NFL head coaches have a difficult and seemingly miserable job, one that marries personnel management, long hours, complex decision-making, and clunky headsets. It’s like being a Michelin-starred chef de cuisine on an offshore oil rig, and, to make matters worse, every game serves as a televised performance review. The number of current coaches who’ve been able to achieve reliable success is in the single digits, yet millions of people watching at home think they could do better. No one exemplifies this dissonance more than Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, a man who’s mastered the hardest parts of his job but maintains a reputation for making simple mistakes.
Reid and the Chiefs host Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. While the contest pits the two most consistently successful NFL coaches of the 21st century against each other, the popular storyline will be of a perennial also-ran meeting the ruthless paragon of success. In his 20 seasons as an NFL head coach, Reid’s teams have made the playoffs 14 times. That’s a Belichick-ian achievement … except Belichick sprinkles the odd Super Bowl victory or five in there. Reid has been to only one Super Bowl as a head coach, and that game—also against the Patriots—helped earn him his reputation as a flake.
Super Bowl XXXIX is largely remembered for two things: Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb vomiting on the field (which may or may not have actually happened) and Reid mismanaging his timeouts during the team’s final drives (which definitely did happen). The Patriots won, 24-21, and Reid was left to explain why he let so much time slip from the clock. “We were trying to hurry up,” he said after the game, though, at the time, Philadelphia looked to be doing the exact opposite. Reid and the Eagles’ inexplicable clock management even prompted Fox announcer Joe Buck to posit, “How many Philadelphia fans are screaming at the TV, saying, ‘Hurry up!’?”
Reid has suffered a few high-profile horological snafus since then, including a similar incident against the Patriots in the 2016 playoffs. A quick look at just a few of headlines about that game:
—“Andy Reid still doesn’t know how to manage a clock, and it cost the Chiefs another playoff game”
—“Andy Reid goes full Andy Reid, mishandles clock to doom the Chiefs”
—“Clock management again bites Chiefs coach Andy Reid”
Recent evidence suggests Reid has improved in this regard, but time management will nonetheless be the issue on everyone’s mind as the Chiefs try to make their first Super Bowl since 1970.
Even if they fall short in the postseason, Reid-led squads are always at least capable of winning. Faint praise, sure, but any Browns, Buccaneers, or Jets fan will tell you this is no small feat. It’s also what Belichick noted during the lead-up to Sunday’s game. “I’d say the number one characteristic [of Reid’s teams] is they’re always good,” he told reporters. That’s about as close to gushing as Belichick will ever get. He’s practically fan-boying over his mustachioed counterpart.
Many of Reid’s 20 seasons as a head coach—14 with the Eagles and six with the Chiefs—have been offensive masterclasses. He began as a guru of the West Coast offense with Philadelphia, embraced the run-pass option early in his tenure with Kansas City, and is now in charge of one of the most potent attacks in NFL history, one led by his quarterbacking pupil Patrick Mahomes. In this, he has shown the ability to evolve with the sport, which may be the rarest and most difficult thing a coach can do.
NFL head coaches are responsible for hundreds (if not thousands, or hundreds of thousands) of things, but calling timeouts is one of the only duties visible to fans watching at home. From our vantage point, coaches stalk the sidelines in silence until they either request a timeout or throw a challenge flag (which is another issue Reid sometimes gets criticized for). That Reid happens to occasionally mess up this most noticeable task is a cruel twist, especially considering he’s so good at all the stuff we don’t get to see.