KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Eric Bieniemy was a free-agent running back in 1999, he had some relatively lucrative contract offers with other teams. He instead signed a deal for the minimum salary with the Philadelphia Eagles so he could play for their new head coach, an obscure former assistant by the name of Andy Reid.
Reid had this way of making Bieniemy, at that point of his career mostly a special-teams player, feel on his free-agent visit that he would be a valued part of what the coach was trying to build.
“When I went on that trip and I visited the Philadelphia Eagles, I felt at home,” said Bieniemy, who would play one season for Reid and then return to coach for him years later with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I felt a part of something. I felt a part of the building block that was necessary to help them to start it off. I was a part of a foundation that Coach wanted to lay.”
Reid has been making players feel that way for his entire career — from stars like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce to those at the bottom of the roster, as Bieniemy was more than 20 years ago.
More than any other reason, that’s why players almost universally love working for the 62-year-old Reid.
“I can’t remember anyone who didn’t like playing for him, and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t like playing for him,” said Geoff Schwartz, a Chiefs offensive lineman in 2013, Reid’s first season in Kansas City. “He’s everything you want in a coach.”
Indeed, it’s easy to find players who have good things to say about their experience with Reid. Pick a player, current or former, and the chances are overwhelming he’ll have a positive story or anecdote.
“It’s no secret what Coach Reid does,” Kelce said. “He puts guys in different positions on the field to succeed and maximizes their strengths, which is why he’s such an unbelievable offensive mind.
“You have fun with it.”
During the offseason, the Chiefs re-signed several top players, including Mahomes, Kelce and Chris Jones. They also retained some lesser ones, such as backup quarterback Chad Henne.
The Chiefs had much to offer, including money and the chance for additional Super Bowl championships. But Reid seemed to be an equal draw.
“He had no thoughts of retirement any time soon,” Mahomes said of Reid while discussing why he re-signed with the Chiefs. “Obviously, that’s a huge part of it.”
‘We trusted him right from the start’
It’s not surprising skill players like working for Reid. Mahomes had the NFL’s second 50-touchdown, 5,000-yard season with the Chiefs in 2018. Kelce is the first tight end in league history to have four straight 1,000-yard seasons.
But the position group that seems to inspire the most devotion toward Reid is offensive line. Reid was a lineman in college at Brigham Young.
Each Friday during the season, the linemen get to play wide receiver. They begin practice with a drill in which they get to catch passes.
“Starting off practice like that is a little bit of a reward for working our butts off for the last two days,” tackle Eric Fisher said. “It just gets us in a good mindset to polish all of the details.
“It’s a fun period for us.”
Eventually, though, play has to stop and work must begin. Schwartz said the 15-play script that Reid uses to begin games is often crafted with offensive linemen in mind.
“There were always some runs and some screens and some reverses and some bootlegs, just a lot of ways to start the game off by helping his offensive line,” Schwartz said. “I always loved that. We always started games with plays that benefited us, helped us get better, helped us get into a rhythm.”
Reid joined the Chiefs in 2013 after they had just gone through one of the most brutal stretches in team history. They had won no more than four games in four of six seasons, including a 2-14 record in 2012.
The Chiefs had some talented players, but little direction. Reid was going to need some buy-in from the players to turn the team around quickly.
“You can’t really listen to a coach or buy in to a coach unless you trust everything he’s saying,” former linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “We trusted him right from the start. Andy is a straight shooter. He did everything he told us he would do. That’s what everybody loved.”
But the players found Reid didn’t ask without giving in return. Case in point: his first Chiefs training camp in 2013.
“He told us that training camp was going to be tough,” Schwartz said. “And he was right. It was hard. We hit a lot. But he said that if we committed to him for three hours of practice in the morning, he would hook us up the rest of the day. And he did. We had walk-throughs in the afternoon, and they were literally walk-throughs. I’ve been places where that wasn’t really the case.
“The things he told us, he did for us.”
Reid said: “You can’t be in the job I’m in and not be real for as long as I’ve been doing it. I think that ends up being important to the guys. I’m not going to be all over the place with them. I’m going to try to shoot them straight with what I see, right or wrong. I’ve got a couple of years’ experience with all this gray hair.
“When it’s all said and done, players want to be coached. They want to maximize their ability. I’ve learned that from some great players. They just wanted you to give them one more thing to make them better.”
Reid established a players’ leadership committee consisting of one member from each position group as a way for players to air their concerns.
“Whenever we started that meeting, the first thing he would say is, ‘All right, what gripes do you have?'” Johnson said. “He doesn’t want guys complaining in the locker room about this and that, like practices being too long or the food in the cafeteria not being good. So he would say, ‘Tell me all the stuff like that and I’ll fix it.’ He doesn’t want us to have any excuses for not getting it right on Sunday. He wants to eliminate all the distractions.”
One time, Johnson said, the players complained they were hitting too much in practice.
“Andy likes long practices,” Johnson said. “He’s old-school. He runs a lot of plays. But we talked to him one time about wanting to take the pads off a lot at practice. We felt we didn’t need to wear them as often as we did or do as much hitting as we did. He said, ‘OK, got it. Anything else?’ It was that quick.
“Most of the things we brought to him, he trusted just like that.”
‘You treat people like they’re people’
Reid is a players’ coach for other reasons. He’s rarely critical of a player in public, instead usually taking the blame himself for putting players in a bad spot.
That’s ironic because players say one of the reasons they like working for Reid is he plays to their strengths.
“Coach Reid puts guys in position to be successful and do what they do well rather than trying to fit everybody into a box,” said Greg Lewis, who played for Reid with the Eagles and is now the Chiefs’ wide receivers coach. “He gives you opportunities. If your strength is speed, he puts you in position to utilize your speed. If your strength is blocking or doing something of that nature, he puts you in those positions rather than try to fit you into a box of something you’re not. He’s able to mesh all those different types of skill sets together so seamlessly.”
By all accounts, Reid isn’t a yeller or screamer. Former players remember him rarely getting angry, perhaps once per season.
“He’d make faces, groan, maybe bite his lip, say ‘Gosh darn it,'” former offensive lineman Jeff Allen said. “That’s when you knew he wasn’t happy. But that’s about as far as he would go, and it took a lot for him to get to that edge.”
Johnson said: “Andy is usually a calm speaker. When he starts talking fast, that’s when you know it’s time to pick it up. If you don’t, the next time he’s not going to be calm or talking fast. He’s going to be yelling.”
That doesn’t mean discipline is unimportant to Reid. He just finds a different way.
“Human nature says if you keep yelling at somebody, [he’s] going to turn you off,” Reid said. “The old saying, ‘Do unto others as you want done to you,’ I kind of do that. But at the same time I’m in a position where if your biorhythms are down, I’m going to crank them back up for you. There’s a time and a place for everything. I think staying positive and being real and honest with the guys is probably most important. I think it is with most humans.
“I believe in discipline. There are certain things you just need in this sport. … But at the same time, I believe you treat people like they’re people. I’ve done that since I’ve been in the business. That part hasn’t changed.”
Schwartz said: “He does a good job of connecting with players. He treats you like an adult. You put the work in, and he treats you with respect. He expects you do to your job, and he treats you as though you can do that. He’s not going to micromanage your whole day. He definitely micromanages how he teaches the offense. But he’s just not in your business the whole day.
“Before the game, we didn’t see the coaches in the locker room. They come in right before the game to talk to us, but we might get to the stadium two or three hours before the game and he’s not in your way, no other coaches are in your way. I’ve had teams with coaches that come in an hour before the game and they’ll be, ‘Hey, now, I was watching film last night and I saw this weird play [from the day’s opponent] on film from seven years ago, so just be on the lookout for that.’ Well, it’s game day. We had all week to get ready for that. We just wanted to be left alone to prepare for the game.
“He gave us space when we needed it. That plays into why everyone likes Andy Reid and how easy it is to play for a guy like that. Because you respect him and he respects you, you don’t want to let him down.”
Reid ‘undefeated’ when it comes to food
Chiefs coach Andy Reid reveals how a cheeseburger and a water cooler helped him celebrate winning his first Super Bowl in style.
Schwartz and others described their relationships with Reid more as peer-to-peer than player-to-coach. Players occasionally go to Reid for personal advice. One player once asked Reid which type of car he should buy.
Another way Reid reaches his players is through his love of food. That resonates with his players, particularly the larger ones.
Reid, in his first year with the Chiefs, returned to Philadelphia to coach his new team against his former one. After coaching the Eagles for 14 seasons, Reid knew a little about the local cuisine. He ordered out for the whole team the night before the game, the spread including local delicacies like cheesesteaks and crab fries.
“You could always get a Kansas City restaurant recommendation from him,” Allen said. “Any time. And they were good ones. He was undefeated there.”
Reid would occasionally offer the players advice about what time of day was best at various Kansas City barbecue restaurants to get burnt ends, a delicacy around town despite their unappetizing name.
“He was like, ‘4 o’clock at Jack Stack, 5 o’clock at Joe’s,'” said Schwartz, naming a couple of popular places in Kansas City. “He liked to eat. It was part of his way to relate to us. But it didn’t come off as fake. He didn’t come off as something other than who he was, and that’s something we all appreciated.
“Most coaches, it’s hard to have conversations with them. It just felt like you can always have a conversation with Andy.”
“He was like ‘4 o’clock at Jack Stack, 5 o’clock at Joe’s.’ He liked to eat. It was part of his way to relate to us. But it didn’t come off as fake. He didn’t come off as something other than who he was and that’s something we all appreciated.”
Geoff Schwartz on Andy Reid’s ability to find burnt ends and relate to his players
Reid’s relationships sometimes extend beyond a player’s time with the Chiefs. Allen played three seasons for Reid with the Chiefs before signing a free-agent contract with Houston.
Allen said the first person he heard from after an injury knocked him out of the Texans’ lineup was Reid.
Allen later returned to play with the Chiefs in parts of two seasons before retiring.
“We had conversations that were outside of football, about where I was personally,” Allen said. “Before I decided to retire, we had a conversation about it. We sat down and talked about what was best for me, and he supported me on that. I felt I could still play, but there were things in my life — injuries, life at home, my future.
“You don’t get his reputation just by being a good football coach. You also get it by being a good person.”
Allen then finished by summing up what many players feel about Reid.
“You don’t feel like you’re playing for Andy Reid,” he said. “You feel like you’re playing with him.”