KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs made it look simple down the stretch of the regular season en route to clinching a postseason berth.
But the ease of second half, which featured a franchise-record 10 straight wins, paled in comparison to the first six games.
Arguably the lowest point of the Chiefs’ campaign arrived after Week 6’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The defeat sent the Chiefs on a five-game slide, leading many to write off the team at 1-5.
There was doubt outside of Arrowhead Stadium, but coach Andy Reid didn’t panic over the mounting losses in weekly battles.
He remained calm with a view to the big picture, knowing 10 games remained on the schedule. The leader in Reid believed in his players and coaching staff, and they reciprocated the trust in him.
And like a good commanding general, Reid used the moment to rally his troops to face the circumstances head on.
“He stood up in front of the team and he said, ‘Guys, we’re going to work ourselves out of this, there’s a lot of season left,’” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “To me, that spoke volumes to the coaching staff because at 1-5 there’s doubt creeping everywhere. But he nipped that in the bud.”
It is that calm approach that Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt pointed out as one of Reid’s top attributes as a leader.
“He doesn’t get too high or too down depending on what’s going on during the course of the season,” Hunt said. “He continues to tell the guys to believe in themselves, to stick together. He does that with his coaching staff, he does it with the players. I think that was probably the key to the turnaround early in the season.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton appreciated Reid’s approach during the five-game losing streak.
And Sutton would know quality leadership from spending 17 seasons as a coach at the United States Military Academy, an institution that has produced some of the nation’s greatest leaders.
The Chiefs defensive coordinator said a common trait he has seen in effective leadership from his time at West Point surrounds the constant communication of a vision and in the manner it is presented.
“I think Andy is very good at that and I think that one of the great things he has, he has a very calming effect on everybody,” Sutton said, “and I think that comes from he’s done this job in the National Football League a long time, 17 years. That’s a lot of games, a lot of huddles; he’s probably seen everything that can happen.”
Because of Reid’s extensive coaching experience, Sutton said he trusts his boss’ instincts.
More importantly, Sutton said he trusts Reid as a man.
“That’s a big part of leadership,” Sutton said. “If they don’t trust you, they’re not going to follow you. I don’t care what you are; you could have rank just like the military.
“They’ll ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir,’ to you, but they’re not going up the hill unless they trust you. And I think that’s what our players do, our coaches do. We got a lot of confidence in Andy and what he wants to do. We’re going to follow him up the hill.”
The Chiefs followed Reid up the steep terrain to close the season at 11-5 and have a date Saturday with the Houston Texans in the opening round of the playoffs.
The 57-year-old Reid arrived in Kansas City on Jan. 7, 2013, becoming the Chiefs’ 13th head coach in franchise history.
He came with accomplishments, posting a 130-93-1 (.583) regular-season record with six division titles, five NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance in 14 seasons as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2012).
During the past three regular seasons, Reid led the Chiefs to a 31-17 record and two playoff berths. The 31 victories are the most of any head coach in team history in the first three years.
Reid’s magic touch applied to the 2015 season, which offered historical evidence.
Under Reid’s leadership, the Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to win nine straight games following a losing streak of at least five games.
The Chiefs also became the second team in NFL history to clinch a playoff berth after a 1-5 start, joining the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals.
While the players have to perform on the field, a lot of credit has to go the man responsible for ensuring they were prepared.
But Reid doesn’t accomplish the mission with an authoritarian approach, according to the Chiefs offensive coordinator.
“He’s not the iron fist,” Pederson said. “He leads with passion, he leads with a lot of care, he leads with being firm when he has to, putting his foot down when he has to. He’s very protective of everybody.”
Pederson also said Reid doesn’t shy from accountability when things go bad.
“He’ll take the heat and blame for everything,” Pederson said. “He’s always done that, but at the same time he understands players. He understands what they’re going through – physically, mentally this time of the year – and guys respond to him.”
That proved a simple process when the players know who they are dealing with.
“He’s a coach that knows how to win,” said defensive end Mike DeVito, a ninth-year pro. “You know he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time. So that, instantly you have respect for him, it’s easy to buy into the program.”
Wide receiver Jason Avant agreed, adding the players have come to understand and embrace the expected standards.
“He practices what he preaches,” said Avant, who spent seven seasons with Reid in Philadelphia (2006-12) before joining the Chiefs in 2014. “Coach Reid puts time in and when you put time in and you exhaust everything you have in order to win, you don’t leave stones unturned.
“I think that’s an example for the players, but also it says we know what to expect. He’s not going to deviate from his personality, it’s not going to be where one day this may be OK, and the next day it’s not. If he sees something he doesn’t like, he’s going to nip it in the bud. That’s him. It’s structure and you know what to expect from him.”
Because of those established norms, former Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston said in a telephone interview he isn’t surprised Reid kept the Chiefs together during the losing streak.
Pinkston based his opinion on experience from playing five seasons under Reid in Philadelphia (2000-04).
“He always had confidence in us if we went on a two-game, three-game losing streak,” Pinkston said. “It was always keep doing your job, keep doing your job, keep fighting, keep working hard because it was going to help us in the long run. That’s what he always preached to us, and then if there was a motivational speech, it was always if you keep working hard, keep fighting, good things will happen.”
Reid’s philosophy from more than a decade ago still applies to today, and his leadership approach hasn’t altered.
Well, with the exception of physical attributes.
“I had more hair back then, definitely,” Reid said with a slight grin. “Probably weighed a little bit more, too, but I don’t think much has changed. I have more experience – I guess that’s the obvious – but I don’t think much has changed.”
Former players who know Reid well maintain a deep fondness for him, and the list includes Akeem Jordan, who played eight seasons in the NFL as an inside linebacker.
Jordan spent six seasons with Reid in Philadelphia (2007-12) and one season in Kansas City (2013), and the years under Reid’s leadership left a lasting impression.
“Just being a player, just getting to work with Andy was a privilege to me just to see how he works, how hard he works,” Jordan said in a telephone interview. “He’s not the coach that wants to lollygag, he wants to win and he puts a lot of time into it.”
While Jordan was thoroughly impressed the Chiefs were able to get back on track to make the postseason, he doesn’t believe the past season offered Reid’s best work.
Instead, Jordan pointed to the 2012 season in Philadelphia, which is well-documented as arguably the toughest year professionally and personally for Reid, as a testament to Reid’s leadership.
“I think what shaped me the most about Andy Reid, what made me respect him the most, was his worst season, that 4-12 season,” Jordan said. “Everybody wants to talk about he was 4-12, but nobody wants to talk about his son who passed away during training camp.”
Reid took a few days off before returning to the team in preparation for the upcoming season.
“He didn’t have time to mourn,” Jordan said. “Most people don’t see that, most people just want him to perform as a coach. But just for him to be able to do that, he gained my upmost respect.”
Pinkston is equal in his deep admiration of Reid, even promptly responding to a text message requesting an interview with, “Anytime for him.”
The former Eagles wide receiver, who now serves as an assistant high school football coach in Mississippi, said Reid belongs in any top-three list of coaches.
And Pinkston said he incorporates the leadership qualities he learned from Reid with his young football team.
“It actually helped me because when I coach now I emphasize hard work pays off,” Pinkston said. “When you keep work hard, keep fighting, good things will happen. This past year, my team was down 2-4 and they ended up winning eight straight to go to the state championship game. It just reminded me of Andy Reid this past season.”
Of the players on the current Chiefs roster, wide receiver Jason Avant has been with Reid the longest.
The tenth-year pro said two of Reid’s best qualities are the willingness to delegate authority to the assistant coaches and giving them autonomy.
Avant also said the best examples of Reid’s leadership come from the development of rookies and the ability to connect with players of all backgrounds.
“He’s had a lot of different personalities over the years and a lot of different personalities say the same thing about him,” Avant said. “That’s just a credit to his leadership that he can speak to a guy who could be from Montana, and then be able to speak to a guy from South Central Los Angeles or Southside Chicago and get the best out of them.”
The leadership style fosters an environment of mutual respect between head coach and players.
“I think being able to know your players,” Avant said, “and know what each specific players needs in order to bring out the best, I think that’s a great example of his leadership.”
Akeem Jordan echoed Avant, pointing out his personal interactions with Reid and observations of others with the head coach stood out.
“When he talks to you, he talks to you as a man and he expects the response from you as a man would respond,” Jordan said. “Andy gives you respect and it’s up to the players to lose respect from Andy. He doesn’t talk down to his players.”
For his part, Reid said he believed players are the same regardless of the evolving cultural times over the years.
And that aspect makes it easier for the coach to continue doing what he enjoys.
“When you really get down to it, I think the players are the same guys,” Reid said. “They love doing what they’re doing. I know they’re paid, but they love doing what they’re doing and you have to do that. It’s a tough sport.
“And you appreciate that as a coach. So I’d tell you that’s probably about the same. I know I hear people say that players have changed; technology has changed – but the guys still love doing what they’re doing.”
While the players may enjoy suiting up every Sunday to play a kids’ game, Reid’s leadership arguably makes the job easier for them.
The Chiefs are 11-5 and in the playoffs because of their belief in Reid and the players project that aura whenever they step on the field.
“I think we’re definitely a reflection of him,” defensive end Mike DeVito said. “This is his culture, his philosophy, his system, his style, the coaches he brought in. He and (general manager) John Dorsey and the coordinators, Bob (Sutton) and Doug (Pederson), really built this thing the way they wanted and they’ve done a great job doing it.”