in contact with Reid through it all — the three Super Bowl seasons with the Packers and Eagles, the Terrell Owens nonsense, the Michael Vick signing, the Donovan McNabb years, the Eagles’ downturn, his own firing, the Kansas City hiring. Now Reid is the hottest story in football with his revival of the Chiefs, who, in Reid’s first year are 6-0 after winning just two games last season.
“We just seemed to strike up a relationship when he played here and was a GA (graduate assistant coach),” says Edwards, who has visited with Reid in person when he was on the East Coast. “I always had good relationships with the guys, but he was unique that way, particularly when he went to the NFL.”
Last summer Reid told KSL.com, “I have more respect for (Edwards) than anybody ... When you ask me about my favorite people, he's right there at the top."
Reid played football with Whittingham from 1979-81. He was a lineman from California who converted to the Mormon faith. Whittingham was an all-conference linebacker from Provo. They struck up a friendship.
“We hung out together,” says Whittingham, who stayed at Reid’s home a couple of years ago while visiting Philadelphia.
Edwards and Whittingham have watched from a distance as Reid has become one of the NFL’s top coaches. If you like redemptive stories, Reid is your coach, the Chiefs are your team, and Alex Smith is your quarterback.
Reid lost his 14-year coaching job in Philadelphia after winning just four games last season, and Smith lost his starting job with the 49ers to Colin Kaepernick. After being hired by the Chiefs, Reid, who had tried to obtain Smith “multiple times” as coach of the Eagles, traded two second-round draft picks to secure the former Utah quarterback. Before doing so, he called Whittingham to discuss Smith, who played for the Utes when Whittingham was their defensive coordinator.
“I gave him my complete endorsement,” says Whittingham. “I told Andy, first of all, that Alex is extremely intelligent and understands everything about the game, and I felt he had a lot of good years. He had so many different offensive coordinators in San Francisco; I told him I thought if Alex were given a situation where he was able to have more continuity, he would flourish.”
Smith has delivered a solid, workman-like performance, managing and augmenting the Chiefs’ strong running attack with his passing and running. He ranks no better than 21st in passing yards among NFL quarterbacks, but he has played virtually mistake-free.
Reid told MMQB.com, “I just always watched (Smith) and thought, ‘Man, I'd like to coach that kid.'"
Smith told the New York Times, “We’d love to stick it to everybody who thought we couldn’t do it, he (Andy Reid) and I included.”
Reid, who took the Eagles to the playoffs nine times in 14 years, won’t go there.
“The change of scenery has done him good,” says Whittingham. “He got a fresh start. He is really excited about it, and so far it has worked. He had a couple of options where to go next, and he opted for the Chiefs. He thought they had talent.”
Edwards agrees. “Andy has a great attitude and he remains pretty good friends with the (Eagles) owner. He spent time with him when he went back (to Philadelphia). He recognized that you can probably stay too long in one place, and then it’s time to move on, particularly at that level. At least in college you change a third of your players every year. There, you have many of the same guys over and over. After a period of time, what do you say to them? They’ve heard it all so many times.”
It is remarkable the difference one man can make in a team. The Chiefs have been transformed under Reid. The Eagles, too, are playing better under new coach Chip Kelly. At 3-3, they are one win away from matching last year’s win total.
“Yep, it’s a win-win,” says Whittingham. “He left on as good a terms as you can after getting fired. He felt like it was good for both.”
“Sometimes a new guy brings in new excitement and makes a difference,” says Edwards. “Andy told me when he first went there that he had some good players, and Alex has made a difference, too.”
Both Edwards and Whittingham cite many of the same characteristics when discussing what makes Reid successful. Meticulous and organized. Intelligent. Relates well to players. An even temperament.
Remembering Reid’s GA days, Edwards says, “I figured he’d be a good coach. First of all, he’s very intelligent. He was an English major. When he told me he wanted to coach, I remember thinking, ‘You’re too smart to do this.’ He has a good way with players, too. He grew up in an area with a lot of different nationalities and relates to the players well.”
There’s just one thing Edwards might change. “I try to tell him he works too many hours, and that he’s going to wear himself out. But you have to do what you’re comfortable with. He’s stayed in it and made it work.”
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company