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For Andy Reid, the work never stops

Updated: 2013-08-05T19:23:10Z

By DUGAN ARNETT and SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

— Andy Reid doesn’t have to be here, you know.

He chose this. The early mornings, the late nights, coaching the Chiefs in a new job many close to him wondered whether he might be better off without.

Take some time, they had said. Friends. Colleagues. Even Tammy, his college sweetheart and wife of more than 30 years, found herself ready to step away, at least temporarily, from the NFL’s ceaseless grind.

The past 12 months, after all, had brought little besides heartache.

It was just 364 days ago that Reid’s oldest son, Garrett, was discovered in his dorm room at Philadelphia Eagles training camp, dead of a heroin overdose. Less than five months later, the wounds of the loss still fresh, Reid was fired as the Eagles’ head coach, the job he had held — and mostly excelled in — for 14 years.

He could have done anything else, really. He could have easily found a beach somewhere. He could have made the jump, like so many of his coaching colleagues, to TV. Or he could have been holed up inside his garage, building furniture the way he used to when he was just starting out and the NFL was little more than an abstract dream.

Instead, he’s here, on a small college campus in western Missouri, leading another group of young men through another NFL preseason, trying his best to work through the grief. This is his way. Always working. Always moving. It’s why Tammy never seriously allowed herself to envision that break.

“I know my husband,” she says.

Since arriving in Kansas City, Reid has been hesitant to speak in depth about Garrett or the aftermath of his death, declining various requests from national and Philadelphia news outlets to discuss it.

In two interviews with The Star this summer, Reid spoke openly about the family’s travails over the past 12 months. He talked about football and family and fatherhood. About addiction and loss. About choices.

If you could go back in time, he was asked one day last month, would you do anything differently?

“That’s a tough question,” Reid said. “There’s always something you could have done better in life. … You’re always learning, every day.

“(But) the overall picture? I would say no.”

All-American upbringing

Back before everything came undone — before his home became synonymous with the term “drug emporium” and the headlines screamed “family in crisis,” before the arrests and the heroin and the very public disintegration of his home life — Andy Reid was just a big-boned kid from California.

The boy who would grow up to become one of the NFL’s most successful head coaches could have been anything he wanted. That’s what everyone says, anyway. The son of a radiologist mother and artist father, Reid grew up happy and comfortable on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles in a two-bedroom Spanish stucco crammed into a neighborhood on the side of a hill.

The Reid home was a hub of middle-class normalcy — “It was like ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” says Reg, Andy’s older brother — a place where drawing and woodworking were just as encouraged as Little League.

But Andy was a big kid, 6 feet 5 inches tall by age 13, and it was football that would eventually lead him to BYU, where he would spend three years as an offensive lineman under legendary coach LaVell Edwards.

It was in Provo, Utah, that his future began to take shape. There, in addition to cultivating a dream of a coaching career, he also met a pretty coed named Tammy, the woman who would spend the next 30-plus years helping him chase down that dream.

“She was way out of my range,” Reid says. “(But) I’m a good recruiter.”

They married after his senior year and shortly thereafter set out starting a life together.

Photos: Andy Reid

Raising kids as a coach can be tricky, but as Reid ascended the coaching ladder — from San Francisco State to Northern Arizona, Texas-El Paso, Missouri and finally the NFL’s Green Bay Packers — he and Tammy seemed to be pulling it off quite nicely.

Football and family didn’t just coexist — they bled together. His sons became fixtures in just about every stadium he ever coached, tearing across the field after practice or doodling on dry erase boards in the locker room. Even the way they ran their young family was reminiscent of how you’d run a football team, right down to the distribution of duties (“I believe his job is to coach and work, and my job is to let him know when he’s needed around here” is how Tammy puts it) and locker-room-infused family dialect.

And on those occasions he grew a little too consumed by work, when the balance became a bit skewed, his wife was there to get him back on track.

“If one of the kids had a recital and hadn’t felt like Dad was there very much,” Tammy says, “I could read the coverage and I would just say, ‘Reid, I don’t care what you do, but you have to get to that recital.’”

So when Reid, at age 40, landed his first head coaching job with the Eagles in 1999 and the Philadelphia Daily News dispatched writer Marcus Hayes to profile the city’s newest celebrity, it’s no wonder the reporter came away struck by the family dynamic.

How many NFL coaches, after all, found time to coach their kids’ Little League team? Or sit around Boy Scout campfires for a week every summer? Who else regularly arrived at the office at 3 a.m., like Reid did in Green Bay, just so he could return home at 7 to have breakfast with his kids?

And while the family would face a steep new task in Philadelphia — adjusting to life in the big-city spotlight after a fairly anonymous existence in Green Bay — the Reids seemed like a group fully capable of handling it.

“In 1999, walking into that house, it looked like the Bobbsey Twins,” says Hayes, who would go on to cover Reid and the Eagles for the next 14 seasons. “It was like all-American, apple pie, Green Bay, 20 sets of sneakers at the front door and everybody’s doing chores.”

He adds: “It seemed very normal and very idyllic. But you just never know what’s going on there.”

Andy Reid celebrated a 2001 win by the Philadelphia Eagles over the New York Giants with sons Garrett (left) and Britt (center). Family and friends say Reid’s support for his children never wavered. (AP file photo)

Forged in his image

The forecast for downtown Philadelphia had called for only light rain, but by midafternoon on Oct. 10, 1999, it was pouring double-A batteries inside Veterans Stadium.

This was Reid’s fifth game as Philadelphia’s head coach, and through two quarters it was going pretty much the way each of the team’s previous four outings had: poorly.

The 0-4 Eagles trailed Dallas at home, and Reid’s reluctance to replace struggling quarterback Doug Pederson with Donovan McNabb — then a highly touted rookie out of Syracuse — threw the Eagles’ already temperamental fan base into hysterics. As Reid and his team exited the field at halftime, down 10-0 thanks largely to an anemic passing game, boos and batteries and obscenities cascaded down upon the field.

The message to the young coach was clear.

“Everyone on television, everyone on radio, everyone obviously knew he had to play McNabb (in the second half),” says Bob LaMonte, Reid’s longtime agent, “or they were going to burn the stadium down.”

Except Reid stuck with Pederson, who led the Eagles to a 13-10 comeback win.

It was a seminal moment for the new coach, who proved he could exist — on his own terms — in a hardscrabble city that appreciates a certain hardheadedness. He solidified his reputation a year later when, with McNabb under center, he led the Eagles to an 11-5 record and the team’s first playoff berth in four years.

That would mark the start of the golden era of Philadelphia Eagles football. Reid was named executive vice president of football operations in 2001 — a move that gave him ultimate authority over all personnel decisions — and in the ensuing four years the Eagles would go a combined 48-16, winning four NFC East titles and advancing to four NFC championship games. The highlight came in 2004, when the team finished 13-3 and won the NFC championship, narrowly losing the Super Bowl to New England.

In an NFC East division in which a three-year head coaching stint represented advanced longevity, Reid was becoming that rare permanent fixture, a man poised to do what nobody — not even beloved coaches of yore Dick Vermeil and Buddy Ryan — had been able to: bring the city a Super Bowl title.

But as the Eagles’ fortunes rose during those first few seasons — as the hunter green football jersey was becoming a staple of Greater Philadelphia fashion and McNabb was emerging as one of the league’s top quarterbacks — not everything was going so well.

At home, the coach’s happy family life was quietly unraveling.

Britt Reid, then 22, was escorted into the Montgomery County district court house in Conshohocken, on Aug. 29, 2007. Reid, a son of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, was charged with driving under the influence and drug violations while still awaiting sentencing for a separate road-rage incident earlier this year. (AP file photo)

Cracks in foundation

Those familiar with the family insist that Reid was far from an absentee father after taking over in Philadelphia. Hal Smith, a former football coach at Harriton High, remembers him being at many of his oldest sons’ games. And friends who spent time at the Reid home describe the coach as a jokester, a guy whose children flocked to him as soon as he walked in the door.

“He was always cracking jokes, always in the middle of things whenever he was around,” says Pat McDermott, a friend and high school football teammate of Garrett and Britt’s. “He was a presence.”

At the same time, there is no denying that the demands of the job grew exponentially in Philadelphia.

Things that had once been commonplace at the Reid home — those 7 a.m. breakfasts with family, for instance — had become increasingly harder to accommodate. It wasn’t unusual for the coach to sleep at the Eagles’ training complex rather than go home. And though many of the brothers’ friends fondly recall Reid’s interactions around the house, their stories and anecdotes typically feature familiar caveats:

“When he was home…”

“If he was around…”

“Whenever he was at the house…”

“He would have liked to have spent more time with his kids,” says Reg. “But the job, if you’re going to do it … you have to eat and sleep football.

“It’s an all-consuming thing.”

Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia in 1999, the Reids enrolled their two oldest sons — Garrett, a high school junior at the time, and Britt, a freshman — at Harriton High, a 1,200-student school in Philadelphia’s swank Main Line district.

Harriton has a sterling reputation as a premier public school, long home to the offspring of the city’s rich and famous. Teddy Pendergrass’ son attended Harriton, as did Julius Erving’s.

It is also the kind of school, according to former students, that provided no lack of access to adolescent temptations.

“We went to a school where there was a lot of freedom for the kids,” says Eugene Bright, a friend and former high school teammate of the Reid brothers who would go on to play for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. “It was a very nice neighborhood. Most of the kids drove their own car, most of the kids had credit cards.

“When you have that much access to a lot of stuff, you can get your hands into a lot of different things you probably shouldn’t.”

Though the extent of Garrett and Britt’s drug issues wouldn’t become public knowledge until 2007 — when the boys were arrested in separate incidents on the same day — those close to the brothers had long been aware of the problem.

“I don’t think (Britt) went down to the city and started messing around with a bunch of hood rats or thugs or anything,” says Bright. “He just had a group of people that he hung out with that all kind of did the same thing — and it wasn’t the right thing.”

Adds McDermott: “They weren’t different than any other kids in the school — they had fun. But the stuff that got them in trouble, I think, was out (west).”

Shortly after graduating from Harriton, Garrett enrolled at BYU, where he would at one point be listed as a member of the school’s football team. Two years later, Britt would walk on to the Arizona State football team.

It was during this period, friends say, that the boys’ struggles intensified.

By 2002, a year after graduating from Harriton, Garrett had begun dealing drugs in North Philadelphia, selling to friends and their parents and seemingly basking in his reputation as a high-profile drug dealer. Britt has said that his own drug use began with painkillers during his freshman year of high school and escalated in later years.

Once known as the friendly kids who spent their time playing pranks on their dad in the Eagles’ locker room, they underwent a significant transformation. They lost touch with high school friends and gained a certain edge.

“They became these couple of fake tough guys,” says Hayes, the writer. “And it was kind of funny to watch, because you knew them. You weren’t afraid of them — you just kind of worried about them (putting) themselves in a situation they couldn’t get out of.”

On Jan. 30, 2007, the boys’ troubles became public. While high on heroin, Garrett ran a red light in Plymouth Township, Pa., his vehicle crashing into another vehicle and seriously injuring its driver. On the same day, across town, Britt pulled a gun on another motorist during a road rage incident. Subsequent searches of the boys’ vehicles and the Reid home — where both Garrett and Britt were living at the time — uncovered an assortment of drugs, guns and ammunition.

At their sentencing hearing that November, their transgressions had become widely documented, and Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill held little back in his assessment of the family.

In what amounted to a verbal public stoning, the judge likened the Reid home to a “drug emporium.” He labeled the Reids a “family in crisis” and questioned Britt’s claims that his parents were unaware of his drug use.

“There isn’t any structure there that this court can depend upon,” the judge concluded before sentencing both boys to prison time.

Andy Reid (center) was embraced after funeral for his son Garrett last Aug. 7 in Broomall, Pa. Reid, 29, was found dead two days earlier in a Lehigh University dorm room at the Philadelphia Eagles training camp. Looking on at right were his wife Tammy and son Britt. (AP file photo)

The darkest season

In Philadelphia, they wondered about the football coach with the troubled sons.

In the aftermath of the arrests, speculation swirled about whether the coach might step down to tend to his struggling family. Even team officials wondered if Reid would be on the sideline for the upcoming season.

“I didn’t think he was going to quit,” the then team president, Joe Banner, told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2010. “But I wasn’t sure he wasn’t going to quit.”

Ultimately, Reid took a 39-day leave of absence, accompanying Britt and Garrett to a drug treatment facility in Florida before returning to the team.

At the time, Reid says, the family decided it was best for him to return to work.

“We felt like we had gotten it,” Reid says now. “Hindsight, we can take this wherever we want to go. But at that point, we felt like we were headed in the right direction. We had a good plan there, so we went back to work.”

Addiction is nothing new in the Reid family. Reid admits to having a highly addictive personality himself. Food and football, he says. Those are his weaknesses.

“If I ate as much as I watched tape,” he says, “I’d be 800 pounds.”

But food and drugs are two different beasts, and for the next five years, mostly behind the scenes, Reid carried out a kind of high-wire act: attempting to run nearly every facet of an NFL franchise while simultaneously trying to salvage a family being torn apart by drug addiction.

What makes the Reids’ situation interesting, experts say, is that multiple children were involved. Ricki Townsend of Parent Pathway, a group dedicated to offering support to the parents of teenagers battling addiction, is hesitant to blame parents in instances of addiction because a number of factors are involved. But she also admits that while it’s possible for good parents to raise multiple drug addicts, it’s rare.

Adds Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills-based psychologist who treats entertainers and sports figures: “The fact that he had two children that abused drugs shows that there’s something wrong in the family.”

While Britt would move through rehab without any major setbacks, Garrett’s path proved far rockier. Between 2007 and 2009, he would plead guilty to smuggling pills into a county prison, be sentenced to two years in a jail/drug treatment program and be sent back to prison after failing a drug test while at a halfway house.

Through it all, family friends say, Reid never wavered in his support for his children. Among other things, he visited them weekly in prison and helped facilitate rehab stays — though the love wasn’t always tender.

“He would never turn his back on his kids,” says Bright. “Whether it was tough love, cutting them off, cutting credit cards off, cutting cars off, let them sit in a jail cell for a couple days or a couple months.

“After a while, you kind of come to a point where (you) don’t know what else to try.”

By the summer of 2012, however, Garrett seemed to have turned a corner. He had regained much of the nearly 100 pounds he had lost during the worst of his addiction and he had been brought on by his father as a strength coach with the Eagles.

On the evening of Aug. 4, 2012, he appeared happy while joking with fellow coaches in a meeting room at Eagles training camp.

“What you learn is the best of times is the worst of times,” Reid says now. “You let your guard down an inch, boom.”

The following morning, Garrett, 29, was found in his dorm room, dead of a heroin overdose.

This time, there would be no 39-day leave of absence. No time away to heal.

Less than 24 hours after burying his son, Reid was back at work — though it would quickly prove to be his worst season as a head coach.

A season that had begun with the death of his son would somehow dissolve even further. Police would eventually reveal that Garrett had a significant amount of steroids with him when he died, raising questions about whether the Eagles’ players had access to performance-enhancing drugs. The Eagles would limp to a 4-12 record, losing 11 of their last 12 games.

And on New Year’s Eve, just a day after the season ended, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie announced Reid’s firing.

No one could have blamed the coach, certainly, for taking the $6 million he was owed by the Eagles and retiring to the family’s San Diego area beach house. No one could have blamed him for taking his first real break in 14 years, for tending to a family still dealing with its loss. His wife, for her part, admits she would have liked some time away.

“Would I like to?” she asks now. “Yes. But I never doubted people would be calling.”

And so, just one week after Reid’s firing, Tammy joined her husband in Kansas City, sitting quietly in a crowded room while he stood behind a lectern and was officially introduced as the new head coach of the Chiefs.

Of grief and healing

This is a new Andy Reid, friends tell you. Rejuvenated. Re-energized. After 14 seasons in Philadelphia, the new setting has done the coach well.

“It’s a breath of fresh air for him,” says McNabb, the player most closely linked to Reid’s time with the Eagles. “It’s a challenge, and he likes a challenge.”

But it is also reasonable to wonder, as Reid prepares to begin his first season in Kansas City, what kind of toll the past year has taken.

Reid’s agent says he briefly talked with the coach about taking a break following his firing in Philadelphia. Reid’s brother says he had a similar discussion. Vermeil, a longtime friend who coached both the Eagles and Chiefs, twice walked away from coaching during his 15-year career. Asked about Reid, he says: “I thought it would be a good idea for him to take some time.”

Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt says that this was his biggest concern about Reid, but that any worries quickly dissipated after getting to know the coach.

Vermeil came to Kansas City this summer to visit his friend, not sure exactly what to expect. But after he watched Reid run through a few practices and spent a few hours with him over dinner, he changed his mind. He is convinced. His friend is ready for the grind again.

There are football reasons for this, of course. Reid is no longer in charge of personnel, a change he welcomed upon his arrival in Kansas City because it freed him up to focus solely on coaching. He is immersing himself in meetings again, brainstorming schemes and plays and philosophies in a way he wasn’t able to in Philadelphia.

But this is personal, too. Since arriving in Kansas City, Reid has tried to keep his family out of the public eye. He declined to make his children — including Britt — available for this story. He allowed The Star to speak with his wife, but only on the condition that Garrett’s death would not be discussed.

Of Garrett’s lengthy battle with drugs, he says simply: “It happens to everybody. It has no limits on who it touches. I know that. It’s rampant in this country. It’s a shame, but it’s part of life.”

Reid knows some people don’t get it, this decision to return to coaching. He understands.

But we all grieve in different ways, he says. This is his.

“You still go to work and make a living and do the things you need to do,” he says. “That’s all part of the process.”

“If (Garrett) would have thought after he passed away that I was getting out of the game because of what he went through, it would really bother him,” he adds. “I knew that. I knew the kid. I understood that.”

Yes, Reid is lost in this new moment, burying himself in another task. Always working. Always moving. Trying to raise another franchise from the ashes while still attempting to maintain that precarious balance between football and family.

On a warm July day recently, not far from where Reid has spent the summer holding court over training camp, Britt is leading a group of Chiefs through a defensive drill.

The son, outfitted in T-shirt and cap, certainly looks the part of coach — crisscrossing his patch of field with the strut of a man who has things to do. He is calling drills and barking out orders, not afraid to shove his hands into a player’s chest to demonstrate technique.

Britt is doing well, Reid says. He is happy, married. Learning to navigate his own balance between work and life.

But if the past 12 months have taught the head coach anything, it’s that — in family, as in football — the work doesn’t stop.

“The professional job’s never done, the family job’s never done,” he says. “It’s endless.

“But you love everything about both of them.”

To reach Dugan Arnett, call 816-234-4039 or send email to dugan@inkkc.com. To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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