Before this beautiful and symbiotic and infinitely promising relationship between Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes began, before they could complete each other, there had to be a first date and, in this case, a matchmaker.
Sure, Reid had a fine sense of Mahomes’ breathtaking arm and the absurd range of ways he could make a play.
“Yeah,” Reid said with a laugh, “you can get that off tape.”
But Mahomes didn’t have Reid hooked at that intriguing-but-distant glance. Because it’s only a sliver of what it takes to play in the NFL … let alone be viewed as The Future for the Chiefs.
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Enter general manager Brett Veach, then the team’s co-director of player personnel, who was infatuated with Mahomes and relentless in learning every … single … thing ... about him. Veach has said he’d seen Mahomes “play a bunch” — which turns out to be a hilarious understatement.
Just ask Chris Cabott, who co-represents Mahomes with Leigh Steinberg and told Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports that “for like 94 straight days” before the draft, they had communicated with Veach in “some way, shape or form.”
And ask Reid, who hired Veach in Philadelphia and has worked with him for 12 years. With a certain gleam in his eye, Veach couldn’t emphasize enough that Mahomes was “special,” perhaps even transformational.
“Right from the get-go — for about a year and a half,” Reid said. “When Brett gets something like that, he’s going to let you know.”
Even so, Reid needed to learn first-hand about Mahomes and “his person,” as former Chiefs GM John Dorsey liked to say.
Everything that has unfolded since — Mahomes’ mesmerizing first season as a starter; the Chiefs earning the AFC No. 1 seed entering their divisional playoff game against Indianapolis on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium — hinged on the pre-draft meeting in 2017.
As it happens, the session that Mahomes calls “a blessing” and “kind of the building block for the relationship that we have now” changed the prospects of the franchise.
“They had to be temperamentally suited … That consanguinity of interests, that meeting of the minds, that portent of the future, and what those meetings would be like between the two of them (going forward), there had to be a click that went off in Andy’s mind: ‘This is our guy,’ ” Steinberg said. “He could have come out of that meeting turned off, disbelieving, doubtful, ambivalent. But he didn’t.”
Anything but. Instead, Steinberg said, the Chiefs fell “in love” with Mahomes — as has a fan base.
To hear it recounted by the understated Reid, against whom no one should play poker, it wasn’t necessarily an instant eureka moment.
“Well,” he said, smiling, “we really liked him.”
As in, liked him liked him, that is. With some other quarterbacks who’d made pre-draft visits, Reid either was simply less impressed or had big doubts. In at least one instance, Veach told Sports Illustrated in August, Reid walked past Veach’s office and looked down as he swiped his hand from left to right to convey uh-uh.
At that point of his session with Mahomes, Reid might as well have been glowing as he passed. He grinned and gave Veach a thumbs up, Steinberg and Cabott each were told.
“I think if there was an extensive series of boxes to check off, one by one they got checked off,” said Steinberg, adding that from there, “All the stars aligned perfectly.”
Hard to hide
NFL teams are allowed to host pre-draft visits with 30 players, during which no physical tests can be administered. Some head coaches might spend only 15 minutes with a prospective draftee, Cabott said.
In this case, Reid said, Mahomes met “forever” — some eight hours — with him and then co-offensive coordinators Matt Nagy and Brad Childress. The idea is to bombard and exhaust any candidate for the most crucial role in the game, because how better to glean the most about knowledge, retention, temperament and other intangibles?
“It’s hard to hide after eight hours with somebody,” Reid said. “You’re coming at him from a lot of different directions.”
As Reid recounted the technical aspects of the meeting, the Chiefs “sat him down, A-Z football-wise” and went through a process that included Mahomes teaching them the Texas Tech offense and Reid and Co. conducting what amounted to a mock install of their offense.
“We give him our stuff just like we would prepare for a game,” said Reid, noting that after a break they had Mahomes come back “and coach us up on what we just went over, see his retention.”
While Reid said a couple other quarterbacks “did a nice job and were sharp and handled themselves right,” and Reid has spoken highly of Deshaun Watson in other interviews, there was something about Mahomes that stood apart and felt like the right fit for a man Steinberg calls a “quarterback whisperer.”
And vice versa.
“I definitely knew that he could teach me in a way that I guess I hadn’t been taught before,” Mahomes said. “Just opening me up to a lot of things I hadn’t seen and I hadn’t heard, and the way he was able to elaborate with me was definitely special.”
With the brilliant and experienced Alex Smith entrenched for the next season, Reid was cognizant of Mahomes’ capacity to handle his highly sophisticated offense.
“So I’m going … ‘He better be able to learn it or we’re going to have to take these massive steps backward,’ ” Reid said. “And so (Mahomes) was able to handle it. I’m not saying the other kids couldn’t. But he was able to handle it, and we felt real good about that.”
He was smart … but something more. When Reid says Mahomes doesn’t make the same mistake twice, he’s indirectly describing what Steinberg calls an “eidetic memory” — akin to photographic.
“That allows him to remember the situation and not make the same mistake again, because he’s seen it and it’s been imprinted,” Steinberg said. “That allows him a level of analysis that’s far and above what a normal person would have.”
Asked if he knew himself to have a photographic memory, Mahomes laughed and said he knew of no such clinical distinction.
“My dad has told me I have. But at the same time, I don’t really know what that is,” said Mahomes, once the Big 12 scholar-athlete of the year who acknowledged he could study fast and do well on tests. “I just know that if I see stuff I can usually go back and tell you exactly what I see. And I think that’s the same with Coach Reid. That is why we are (together) on such a great page during the games.”
All that would have been plenty to make them right for each other. But there was more that resonated for Reid. While Steinberg and Cabott weren’t there that day, they know that from conversations they’ve had with the Chiefs and from knowing Mahomes.
Among the other characteristics that likely struck Reid, Cabott said, was Mahomes’ personability, poise, work ethic, attention span, stamina and enthusiasm to be coached. All attributable, he added, to his parents, Randi and Pat, whose 11 seasons in major league baseball help account for his son’s uncanny calm in his first season as an NFL starter.
From what Steinberg knows, Reid understood that Mahomes could handle the adversity that comes with throwing a couple interceptions and the crowd booing and “the center looking at you like you’re on hallucinogens,” that he had the capacity to “compartmentalize, adopt a quiet mind and elevate your level of play” in those scenarios.
“He could see in Patrick that lack of being awed or overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation or by the enormity of the challenge,” Steinberg said.
Moreover, Reid surely left the meeting understanding that Mahomes loves the game so much that he views preparation and dedication as part of it all.
Certainly, he left it knowing that running the Air Raid offense at Tech was no impediment and disabused of the idea Mahomes was a reckless gunslinger.
Doubtless, he understood that Mahomes was humble “with a sense of care for other people’s feelings that’s rare in an era of self-absorption,’ Steinberg said.
“I’m sure Andy got all that,” Steinberg said.
Mostly, he had to come away knowing there could be what Steinberg called “a real mind-meld” between them — one that Mahomes notes now includes Reid seeking his input.
“So all of that made the meeting between the two of them critical,” said Steinberg, who believes that was why Reid considered Mahomes “a quarterback you win because of, rather than (just) with.”
The trust factor
And all of that was part of many reasons Steinberg and Cabott hoped Mahomes would land with the Chiefs, one of around 20 teams he visited before the draft.
Among them: Steinberg’s relationship with Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, whom he’s known since Hunt was a ballboy; Steinberg’s relationship with Reid; Steinberg’s memory of how previous clients such as Derrick Thomas and Tony Gonzalez loved playing here; the Chiefs’ fan base; the relationship between Veach and Cabott, who believes Mahomes is a once-in-a-generation player; the willingness of Smith to mentor Mahomes despite the fact Mahomes would supplant him; a dynamic offensive cast around him.
When the Chiefs traded up from 27th to draft Mahomes 10th overall in a deal made possible, Steinberg said, by the team doing “a brilliant job disguising their interest,” Steinberg and Cabott were elated.
“There was a trust factor there,” Steinberg said.
But none as significant as the one that started with Reid and Mahomes in that pre-draft meeting that sparked the magic ahead.