The morning after the latest Chiefs postseason farce, coach Andy Reid served up his customary name, rank and serial number news conference.
Alas, it’s his modus operandi as an NFL head coach to suppress the considerable personality he’d share, say, when he was a University of Missouri assistant coach during 1989-91.
So he kept a stoic face and cards stashed away as he spoke about needing time to process the 22-21 loss to Tennessee on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, time to get away from emotions and consider what was “real” and what wasn’t about the defeat.
For the rest of us, though, the reality check is pretty evident:
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The status quo must go.
Reid must make substantial changes lest he be guilty of an utterly overused but really handy definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.
There’s a fine line, of course, between worthy conviction and reflexive stubbornness.
So Reid is right to resist rash impulse as he prepares to work with general manager Brett Veach to assess staff and player personnel in the weeks to come and methodically evaluate from the ground up.
But even Reid acknowledges that changes will be coming among players, albeit qualifying that as “the nature of the business.”
And even his obvious annoyance with a question about whether he’ll retain his coordinators — “probably the wrong question to ask right about this time” — was hardly a denial that that’s in play.
Which brings us to some hard truths:
Reid has to strongly consider a change at defensive coordinator from Bob Sutton to shake up a defense that’s gone stale and that for the second straight year simply couldn’t stop the run when it had to in a playoff loss.
Sutton is a personal favorite and a gentleman who has had a great coaching career, but sometimes things just run their course.
And the same can be said about quarterback Alex Smith, another personal favorite to whom this franchise and city owe a debt of gratitude but who seems destined to have a bittersweet legacy here.
By any cold logic, including a fascinating study by FiveThirtyEight sports about the five-year itch between coaches and quarterbacks, it’s time for Smith to yield the floor to rookie Patrick Mahomes.
It would honestly pain me to see the departure of the star-crossed Smith, who had the season of his life and by most measures is likely to have a better statistical season wherever he is next year than the ridiculously talented-but-raw Mahomes.
And if all else were equal, I wouldn’t make the case even if it’s worthy of considering on its own.
But no matter how you break this down, it’s impossible to get past the simple economics (the Chiefs can save $17 million against the salary cap by trading him) and value (what they could command in a trade and how else they could apply the money to areas of need) of dealing Smith.
There would be some one-step-up, two-steps-back next year in playing Mahomes, who would go through growing pains that will make you question this, but he also has exhilarating stuff in his skill set that Smith wouldn’t be able to do and an apparently higher future ceiling.
And the future has to be now for the Chiefs.
Because it’s time for another sort of reset for a franchise that absolutely is stalled and was stigmatized anew with a preposterous sixth straight home playoff loss over the last 24 years.
The defeat relegated the otherwise transformative force of Reid to 1-4 in the postseason here and 11-13 overall in the playoffs, which in a certain brutal twist ties former Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer for the third-most playoff defeats in NFL history behind men (Don Shula and Tom Landry) who won multiple Super Bowls.
Call that part a cruel coincidence.
But it’s also part of a mounting body of evidence that this is a new frontier in Reid’s tenure here, a phase that is familiar to Philadelphia Eagles fans:
Excruciating, exasperating postseason play is beginning to eclipse the generally agreeable regular-season performances that Reid has redeemed the franchise with since taking over in 2012.
Of course on a tangible, intellectual level coaxing the Chiefs to the playoffs four out of five seasons and guiding them to the first back-to-back division championships in club history and engineering a 53-27 regular-season record here in the wake of the previous five years of going 25-55 is an infinitely better situation.
You can’t win it all if you don’t make the playoffs, after all.
But what if fans come to believe you can’t win even if you do make the playoffs?
What’s worse in the end — no hope or false hope?
Seems like there is something fundamentally more punishing to fans about raising even cautious hopes only to thoroughly shred them … always with an agonizing fresh script of ridiculousness.
While noting the knot in his stomach from Saturday, Reid spent some of his season-ending news conference Sunday talking about reasons for optimism ahead, including the anticipated return of injured players like Eric Berry, Chris Conley and Mitch Morse and touting “a good system we have in place.”
But Reid and his system are at a crossroads now.
At least in terms of the faith of Chiefs fans, both in anecdotal abundance after the game and at the box office:
In the middle of last week, there were twice as many tickets available on the secondary market at half the price as the other three playoff games were on wild-card weekend.
That’s another sort of caution light for Reid, who was brought here and paid among the top salaries in the league not just to stabilize the organization but to take it to another tier.
Reid has built a fine thing here, truly, and I still believe he’ll win a Super Bowl one day.
But he’s deluding himself if he thinks he can move this forward with a few tweaks and without at least several agonizing but necessary decisions.
Let’s hope taking the time to reconcile the next steps properly doesn’t mean that behind his poker-faced mask Reid doesn’t understand the pivotal urgency of real changes as the way out of what’s become nothing but the same old story.