Vahe Gregorian

My friend, my nemesis: Bill Belichick again stands in Andy Reid’s path to greatness

Chiefs’ Andy Reid and Patriots’ Bill Belichick are friends

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick are friends who enjoy what they do. The two coaches teams will meet on Sunday January 20, 2019 in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium.
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Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick are friends who enjoy what they do. The two coaches teams will meet on Sunday January 20, 2019 in the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium.

Andy Reid and Bill Belichick are good friends, each is quick to tell you. And it’s plenty evident even if the origins of it either are hazy to them or — just as possible with two men who seldom show their hand — they’d rather keep it to themselves.

Before their teams met in the playoffs three years ago, Belichick said “I don’t know if either one of us can remember that far” back to when and how it started. To which Chiefs coach Reid responded, “That’s why we need more fish oil.”

Perhaps still more: As he reiterated Thursday that he doesn’t recall when they met, Reid at least reckoned it was around the time he was a Green Bay Packers assistant coach and Belichick, now head coach in New England, was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots when they played in the Super Bowl in 1997.

Eventually, they got to know each other better as their teams met in several preseason games and they made some trades when Reid became the head coach and essentially the general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles and Belichick took over in New England.

Never mind that it’s hard to see much commonality between the public personas of the amiable offensive genius who coaches the Chiefs and the grim defensive mastermind who has led the Patriots to five Super Bowl victories.

Asked before the teams met in the 2017 opener what he appreciated most about the friendship, Belichick said, “I mean, everything. It’s all the things outside of football — family, personal, things that we have in common, personal likes, dislikes.”

No doubt in the sonorous monotone he always employs at news conference, Belichick even said — honest — how much he enjoys Reid’s great sense of humor.

Which apparently is well-reciprocated, appearances notwithstanding.

“He has a great personality, actually,” Reid said Thursday, three days before their teams will play in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. “Funny, good sense of humor. Good person.”

The sincere mutual respect has been reflected in meaningful ways.

During training camp in August 2012, for instance, Belichick was among the NFL head coaches who traveled to suburban Philadelphia to attend the funeral of Reid’s son, Garrett, who died at 29. Later that day back in Foxborough, Mass., Belichick told local media both that he had “a heavy heart” and that his heart went out to Reid and his family. At the end of a joint practice the Patriots and New Orleans Saints were conducting, the teams huddled on the field to pray for the Reids.

But their relationship is a compelling angle in more ways than one for the impending 3-D chess match ahead, another fascinating matchup befitting the men who rank Nos. 1 and 2 in victories among active NFL coaches.

It’s the sort of challenge, Reid has said in the past, that is to be cherished ... and one sure to keep each other guessing.

“I don’t think trying to read his mind is really that beneficial,” Belichick told reporters in Foxborough earlier this week, and he could have been speaking for Reid, with the point that being as well-prepared as possible and able to make nimble adjustments will be the keys.

Reid is 2-6 overall against Belichick but 2-2 since he took over the Chiefs in 2013, and he is responsible for three of the seven times a Belichick team has allowed 40 points or more — including in Kansas City’s 43-40 loss at New England earlier this season.

But underscoring all this is that Belichick in a certain sense has been Reid’s greatest nemesis.

If there were no Belichick, who at 66 years old has 290 wins (regular season and postseason) and an NFL-record 29 victories in the playoffs, Reid’s 207 career wins would make him the winningest active coach in the NFL and sixth in the history of the game — just three wins from passing Pittsburgh Steelers legend Chuck Noll. Assuming the 60-year-old Reid coaches five more years at the same pace, chances are he would trail only Miami’s Don Shula (347 total wins) and Chicago’s George Halas (324) in the annals of the game.

If there were no Belichick, maybe Reid’s Chiefs would have prevailed at New England — or elsewhere — in a 27-20 divisional playoff loss three years ago.

If there were no Belichick, perhaps Reid’s Eagles would have won Super Bowl XXXIX … and gone on to others.

Instead, Reid was somewhat stigmatized in Philadelphia by that 24-21 loss accented by curious time management in the final minutes.

Instead, a void lingers over Reid’s otherwise impeccable professional profile … with Belichick again standing in the way.

To put it in nautical terms, with a nod to Belichick’s boat, “VII Rings” (including two as an assistant), he lurks as Reid’s albatross while Reid pursues the Great White Whale of a second Super Bowl berth … and a first championship.

Stay in the moment as he might try, Reid obviously sees a fertile opportunity here and a moment to seize even while he must believe there will be more chances ahead with Patrick Mahomes as his quarterback.

He offered a glimpse in a rare, nearly giddy (relatively) moment when he emerged from the locker room Saturday after the Chiefs’ 31-13 victory over Indianapolis. The victory ended a 25-year, six-game postseason losing streak for the Chiefs at Arrowhead and launched them into the conference title game for the first time in as many years.

“Two more, right? Two more,” Reid said, before quickly reeling himself in and adding, “We’re going to take it one at a time here, which is very important as we go.”

Now, anybody who knows the nurturing and compassionate Reid, a player’s coach if ever there were one, knows he’s in this line of work for much more than himself.

That starts with being keenly aware of the suffering of Chiefs fans, whose team hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since 1970. He also is acutely conscious of what it would mean to deliver the Lamar Hunt Trophy that comes with the AFC championship to Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt.

It’s not about him. You can see the broader meaning in his life’s work through his ongoing relationships with those he knew during his three seasons as the offensive line coach at the University of Missouri. And witness it in his tendency toward second chances and rehabilitation efforts with the likes of Michael Vick and Tyreek Hill, among others, who, yes, have helped his teams but not as much as he helped steer them ahead to new lives.

Think about the coaching tree that has sprouted into a virtual forest, all because of what he invests in those who work for him since he wanted the best for them: Ten men who worked for Reid have gone on to be NFL head coaches, including four who reached conference championship games and three who got to the Super Bowl.

Two went a step past their mentor by winning it all: Doug Pederson last year with Philadelphia and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh six years ago.

Reid is too thoughtful and has too much integrity to feel anything but appreciation of those feats.

But you could see how that might accentuate his personal burning and churning to do the same. And while there’s no way any of this is on his mind now, the ultimate legacy of a man whose playoff record is just 12-13 may be connected to his ability to break through to another tier.

For all the good he’s done for so many, for all his influence on the game, including at the collegiate level right now, Reid may or may not have a Pro Football Hall of Fame resume as it stands.

No doubt it would be bolstered by reaching another Super Bowl to join the short list of six men to take two franchises to the ultimate game — two franchises, in his case, that were in need of rescue. Reid took over the Eagles after a 3-13 season and the Chiefs following a 2-14 finish.

Given everything else on his record, most likely a Super Bowl victory would make Reid’s an overwhelming case for Canton.

But first things first. To reach that stage now, Reid’s Chiefs will have to beat Belichick’s Patriots, who were just 3-5 on the road this season and are 3-4 in road playoff games but nonetheless remain imposing.

Perhaps there are many similar chances ahead. Then again, as Reid has volunteered in several different contexts in recent weeks, he’s not getting any younger.

And in a season already marked by purging the dismal postseasons of the Chiefs’ recent past, wouldn’t this be the poetic path for Reid to get the Chiefs — and himself — back to the Super Bowl?

Through the best. Through the man who’s both his friend and scourge of sorts, the greatest of adversaries in a game that figures to be far more memorable than the elusive first time they met.

Especially here if it’s not another forgettable postseason outcome for a coach on the cusp of being better recognized for his greatness ... if he can just emerge from the considerable shadow of this rival.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.