This Super Bowl features the first match-up between head coach brothers (John Harbaugh for the Baltimore Ravens and Jim for the San Francisco 49ers), causing the game to be dubbed the “Harbowl” and the “Superbraugh” and “John and Jim totally overshadow the guys actually playing.” (That one hasn’t caught on so much.) The brothers are undeniably at the top of their profession: they have outstanding career records (John is 54-26 regular season and 8-4 in the playoffs; Jim is 24-8 and 3-1); have been vindicated when huge mid-season gambles paid off (John fired his offensive coordinator, Jim replaced his quarterback); and have the best jawlines in the NFL since Pittsburgh’s Bill “The Chin” Cowher retired. They also run teams that haven’t won a title too recently to keep expectations manageable, meaning much of their recent success has been gravy (this will soon change).
While I’m sure neither man is particularly happy – coaches make KGB agents seem cheerful – they must feel a genuine excitement each day, knowing that times are good and possibly about to get better.
This is not the case for most coaches in the NFL, notably former Philadelphia Eagle bossman Andy Reid.
Upon hearing that the Kansas City Chiefs had hired former Reid, my friend Mike Hurwitz quipped, “Yep, sending an overweight guy to the BBQ capital of the world to work brutal hours: should turn out great.” (Note: Mike is a diehard Redskin fan and not one to miss an opportunity to crap on the Eagles; I’m sure his negative karma is in absolutely no way responsible for what happened to Washington quarterback RGIII’s knee.) That said, Mike may be on to something. Not from a food standpoint – for all I know, Reid went vegan years ago. (I kind of doubt it, as nothing about Andy Reid cries out “Tofu!” or “Soy milk!”) I’m only observing Reid just went through a disastrous 4-12 year on the field marred by the tragic death of his son off of it, resulting in him losing his job after 14 years.
And after such a harsh season and with the Eagles still owing him millions in salary, it was perfectly understandable that Andy Reid decided to take some time away from the game, both to rest and maybe even heal what must be some deep wounds.
This healing period lasted almost an entire week.
At which point he took on running the Kansas City Chiefs, an NFL franchise even worse on the field than the Eagles (2-14) and the recent victims of a truly disturbing tragedy (a player murdered his girlfriend, then killed himself at the team stadium as much of the Chief leadership begged him not to).
And while ultimately Andy Reid must decide what’s best for Andy Reid and there can be solace in work and it’s understandable that a man might think “If I don’t jump back on the coaching train I risk it leaving me behind forever”, I’ll just say it: this does not seem a match made in pigskin heaven.
I have no doubt that Andy Reid loves football in general and coaching it in particular. That said, during this most recent season, as his team dropped game after game and assistant coaches were fired and players were unexpectedly cut and fans showed up with bags on their heads, did anyone look at Reid and think, “Boy, there’s a guy who’s enjoying himself”? In general, coaches seem to have three emotional states:
3. Fiserable (also known as “murious”).
That last one is witnessed at press conferences after particularly brutal losses, when the coach clearly wants to be anywhere besides dealing with dill-hole media folk asking questions like, “When the quarterback fumbled the ball on that crucial third down…did you tell him to do that?” but he can’t blow it off because the league will fine him and he can’t afford the fines because he’s probably going to lose his job anyway and he still hasn’t managed to sell his house from the last time he was fired so he has to take it, even though half his brain wants to scream and the other half wants to sob and he simply stands there, occasionally muttering about the importance of pass protection.
Then he goes to the office and watches film for 18 hours.
And here’s when coaching goes from brutal to inhuman: when you put in all this work and then you go out on Sunday and somehow your team’s worse.
And then imagine if, in those rare moments you do get to step away, you look at your life and you see…
During training camp last season, Garrett Reid died of a heroin overdose. (Garrett and his brother Britt had each publicly struggled with addiction, making headlines when both were arrested in separate incidents in 2007.) A second drug revelation followed months later, as it turned out that Garrett had steroids in his room at the time of his death. It would not have been of particular significance, had Garrett not been volunteering to work for the Eagles’ strength and conditioning coach at the time of his passing.
Consequently, Andy Reid had to issue a statement apologizing for “any adverse appearances” his son’s actions had for the organization.
To recap: son dies in training camp, season begins, season’s a disaster, forced to issue public apology for deceased child, more losing, get fired…
And another team (even worse than yours!) looks at you and says, “You seem to be in the right head space for a massive rebuilding project: I particularly like the way your last team totally spiraled out of your control. Why don’t you start grinding away again immediately? Ooh, and as a bonus we’re not in the conference where you’ve spent your entire career, so you’ll have to work harder than ever just to get up to speed!”
Andy Reid may bring Kansas City the Super Bowl he could never quite win with the Eagles.
And he may discover this new job provides him not just professional fulfillment, but pure unbridled joy, so that reporters come out of his press conferences saying, “I don’t always agree with Coach Reid’s answers…but I do love his booming laugh and broad smile, not to mention the way sometimes in mid-conversation he just reaches out and hugs me, holding me tenderly enough I don’t feel trapped, yet firmly enough I know I’m safe.”
Andy Reid may reach a point where, even when his team is in the midst of a four-game losing streak and suddenly a once secure playoff berth becomes in jeopardy, he still goes home happy, because he’s found a peace that’s unshakable, no matter what happens in the world of football or the world beyond.
Or he may just wind up having another grueling season and finally experience a moment of clarity as he thinks: “When the Eagles were giving me millions to spend a year with family and visiting friends and sometimes just sitting on the beach by myself reading a book that has not a blessed thing to do with pre-snap defensive shifts before I finally returned to football, restored and rebuilt…
“Maybe I should have let them.”
May the Harbaughs appreciate this coming Sunday, because Andy Reid was there and he’ll tell you: it’s over before you know it.
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