‘So you’re the one who whiffed his block?’: Former BYU teammates remember Chiefs coach Andy Reid, the player
All agree that what the former BYU lineman lacked as a player, he’s more than made up for as coach of the Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid, head coach of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and one of the main branches of the LaVell Edwards coaching tree, is making his nearly annual trek to the playoffs again as his Chiefs prepare for another AFC championship game. As has been widely reported, it was Edwards who recognized Reid’s intellectual approach to the game at BYU — he was so inquisitive that he tended to irritate teammates with all his questions — and directed him toward a coaching career. The rest is, you know, history — as in, Reid is the NFL’s fifth winningest coach.
“Andy as a player was a little more cerebral than the rest of us. He was always watching and analyzing. ... He was more like a quarterback than an offensive lineman. We all noticed it at the time — the way he looked at things.” — former BYU offensive lineman Danny Hansen on Andy Reid
It’s been almost forgotten that Reid was a player at BYU from 1978 to 1980. That’s because, like so many successful coaches, he was a forgettable player for most football aficionados. But his teammates remember, especially Jim McMahon, who recalls that Reid almost got him “decapitated,” but more on that later.
Reid was an offensive tackle who saw infrequent playing time. “I played against him every day in practice,” recalls Jim Herrmann, a former BYU defensive end. “In one-on-one pass rush I went head to head against Andy every day when I was a freshman (in 1980).” Asked if Reid played much, Herrmann said, “I’m sure he played. I mean, we beat UTEP 79-3 or something that year (actually, it was 83-7), so he had to get in. Was he a rotator with the starters? No. He didn’t play much. He was not super tall, and we had a lot of tall linemen. He was maybe 6-2, 6-3, and thick.”
Kyle Whittingham, the Utah head coach who was a middle linebacker on Reid’s teams, recalls, “He didn’t get a lot of playing time. Seems like he had a few injuries that he had to deal with.”
Patti Edwards, the coach’s widow who maintains a close relationship with Reid and his wife Tammy, reluctantly notes, “I probably shouldn’t say this, but Andy was recruited to come to BYU so his best friend would come to BYU.” This story was confirmed by Chiefs.com, which reported that while Reid was playing at Glendale Community College he was planning to accept a scholarship to Stanford but suffered a knee injury that ended those plans.
His best friend was Randy Tidwell, who played guard next to him on the line at Glendale. Tidwell was scheduled to make a recruiting visit to BYU and convinced Reid to join him. As Chiefs.com reported, “Edwards … had already been looking at Tidwell, and after the visit, Reid became part of the package of getting both of them to BYU.” Reid’s injury was one of several that dogged him at BYU.
Danny Hansen, who played offensive guard for BYU in the late 1970s, says, “Andy really didn’t play much. I started at right guard and Randy Tidwell was the left guard. Nick Eyre and Tom Bell started at tackle. Andy was behind Nick.”
Vai Sikahema, another great player from that era, says, “The guy you want (to talk to) is Jimmy Mac (McMahon). He has a great story about Andy almost getting him decapitated.” Reached at his home in Arizona, McMahon, the greatest of the great BYU quarterbacks, explains, “We were playing at Wisconsin (in 1980). I took my five- or seven-step drop — whatever it was — and I got planted. Hit hard. I look up and the first guy I see is Andy. I said, ‘So you’re the one who whiffed his block.’ Andy says, ‘Yeah, sorry ’bout that.’ I saw him years later when he was coaching the (Philadelphia) Eagles and he was weighing about 400 pounds. I told him, ‘I wish you had been this big when we played Wisconsin. It would’ve taken that guy another step or two to get around you and I would’ve gotten the pass off.”
Wait, so Reid did see playing time despite the previous recollections of his former teammates? “I know he was playing that day,” deadpans McMahon.
(Vai adds, “Jim’s punchline was that Andy convinced the Packers to sign him as a backup to Brett Favre for their Super Bowl run late in (Jim’s) career as a makeup for the missed block.”)
If Reid didn’t make his mark as a player in those days, he did so in another way. Sikahema recalls, “He wasn’t a great player, but he was analytical and sometimes annoyed teammates with his constant questions. … I’m certain Andy hadn’t decided to coach (at that time) — he just wanted to know why we slid protections right or left or who was the ‘hot’ receiver when a linebacker was left unblocked. His questions were sometimes simple, sometimes complex. I’m sure that’s why LaVell asked him to coach. He had a mind for it.”
Hansen echoes Sikahema’s recollections, saying, “Andy as a player was a little more cerebral than the rest of us. He was always watching and analyzing. He spent a lot of time watching (legendary offensive coordinator) Doug Scovil and analyzing what he was doing. Doug could look at a play and tell you what all 22 guys did on that play. Andy became that guy. He was more like a quarterback than an offensive lineman. We all noticed it at the time — the way he looked at things.”
In a story that was posted on Chiefs.com, Edwards, who died in 2016, made similar observations. “We’d be out there practicing and working, and there’d be questions coming up on how to pick up a certain blitz. I noticed a lot of times (Reid) was helping the guard, the tackle or the center next to him to make sure they understood what to do if there was some kind of stunt or whatever they did. I remember saying at the time that this guy’s got an unusual feel and knowledge of the game.”
Edwards continued: “He not only learned and knew what his assignment was, but also the reasons why and the concept of what you’re trying to do. A lot of players didn’t have that concept or ability, but Andy did. He had a feel for it. That’s one of the things I admire most about him, and it made me think the more I was around him, the more I watched him, I realized this guy could be a very good coach.”
Eventually, Edwards asked Reid, who was an English major at the time and hoped to write for a living (he wrote a column for the local newspaper), “Have you thought about being a coach? You’d be a good one.” After Reid completed his eligibility as a player, Edwards hired him as a graduate assistant.
Reid wound up being in the right place at the right time for learning innovative offensive football concepts. In the ’70s and ’80s, BYU was pioneering the passing game that has now taken over every level of the game, from Little League to the pros. Edwards not only managed to assemble a collection of bright, innovative assistant coaches, he had the egoless sense to leave them alone and let them to do their job without any interference from him. They could prosper without him looking over their shoulders.
“BYU was a special, unique place then,” says Herrmann. “There was Doug Scovil, Norm Chow, LaVell, Mike Holmgren ... some really smart guys. People who were ahead of their time. He gleaned from that. Sucked it all in. And later he had all those connections that helped him get jobs.”
Scovil was a widely respected offensive coordinator and innovator at BYU who also coached quarterbacks and receivers for three NFL teams. Chow, who learned from Scovil, took over as offensive coordinator when Scovil went to the NFL, and Chow went on to hold the same position at USC and for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
Mike Holmgren coached BYU’s quarterbacks for four seasons — most notably, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco — and went on to serve as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the 49ers, tutoring a couple of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Joe Montana and Steve Young; they won two Super Bowls together.
Holmgren won another Super Bowl as head coach for the Brett Favre-era Green Bay Packers. He hired Reid as an assistant in Green Bay and eventually made him the quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach, which served as a springboard to his career as a head coach, first for the Philadelphia Eagles and then for the Kansas City Chiefs. Holmgren ranks as the 17th-winningest coach in NFL history. While with the Packers, Reid worked closely with Holmgren and fellow assistants Steve Mariucci and Jon Gruden. All four of them won Super Bowls as head coaches.
And finally of course there was Edwards, who had extraordinary interpersonal and organizational skills and enabled his assistants and players to thrive. Reid has always been effusive in expressing his respect and appreciation for his former coach and mentor. Reid and Edwards developed a deep friendship over the years.
When Edwards passed away, Reid left his coaching duties (it was during the football season) and flew to Provo for the funeral. Asked about Edwards, he told Chiefs.com, “He was my guy. I’m probably one of 10,000 guys that are saying that right now, and that’s what made him unique, right?
“… He was everything.” After pausing to gather his emotions, he added. “I get too emotional on these things, so I’ll leave it at that.”
He eventually resumed his recollection of Edwards, saying, “(Edwards) was great with people; he was a people person. You put all the Xs and Os and put that aside — he was good at that too — but you can put all of that aside. It was the way he handled people that I thought was unbelievable. … I wasn’t going into coaching. He was the one that talked me into doing it. He called me every week from that day on like he had put me in a bad position or something. He was always checking on me.”
“I have more respect for him than anybody. He’s at the top of my list. When you ask me about my favorite people, he’s right there at the top.” — Andy Reid on LaVell Edwards
“As a young guy you’re going in a million different directions. You’re not exactly sure what direction you want to go, and he asked me if I had ever thought about going into coaching, and I said, no, I really hadn’t. He said, well, you should give it a try, and I’ll keep you on (as a graduate assistant coach) and pay you for the extra school if you decide to go in a different direction. So I got in, got the bug and here I am.”
Reid once said of Edwards, “I have more respect for him than anybody. He’s at the top of my list. When you ask me about my favorite people, he’s right there at the top.”
Over the years Reid and Edwards called one another every week (“I knew when he was on vacation because then I wouldn’t get a call,” said Reid). As Patti recalls, “It was more than Xs and Os when Andy called. Maybe about half of the conversation was about football; the rest of it was about personal life.”
He also regularly texted Edwards’ son Jim, a fellow English major with whom he shared a love of books. The Reids and Edwards vacationed together. The Edwards would rent a California beach house near the Reids’ beach house. “LaVell and Andy would meet for breakfast and then we’d all go out with them at night,” recalls Patti. “It was a dear thing to my family.”
In the end, Reid has become much like his mentor, winning championships, hiring brilliant assistants and exhibiting great people skills.
Former NFL tight end Chad Lewis once told the Deseret News’ Dick Harmon, “He treats people with kindness, similar to LaVell. He knows when to crack a joke or when to crack the whip. He can be tough and tender in the same sentence. He has a true gift at being a coach. He loves people and he knows how to work with just about everyone.”
Reid is part of the great Edwards coaching tree that includes three NFL head coaches, all of whom won Super Bowls (Brian Billick, Holmgren, Reid), almost two dozen collegiate head coaches and more than a dozen NFL and collegiate coordinators. Reid, in turn, has grown his own coaching tree. He has hired 11 assistants who went on to become NFL head coaches, including John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera, Doug Pederson and Sean McDermott.
Reid’s playing career might have been forgettable, but he has left his mark on the coaching profession.