The black SUV traveled the streets, and news helicopters followed each move. Television cameras traced Andy Reid’s movements upon his arrival in Kansas City, where stations carried the coverage live, like a visit from a king.
Four days earlier, the Philadelphia Eagles had fired Reid after 14 seasons, six NFC East championships and 130 wins. He had signed a five-year contract to lead the Chiefs, the NFL’s worst team in 2012 and a franchise reeling from embarrassment and tragedy. Kansas City fans wanted Reid to help them forget, and so they watched as he climbed out of the passenger side, closed the door, and walked into Arrowhead Stadium.
“Sometimes change is good,” he said on that January day. “Change will be tremendous for the Philadelphia Eagles, and on the other hand, it will be terrific for the Kansas City Chiefs.”
Nearly 11 months later, Reid has the Chiefs (9-3) firmly in the AFC playoff hunt. But after winning his first nine games, an unlikely turnaround considering Kansas City’s 2-14 record in 2012, Reid’s team has lost three in a row.
So he is looking to curb a brief losing streak — and his next chance will come at FedEx Field, a stadium that, for years, was good to him. The Washington Redskins were 4-10 in home games against Reid, and the former Eagles coach’s 71.4 winning percentage at FedEx was far better even than his percentage at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
Yes, Washington has been kind to Reid. And against this season’s Redskins (3-9), who were eliminated from the division race after Sunday night’s loss to the New York Giants, Washington has little to play for beyond an attempt at spoiling Reid’s return.
“Hostile territory,” Reid told reporters this week when asked about his memories of FedEx Field. “. . . The fight song. You don’t want to hear that too much.”
He heard it often during his most recent visit, in November 2012, when Washington blew out Philadelphia, 31-6, during a seven-game win streak on the way to the division championship. Last season was the third time during Reid’s tenure that Washington swept the season series against the Eagles, who went 4-12 and finished last in the NFC East.
Throughout last season, it seemed a foregone conclusion that it would be Reid’s final year in Philadelphia. He fired his friend and longtime assistant, Juan Castillo, as part of minor changes meant to curb a disappointing trend — which had begun a year earlier when a wave of free agent acquisitions led Vince Young to call Philadelphia the home of sports’ latest “dream team.” The Eagles went 8-8 in 2011, and the morning after their 12th loss of 2012, another blowout to the Giants, team owner Jeffrey Lurie announced that Reid had been fired.
“These fans deserve the very best,” Lurie was quoted as saying after the announcement, “and this year, they got a team that was not very good at all.”
Two teams compiled worse records than Philadelphia, and one was Kansas City, which endured perhaps the most challenging season in franchise history. The team was hapless, and it became clear by midseason that coach Romeo Crennel was unlikely to be retained. A group of fans paid an airplane pilot to pull a banner over Arrowhead, demanding organizational changes.
But nothing could’ve hit the team like the actions of linebacker Jovan Belcher, who last December murdered his girlfriend before driving to the Chiefs’ practice facility, asking for Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli to join him in the players’ parking lot. Belcher thanked them for his opportunities before committing suicide.
By the time the season ended, Kansas City was ready to forget that the 2012 season ever happened. Crennel was fired shortly after the season finale, and team officials traveled to Philadelphia to meet with Reid. The Eagles’ season had been disappointing, but to Reid’s suitors, his 14 seasons — at the time the longest tenure of any NFL coach — represented consistency and calm, even during the strongest of storms.
Reid, after all, lost a son, Garrett, during training camp in 2012 after years of drug addiction. The coach quickly rejoined the team after a brief grieving period, and he later made it clear he needed no time away from football after parting ways with the Eagles.
“This is what I do,” he said then.
The Chiefs reached Reid first, beating the Arizona Cardinals to the initial interview, and a meeting scheduled for three hours lasted nine. Both sides, the team and the coach, spent so much of 2012 acknowledging the difficult fact that change was necessary. Now, they were discussing how to move on together.
“We will start from the bottom, and we will start working,” Reid said shortly after the news helicopters followed him from the airport to Arrowhead, a reaction that might seem unusual in a place that wasn’t so desperate for change.
Among his first acts was acquiring quarterback Alex Smith in a trade, and Kansas City drafted tackle Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick. Reid installed an offense similar to the one he used in Philadelphia, and somehow a team that lost 14 games a season earlier and a coach that oversaw 12 losses with the Eagles, went more than half a season without a loss. The Chiefs were the NFL’s last unbeaten team, 9-0 before Denver snapped the streak three weeks ago.
Reid returned to Philadelphia early this season, leaving with a 26-16 win against his former team and his replacement, Chip Kelly. He’s 3-0 this season against NFC East opponents, the teams he came to know well for more than a dozen years.
There’s only one stop left.