Published August 22, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The wooden desk is covered in paper now, eight months after Andy Reid first slid behind it. Scouting reports and personnel sheets and a thousand other notes, a mess of thoughts and ideas scribbled up and broken down for future consideration.
The big Chief with that familiar, bushy mustache leans over it in his office, clasping his hands in front of him. He thinks about the question hanging in the air — "What will it take to rebuild this once-proud franchise?" He then looks at the mess of paper, no doubt buried in there the blueprint that he's been following since arriving in Kansas City on a cold January day.
"I'd probably tell you this," the Chiefs coach says, pausing to choose his words carefully. "It's taken the same type of attitude we had in Philadelphia. The guys have worked hard, and the guys back then worked hard, too, at the Eagles. I would tell you that's a similarity."
That's not where the similarities end, though. That's only a start.
Fifteen years after he rebuilt the Eagles, Reid is relying on a familiar process — find a franchise quarterback, sign the right free agents, make wise draft picks — to turn the trick again in Kansas City, which his coming off a 2-14 season that was historic in the worst of ways.
On the field, the Chiefs couldn't score a touchdown for weeks at a time, getting blown out more often than not. Away from the field, fans staged organized revolts, grassroots groups paying for banners to be towed behind airplanes over Arrowhead Stadium begging for change on game days.
Once the season mercifully ended, Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt wiped the slate clean.
General manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel were ushered out the door. Reid was hired along with longtime Packers executive John Dorsey as the GM. Longtime pals, Reid and Dorsey quickly drew up a plan for taking one of the league's iconic franchises from worst to first.
They traded for Alex Smith, the former 49ers quarterback whom Reid not-so-secretly coveted when he was still in Philadelphia. They signed key players such as wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and punter Dustin Colquitt to long-term deals. They spent lavishly in free agency on cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. They used the No. 1 pick on big right tackle Eric Fisher.
By the time training camp began a few weeks ago, on the steaming practice fields of Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, more than 50 of the 90 players on the roster were new.
"What I'm proud of," Dorsey said, "is we got here January 13, we created a plan with regards to the immediate team, free agency, the draft, how to create competitive depth on the roster. I think we've done a pretty good job with that. Are there still holes to fill? Yeah. Have we made a lot of moves? Yeah. But you're 2-14, and sometimes you have to do that."
The result? People around the league believe a team that won just two games a year ago can tussle with Denver atop the AFC West this season. A team that had six Pro Bowl players a year ago might just land in the playoffs given proper leadership and the right direction.
"As long as we can get the basics down of what we need to do on the field and we get all 11 guys on the team doing the same thing with the same mindset, we'll be pretty good," said Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs' Pro Bowl linebacker. "We can have a pretty good team."
Back in his office, Reid explains that the margin between winning and losing in the NFL — between being a pretty good team and the Chiefs of 2012 — is about as wide as the slicing side of a razor blade. There are no secrets like when he was resurrecting the Eagles. Players are dissected by every team, every scrap of information available to just about everyone.
"Everybody, any given year, can crank it up and change it," Reid said.
That was evident when the Indianapolis Colts went from two wins in 2011 to the playoffs last year. They had a new GM in Ryan Grigson turning over their roster, new coaches in Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians running the show, and a new quarterback in Andrew Luck making everything click.
New general manager, new coach, new quarterback — any of that sound familiar?
"It feels like we've got the ball running. We've got that wheel turning," said Smith, who like Reid is looking for a fresh start after getting benched during the 49ers' Super Bowl run last year.
"It's just a matter of keep running, keep going," he said. "It's a good feeling being in the middle of it, in the middle of football and back in the grind of things."
Nobody is in the middle of things more than Reid, who comes off as a tornado of activity on the practice fields. One minute he's barking at Smith in the huddle, the next he's urging his stout defensive linemen to get off their blocks. At times, it seems as if he's everywhere at once.
It wasn't always that way in Philadelphia. Certainly not at the end.
He was the ad hoc general manager along with being the coach, which meant Reid would have to split his energy between finding talent and cultivating it. The constant juggling and impossibly long hours eventually wore Reid down. On-the-field losses began to make everyone forget about the championships he brought to Philadelphia. Then when his son, Garrett, died of a drug overdose, it became evident to many close to Reid that a clean start might do him good.
He wasn't retained by the Eagles after last season. It may not have mattered. Reid's never been a quitter, but even he believes now that it was the right time to part ways.
"Sometimes change is good," he said. "It could be tremendous for the Philadelphia Eagles, and at the same time, I think it's going to be tremendous for the Kansas City Chiefs."
It seems to be working out well for Reid, too.
"I've been with him through all different moods the last few years," said former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, one of Reid's longtime friends. "He's rejuvenated. You can tell."
"I think it's the atmosphere," added Chiefs linebacker Akeem Jordan, who spent six years with Reid in Philadelphia. "There's still pressure. Everybody wants to win. But with him it's just a new start, a new beginning, and with new starts you have a little kick to your step."
If Reid has a little kick to his step these days, so does Smith. So do the rest of the Chiefs.
"There aren't many secrets in this business, when you get down to the nitty-gritty of it," Reid said. "If everybody's not pulling the same direction, there are issues. There are problems. So it's important that we all do that. If we all pull the same direction, good things will happen."
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