The All-Time-Great Coach Who Makes Football Fun

Andy Reid, the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, has won more than 250 games in his career, fourth all-time, which puts him high on any list of the N.F.L.’s greatest coaches. Most of the others in that pantheon are men who personify the sport’s militaristic soul — Vince Lombardi, for example, the fabled coach of the 1960s-era Green Bay Packers, or Reid’s contemporary, the grim Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. But Reid is no Lombardi or Belichick; he’s Steve Jobs. He’s a designer, a tinkerer, a product engineer who imbues his football with creativity and even an occasional touch of whimsy.

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To take his measure is like looking into a kaleidoscope. Adjust the view, and you get different images. He’s the jolliest fat man in America — renowned for his appetite and for being the wryly comic figure in TV ads for State Farm and Snickers — or the saddest. He’s a father figure to his players, and he’s the father of two sons who have faced serious criminal charges, one now dead from a heroin overdose and the other in prison after grievously injuring a little girl while driving drunk. He controls everything. And he controls nothing.

The constant is Reid’s football genius. Football is, of course, one of America’s great distractions, and Reid’s version — fast, inventive, wide-open, surprising — is the most distracting of all. It simultaneously separates you from your day-to-day concerns while making you forget about the sport’s pathologies. At one point in the Chiefs’ final game of the 2022-23 regular season, for example, all 11 players on offense gathered in a huddle, then locked arms and began circling rapidly before scurrying to the line of scrimmage and running a trick play. (Reid has said they are not trick plays if you practice them.) The center snapped the ball to a running back, who pitched it to the Chiefs’ magician of a quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who then threw it across the field to a wide-open receiver. The next day’s sports coverage likened the presnap dance to a game of Ring Around the Rosie.

The N.F.L., at that moment, was in a state of shock. Days earlier, a player for the Buffalo Bills, Damar Hamlin, came within moments of dying after a tackle caused him to go into cardiac arrest. He was defibrillated back to life, and an ambulance sped him from the middle of the field to a hospital. After an uncomfortable hour of TV, the game was finally canceled. Whether Reid intended it or not, his crazy-looking play seemed to be a message: Football is still fun!

The following month, the Chiefs won their second Super Bowl under Reid for one big reason: He found ways to keep scoring even after Mahomes, who came into the game with an ankle injury, reinjured it in the second quarter. “Patrick was limited,” Tom Melvin, the Chiefs’ tight-ends coach, told me. “The conversation at halftime was: Let’s get the ball out of his hands quickly, because he’s not going to be able to move around normally.” Reid’s offenses feature a seemingly endless array of formations, presnap motions, plays and options off those plays. He comes into every game with a dozen or more new plays the opposing team has not seen. Robert Smith, a retired running back and now an analyst for Fox Sports, put it to me this way: “In every N.F.L. game, the offense is asking questions before the ball gets snapped, and the defense has to come up with answers. What are they about to do here based on what we’ve seen on film? What Andy does is put the defense in a position where they think they know the answer. And then he changes the damn question.”

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