The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Andy Reid is no longer the best coach to have never won a Super Bowl

Coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs talks to the media after defeating San Francisco, 31-20, Sunday night in Super Bowl LIV. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — After another promising Philadelphia Eagles season that ended without a Super Bowl, one of those years when the disappointments started running together, LeSean McCoy went to visit Andy Reid at his coach’s California beach house. McCoy knows the real Reid, the jovial personality behind the gruff public facade. Rather than sharing stories and telling jokes, Reid was despondent.

“He was so hurt that we lost,” McCoy said. “And the thing is, people around the NFL, former coaches and players, they want him to win. He feels that.”

Reid felt something different Sunday night: an outpouring of happiness for him, from around a league that adores him. He doesn’t have to worry anymore. He no longer carries the burden of letting people down, and there is no longer ambiguity about how football will remember him. After more than two decades of trying, after heartbreak on the field and tragedy in his life, Reid is a Super Bowl champion.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-20 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV gave Reid, one of the best and most influential coaches of his generation, his first Lombardi Trophy. Peers and colleagues already regarded Reid with utmost reverence, and they insisted he did not require a championship to stamp him an all-time great.

Reid, it seemed, did not feel the same way. He bore the weight of those close losses. When asked whether Reid would have been fulfilled had he not won a Super Bowl, McCoy shook his head. Chiefs quarterback coach Mike Kafka said, flatly, “You’d have to ask him.” The sense is that Reid believed he needed a Super Bowl for his career to feel complete.

“Not possible to be happier than him!!” close friend and former assistant Brad Childress said in a text message late Sunday night.

When it comes to football, Reid is an obsessive. In 2012, Reid’s son, Garrett, who had a history of addiction, died of an accidental heroin overdose in a dormitory at Eagles training camp. Reid took two days off and returned to practice the day after Garrett’s funeral.

Andy Reid embraced second chances after tragedy

Philadelphia’s season spiraled to 4-12, and the Eagles fired him. Many friends urged him to take a year off. He instead accepted the Chiefs’ offer to rebuild their franchise after a 2-14 season that included the unfathomable occurrence of linebacker Jovan Belcher driving to the Chiefs’ facility after murdering his girlfriend and then shooting himself in the head in front of team officials.

Reid tried to heal himself by healing his new franchise. Reid started building a juggernaut. He traded for quarterback Alex Smith and, in preparing an offense around him, studied Smith’s film from his college days at Utah. The concepts Reid borrowed from those sessions and incorporated into the West Coast system — read-option plays, jet sweeps, ghost motions — helped bring a universe of offensive schemes from college football into the NFL. The Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes in 2017, and after he apprenticed behind Smith for one season, their marriage created one of the most devastating, fascinating offenses the NFL has seen.

As Reid’s innovation spread and he piled up regular season wins, he could not shake his reputation for losing the biggest games. He took the Eagles to four consecutive NFC championships but won only one. In the ensuing Super Bowl, the Eagles lost as their two-minute drill moved at glacial speed. In 2017, his former offensive coordinator Doug Pederson led the Eagles, his old team, to a Super Bowl title. Last year, the Chiefs reached the AFC championship game and lost in overtime after defensive end Dee Ford negated a clinching interception by lining up offside.

“We could’ve done four inches better,” Reid said. “This offseason, they put their mind to it as did the coaches and everybody upped their game and this is the result. It’s phenomenal. I’m not sure it’s all sunk in, but it’s awesome right now.”

Through Reid’s 21 years as a head coach without a Super Bowl title, he grew beloved. He dons Hawaiian shirts at formal gatherings and devours cheeseburgers. This season, he commemorated an ugly win by telling his players not all paintings could be Mozarts. Last fall, a reporter asked former Reid assistant Ron Rivera for an anecdote that defined Reid. He told one story about the time he stored a large piece of cake in an office fridge and Reid ate it. He followed that by describing a staff dinner at which Reid ordered every appetizer on the menu and ate them all himself. Former coach Steve Mariucci, with whom Reid worked when they were both young assistants in Green Bay, remembered those days by saying Reid’s picture is still on the wall at a Green Bay steakhouse, in honor of him eating a 48-ounce steak in 22 minutes.

In Philadelphia, a city not known for forgiving sports figures who fall short, Reid is still revered. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told reporters before the Super Bowl that he had never rooted for anything not related to the Eagles more than he was rooting for Reid. Defensive end Frank Clark said Reid can relate to his players, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, because of the personal trials he has faced.

Mahomes said that when he arrived in Kansas City, he identified two goals. The first was winning the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named for owner Clark Hunt’s father and awarded to the AFC champion. The second was winning a Super Bowl for Reid.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Mahomes said. “I don’t think he needed the Lombardi Trophy to prove that. But to do that, it puts all doubt aside. He’s going to be listed as one of the all-time great coaches in history whenever he wants to be done. Which I hope is not any time soon.”

Reid, 61, does not seem like a man ready to move on. He lives football, and he has it too good to retire any time soon. In Mahomes, he coaches a player anyone in his profession would dream of working with. His son, Britt, who also battled addiction, is on his staff as a linebackers coach. He can now coach without pressure.

“He was going to go down as one of the best, anyway,” Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach said. “It’s certainly a nice cherry on top. He deserves it. Hopefully we can get him another next year. We got a talented team.”

Reid will not be satisfied with just one Super Bowl. Before he won The Masters, Phil Mickelson often stated his frustration wasn’t the failure to win one major, but the fact that he wanted to win multiple majors. Reid is of the same mind-set. With Mahomes at quarterback, he will coach a Super Bowl contender every year.

“I’m really excited about it,” Reid said. “You get one, you want to get another one. But we got to backpedal for a little here and enjoy this one. And we’ll get busy on the next one.”

Surely, Reid will pause to enjoy this one. McCoy had not spoken with Reid about an hour after the game, but he looked forward to talking with Reid reflecting on old times. He was asked to guess how Reid might celebrate.

“Probably with a cheeseburger,” McCoy said. “You know what? He’s really happy about this one. So I’m sure he might celebrate a little different. Probably two cheeseburgers.”

What happened in Super Bowl LIV

The Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20, in the Super Bowl to deliver Kansas City’s first NFL championship in 50 years. Find all the highlights here.

How it happened: Patrick Mahomes had a play in his back pocket for when the Chiefs needed it. Now “Tre Right, Three Jet Chip Wasp” will live in Kansas City lore.

Commentary: Patrick Mahomes, in Super Bowl comeback, showed why he is the best quarterback in the NFL.

Parade: Fans gather early and in mass numbers to celebrate Chiefs’ Super Bowl in Kansas City.

Photos: The best photos from Hard Rock Stadium | The plays the Chiefs made to win

Halftime show: Jennifer Lopez and Shakira teamed up to become the first two Latina singers to perform at the Super Bowl. It was a truly riveting, wildly entertaining performance. “You may have heard the American Dream itself pulsing in a space where it will always be allowed to live,” pop music critic Chris Richards writes, “inside a pop song.”

Commercials: The very best from Super Bowl Sunday, and the very worst.

Go a little deeper...

Patrick Mahomes became the NFL’s best quarterback by refusing to specialize in football

In tragedies’ wake, Andy Reid and the Chiefs found success through second chances

The Chiefs brought Native American imagery, and the ‘tomahawk chop,’ to the Super Bowl stage

Len Dawson smoked his way through the first Super Bowl. The photos are priceless.

For Chiefs owner Clark Hunt and his family, this Super Bowl trip was 50 years in the making