PROVO — The true measure of a man is how his life is reflected in deeds, how he traverses adversity and how his image is created, cast and stored in the minds of those who’ve crossed his path. If that’s the standard, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid easily makes the Mankind Hall of Fame.
The often embattled but enormously talented NFL receiver Terrell Owens told The Sporting News that Reid was the best coach he ever had.
To Owens, Reid was a mentor, leader and builder. He was a boss and a friend.
“He is a great coach and a great man,” said Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen, the latest former BYU player to work with Reid. “He loves what he does and puts his heart and soul into it. He’s an extremely hard worker. He is intense at times. He really cares about what he’s doing. He cares about the players, cares about doing a good job and running a good program.”
Former All-Pro tight end Chad Lewis, now an associate BYU athletic director, played for Reid in 1997-98 and from 2000 to 2002. Lewis grows somber very quickly when speaking of Reid, his voice filling with emotion remembering the fateful morning in August 2012 when Reid’s oldest son Garrett, 29, was found dead at the team’s training facility at Lehigh University just a few miles from the family home near Villanova University. Garrett died from an accidental heroin overdose after battling drug abuse for years.
Losing a son, any child, is against the natural order of things. Parents should never have to bury their offspring. Later that season, Reid lost his job with the Eagles. He left the franchise the leader in wins (140) and winning percentage (.578) after 14 seasons with the team.
“He’s weathered some incredible storms,” said Lewis. “Everyone in the NFL will weather storms. But to lose a son in such a public profession, to see his ups and downs — everyone will have ups and downs, but to see how he’s handled those trials with love and patience, he really puts his faith into action.
“You can feel his faith, but he never shoves it in your face,” Lewis continued. "He never pushes what he believes on anyone. He is just who he is. He is very comfortable in his own skin. He is pretty much like LaVell Edwards. They are very similar men.”
Reid, 60, a former BYU offensive lineman who blocked for All-American quarterback Jim McMahon, is affectionately nicknamed Big Red. Before coaching Kansas City, Reid was the head coach for the Eagles, and before that coached tight ends, quarterbacks and the offensive line for the Green Bay Packers.
Reid led the Eagles to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance in 2004. He was born in Los Angeles in 1958 and attended John Marshall High. At 13 he appeared live on Monday Night Football during the Punt, Pass and Kick competition. After playing offensive line at Glendale Community College, he starred at BYU from 1978 to 1980. He converted to the LDS faith while in college and met his wife Tammy in a P.E. class at BYU.
Andy and Tammy have five children, the late Garrett, Britt and Spencer, and daughters Crosby and Drew Ann.
Edwards hired Reid as a graduate assistant, which led to assistant coaching gigs at San Francisco State, Northern Arizona, Texas El Paso and Missouri before he landed with the Packers in 1992. This past season in Kansas City, he led the Chiefs to an AFC West title for a second straight season, a first in franchise history.
“One of the things I admire about him is how detailed he is about his work,” said Sorensen, who started for the Chiefs this past season. “He seems to know everything somehow. If there is something that happens, good or bad, on the practice field or somewhere else, he knows about it and cares about it. His ability to remember things and to hold people accountable to the details he asks of players and those who work for him is truly remarkable.
“He doesn’t let anything slip or let anybody fall short of their goals and expectations. That’s what I admire about him.”
In Kansas City, with both Reid and Sorensen being of the LDS faith, there is a crossover between the two away from football.
“He has his family there as well. I see him at some church events and family things, he goes to like a baby blessing, and he’s there to lend support,” said Sorensen.
Reno Mahe, most recently a running back coach at BYU in 2017, played for Reid and the Eagles from 2003 to 2007. In his first NFL game, he stood alongside Reid on the sidelines and Reid had a play sheet over his mouth, a common practice by coaches who don’t want opponents to read their lips. Reid turned to Mahe and asked him if he was nervous.
“Nah, not at all,” Mahe replied. “I was lying through my teeth. I was terrified.”
“He is just like LaVell Edwards,” said Mahe. “I got to play for LaVell Edwards and got to see him firsthand. Andy has the same calm, collected demeanor. LaVell had a permanent look on his face and Andy could give that real stern look, too, but the experiences I had with him were short, little positive interactions that were just awesome.”
Mahe remembers sitting in an Eagles offensive meeting the day before a game. He kept getting text messages about a BYU-Utah game. He thought he’d update Reid on the score and what was going on since he’s a fellow BYU alum, and sent the Eagles’ head coach a text message.
Mahe immediately got a message back from Reid: “OK, awesome. Hey, aren’t you in a meeting right now?”
Mahe’s text back: “Oh, shoot, I am. Talk to your later, coach.”
He smiles remembering the moment.
“He’s just someone who cares about everybody and treats everybody the same. That is something you really respect about him,” said Mahe.
“While Reid had an affinity for his BYU players, anyone that would approach him was treated the same, regardless of background. So, it didn’t matter if you came from BYU. You look at the way Terrell Owens feels about him. He had a great relationship with Andy Reid even with all the things that were going on and what Owens went through. (Owens was suspended while with the Eagles). That showed me a lot about Andy Reid. He made everyone feel special.”
Mahe, like so many of Reid’s current and former players and coaches, attended the funeral of Reid’s son six years ago. He also remembers sage advice Reid gave him two years ago when he lost his 3-year-old daughter Elsie. She was strangled when playing with a window blind cord in the Mahes' home in Lehi.
“He is somebody I can relate to, being a member of that club," Mahe said. "He gave me some great advice in relation to the death of my daughter. It will be something I’ll be forever indebted to him for, just a word of wisdom going through that whole situation. It was how to deal with my wife, how to approach it.
“There is a lot of things that go through your mind when you go through a situation like that. He told me to make sure my wife knows that not only was it not her fault, to make sure she does not blame herself. It was huge for me to hear that. It wasn’t that I did, but it helped reconfirm to me to make that an emphasis and let my wife hear it from me and reassure her that I will never blame her for that.”
“He’s the finest man in the NFL," said former Eagle great Chad Lewis. "That includes everything and everyone, owners, general managers, coaches, players. He’s professional in everything that he does but also has a big heart with everything he does.
“He’s like LaVell, he’s so funny,” said Lewis.
“This is something cool about his personality and his character that nobody would know unless you were with him. Donovan McNabb was our quarterback, our team leader, and our franchise. One of Donovan’s gifts is to be funny, to impersonate anyone.
“So, before team meetings, he would impersonate Andy Reid, Rod Dowhower, Brad Childress, our coaches, before they came into the room. So, he’d be up in front of the room doing all the mannerisms and the voice and the team would be rolling. Andy would walk through the door into the room and he knew exactly what was going on. He’d walk in like a cat with a grin on his face and the room would go silent.
“He’d look at Donovan and ask, ‘What are your doing’? Even though he knew exactly what was going on. He allowed that to happen. I think a more insecure coach would have been intimidated and offended by his own player making fun of him and impersonating him, but Andy knew that was one of the keys to Donovan being a leader.
“He also knew that it was one of the things that brought us together and built team chemistry,” Lewis continued. “That was orchestrated by Andy Reid in his LaVell Edwards way. I don’t want to compare him to LaVell too much because they are their own kind of men. But they are similar in that way.
“We had a team with a lot of pressure but you never felt that pressure from him. It was the opposite. He’d tell all of us, ‘Look, put all the pressure on me. If you don’t want to talk to a reporter about anything, tell them that I told you not to talk about it. Just blame me, give me every pressure you’ve got.’ If you look at his entire career, he’s taken on all the blame, but if they win a game, he will never take the credit.”
When drafted by the Packers in 1992, Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer quickly reunited a friendship with a fellow BYU alum in Reid, who was the tight ends coach and later QBs coach who worked with Hall of Famer Brett Favre. Reid had more coaching experience with Ty’s younger brother Koy, who played for Reid for nearly nine years.
“He took me right in and had me over for dinner and had me meet his boys and the family,” said Detmer. “He just respected me as a person first and foremost. I’ve seen him at different events and different places and he’s been a very successful head coach in the NFL for a very long time, but you wouldn’t know it being around him.
“I think it is all about the way he carries himself, it is with humility. He’s not one of those guys who walks into a room and expects everybody to drop everything and say hi. He’s always available to people. I texted him this offseason to see what’s going on and he immediately texted me back.
“The way he respects others and doesn’t look at himself as a big-time guy is something people appreciate in him,” Detmer continued. "People gravitate to him because of that. I think the players do. You see clips of him on the sideline joking with players and at the same time you see he gets the respect he does because of not only his accomplishments, but the way he is received and perceived.”
Detmer said he often traded LaVell Edwards stories with Reid. “We always made that connection. It was always there. We shared some of those stories and McMahon stories, because he played with him at BYU. We also had a lot of storylines being converts to the church.”
When Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie let Reid go six years ago, his comments to the media did not reflect anything but the utmost respect for the man. It sounded a familiar theme.
“Andy Reid is a gem of a person, who was incredibly dedicated to making the Eagles the organization we have been. He had the love and respect of every individual in this organization, and I look forward to the day when we will welcome him back and introduce him as a member of the Eagles Hall of Fame, because that's inevitable.”
Reid exudes class in a profession that’s filled with egos and the most athletic specimens on the planet. To traverse that population and receive the praise he does? Like Edwards, the mentor he’s tried to emulate, he’s become a man for all seasons.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, who earned four Super Bowl rings playing for Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers, affirmed Reid's special approach and relationships.
“He’s a consummate professional who has dedicated his professional life to the game," Holmoe said. "There are a lot who are dedicated to it but not in a manner he does. It’s like he has the competency but he also has the touch.
“If you know Andy Reid, he has a personal touch that permeates it all.”