The Chiefs are in crisis and Andy Reid is their leader, which means it is fair to wonder just what the heck he is doing to earn his millions.
The NFL is a famously now business, and the coach would be facing serious doubts about his job security if not for a fresh contract extension and trust from chairman Clark Hunt.
Even so, the team Reid is paid to coach is showing precious few signs of being well coached. This trajectory cannot continue. There is too much talent for this group to suddenly turn into the Cleveland Browns. Reid is too experienced, and too respected, to let this turn into the 2012 Chiefs.
This week — following a sixth loss in seven games, the latest failure memorialized by Marcus Peters throwing a temper tantrum and a flag and then walking off the field despite not being ejected — will largely determine whether Reid can maintain hope that his fifth season as coach here is anything other than an embarrassing failure.
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It will be played without Peters. The coach who is sometimes accused of being too loose with discipline has suspended his best cornerback against one of the league’s most talented passing offenses.
“Knowing your locker room, having a good locker room,” Reid said when asked how he knew whether his message was still being received. “Communication is probably the important thing. It’s a people business, so communicate.”
We don’t often see something like this. Reid is among the most successful coaches of his generation. He’ll never be thought of as an all-time great without a Super Bowl win, but he’s 11th all-time in victories, and second to Bill Belichick among active coaches, with 179 wins. That’s seven more than Bill Parcells, in three fewer games.
And at the moment, we are watching this accomplished man attempt to work against the collapse of a team he’s been working five years to build. A man who has lived through and mostly conquered two decades’ worth of professional adversity is now nearly two months into searching for a solution.
At the very least, it’s Reid’s greatest challenge since 2012, his last season in Philadelphia. That season can’t be discussed without mentioning the death of Reid’s son, Garrett, during training camp. Reid addressed that Eagles team six hours after hearing what happened, and the team was at the funeral three days later.
Trent Edwards, a backup quarterback on that team, said he doesn’t not make a connection between the personal tragedy and a disappointing season. The Eagles finished 4-12, and Reid was fired the day after Philly’s last loss.
“The issue that season was a product of losing, and then a lot of it comes down to leadership,” Edwards said. “Not just the head coach, but how the leaders on the team as players galvanize the group and keep the team together and not go different directions. It’s hard not to point fingers.”
That’s part of what makes this collapse so baffling. Two years ago, the Chiefs started 1-5 and lost star running back Jamaal Charles to an ACL tear. The fifth loss happened with their own offensive lineman stripped their own running back on the final drive. They had every reason to quit, or point fingers, and instead won 11 straight — including the franchise’s first playoff win in a generation.
Most of the big personalities from that team are still playing — Alex Smith, Travis Kelce, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, Peters and Tamba Hali, among others.
This year, Eric Berry is out for the season, but he has been around the locker room (including Wednesday, when he was giving Reggie Ragland a suggestion about strategy), and the Chiefs won their first four games without him.
There is no single explanation that makes any sense about why Reid’s team is failing here.
Reid is described by current and former players as stoic, process-obsessed, consistent and firm. His message won’t change much, but his methods might. This week, he showed the team scores of this season (they’ve lost in overtime, by one point, and in three other games had a chance to win at the end), and compared them to last season (they won twice in overtime, by one point and by three).
The message: We’re not that far off. Stick together, make the plays that matter, and we’ll be fine.
“We know how close we are,” lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif said. “The core of the message is the same, but every week the way he presents it is a little different. He’ll use a different tool to make it connect, and I think he’s doing an awesome job.”
Fans might not like hearing that, but it also doesn’t matter what Duvernay-Tardif said. What matters is whether Reid is actually doing “an awesome” job, and whether that starts to show up during games.
He is as rocked as is realistically possible for such an established coach, with a team that is still (thanks to the AFC West’s mediocrity) in first place. But there is an understanding from Reid and within the locker room about the trajectory here.
Edwards makes a fair point. It’s not just about the coach. Players matter, too, and six losses in seven games is a failure of leadership for a group that should be well beyond this type of slippage.
But Reid is the coach, the most consistent part of this team over the last five years, and his is the most important voice right now. He is not literally coaching for his job, because of the contract extension and his relationship with Hunt.
This is a legitimate football crisis, though. Suspending Peters had to happen, but it won’t get the Chiefs through. That is Reid’s job. His challenge. He’s paid because he can avoid and manage these crises.
He just hasn’t been up to it for most of the last two months.