If ever two drifting forces might have needed to gravitate to each other, it was the Chiefs and Andy Reid after the 2012 season.
It wasn’t just that the Chiefs had been a particularly hopeless 2-14 that year, were confined to a poisonous cultural cycle in the organization and reeling from a murder-suicide committed by linebacker Jovan Belcher that December.
It also was that Reid had become mired in a rut in Philadelphia, where he’d been 12-20 his last two seasons after going 118-73 in his first 12.
Moreover, he was mourning the death of his son Garrett from a drug overdose at the Eagles’ training camp that August, a circumstance that left some to wonder whether Reid would be better served to get away from coaching for a time.
“I don’t like to talk about things that happened personally, but there were some things that happened and as a team we weren’t doing well,” said Chiefs receiver Jeremy Maclin, who played for Reid in Philadelphia. “So I can only imagine that can take a toll on you.”
That was true enough when it came to the coaching aspect alone in the hyper-critical Philadelphia market.
That in itself was a trigger for burnout, just as staying too long in any place can be a precursor for losing “a little bit of your juice,” as it was put by offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.
Add it all up, and the need for “a fresh start was evident,” Pederson said.
“It’s brought him back to (who) I knew in 1999 when I played for him, that same enthusiasm and energy,” said Pederson, Reid’s first quarterback in Philly. “That’s all back. A fresh start can do that for you.”
It’s something more than just that, though, that has helped Reid connect with an organization he’s remarkably coaxed from the dregs to 31 wins in three seasons and a franchise-record 10 straight victories entering Saturday’s AFC Wild-Card Game at Houston.
It’s also about a tweak in roles, with John Dorsey ably assuming the general manager’s role Reid held in Philadelphia.
It’s also about a different place and time, which to those he works with makes the rejuvenated Reid more at ease with himself.
“Personally, I think that he’s definitely evolved,” said receiver Jason Avant, who also played for Reid in Philadelphia. “I think that some of it has to do with the stressfulness of the East Coast and then coming here to a more laid-back Midwest town, but he also had some things transpire in his life that caused him to look at life different.”
All of which speaks to how we got here, to another pivot point for Reid and the Chiefs.
They now can seek the franchise’s first playoff victory in 22 years despite a 1-5 start that not only suggested a lost season but left in question the future viability of the Reid/Dorsey regime.
This is an appreciated turnaround, but maybe not enough so.
Not since Cincinnati did it in 1970 has a team started 1-5 and rebounded to reach the playoffs. There are a lot of reasons for that — including the fact that belief evaporates and surrendering and/or turning on each other become the most likely dynamics in play.
Now, there are many variables in play in this particular turnaround.
A more accommodating schedule, for starters. Much-improved defense. Refined offensive chemistry and identity.
And a simple change of fortune for a team that lost to Denver on Jamaal Charles’ fumble-six, then lost Charles for the season and suffered the indignity of having an offensive tackle jar loose a fumble that proved crucial against Minnesota and might have proven an iconic snapshot of the story of the season.
So it seems like there needs to be some tidy, tangible, dramatic jumping-off point for all this. And Maclin fleetingly seemed to provide the juicy untold story the other day when he alluded to a team meeting after the Chiefs’ 16-10 loss to Minnesota.
Then … buzzkill:
Uh, we meet after every game, he reminded.
The common denominator, it turns out, is much less distinctive and far more substantial.
What player after player and coach after coach referred to, whether asked directly or of their own notion, was the steadfastness of Reid.
What many internally point to is the command presence we don’t see much publicly, and the attached clout to galvanize the group.
Dull as it might sound, Reid reiterating his faith in them and publicly absorbing blame resounded with a team on the brink.
With it all in the balance, Reid didn’t pounce or panic but affirmed, part of why he’s widely regarded as a player’s coach.
“I tell you what he’s not: He’s not the iron fist,” Pederson said. “He leads with passion. He leads with a lot of care. He leads with being firm when he has to, putting his foot down when he has to.
“(But) he’s very protective of everybody. He’ll take the heat and the blame for everything; he’s always done that. … He understands players, understands what they’re going through physically, mentally this time of year. And guys respond to it.”
So the calmly delivered but urgent message was we have the right players, we have a good system and we’re going to put you in better positions to succeed.
“He didn’t say ‘It’s you, you, you,’ “ Avant said. “No, he said, ‘It’s us.’ That resonated with us.”
All along, Reid felt the Chiefs were close to a breakthrough, evident in the fact that three of the five losses were by a total of 14 points and largely attributable to correctable lapses.
“I kind of feel like if everybody just kind of hung together that we would be OK,” he said. “And that’s the way it turned out.”
Feeling that and conveying that effectively, of course, are two different matters, and Reid had to have both the credibility and right approach.
Starting with his coaching staff.
“Because at 1-5, there’s doubt creeping everywhere,” Pederson said. “But he nipped that in the bud. He said, ‘Guys, there is no doubt. We’re not going to doubt. We’re not going to start (doubting) now.
“‘We’ve got 10 games left. We’re going to approach it one game at a time, and let’s see what happens at the end.’ ”
Seeing no wavering from Reid, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said, was crucial in passing that on with conviction to their players, who game by game by game by game redeemed the season.
Now, the fusion of Reid’s long-held principles, evolving as a coach, and a rebirth here has him on the cusp of an 11th playoff win — and first since 2008 — that would make him tied for the ninth-most postseason wins by any coach in NFL history.
“Whenever you coach as long as he has coached in this league,” Avant said, “you adapt well.”
And however Saturday’s game turns out, this is a galaxy removed from three years ago ... for the Chiefs, and for Reid.
“You can definitely see,” Maclin said, “he’s kind of gotten a new life.”