HOLIDAY IN In the visitors’ locker room at Houston’s NRG Stadium after the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West in Week 15, there were at least some party paraphernalia, including caps and T-shirts, to mark the moment.
But it was their seventh consecutive division title, and there was so much “it was there, done” vibe in the mood. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes told his teammates that they should enjoy their accomplishment for a while, but once the team’s charter returns to Kansas City, it’s time to move on to other things.
“We have bigger goals,” Mahomes said.
The Chiefs could win their second Super Bowl in four years, according to Caesars Sportsbook. As the AFC’s top seed, they’ve just finished the first round and are gearing up to host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the division’s Saturday round (4:30 pm ET, NBC).
The selection of Mahomes, who is the favorite for this season’s second MVP award, in 2017 is one of the two main reasons the Chiefs have targeted the Super Bowl over playoff berths or division titles. The other is a coaching move made 10 years ago.
The Chiefs hired Andy Reid on January 4, 2013, and things have changed in Kansas City and around the NFL since then.
“It’s amazing to see what the Chiefs have become,” said four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson, who played eight seasons in Kansas City before Reid arrived and five since. Now you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t see it yourself.”
REED JOINED Leaders when, in his own estimation, he needed a change. He had a very successful 14-year stint as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he appeared in four consecutive NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl.
But tragedy struck the Reid family during training camp for the 2012 season when his son Garrett died of an accidental drug overdose. The Eagles finished 4–12 that season, the worst record of Reed’s career.
The Chiefs were even worse.
With Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn at quarterback, Kansas City finished with a league-worst 2-14 record in 2012, the fewest wins in franchise history. The Chiefs lost nine games by at least 15 points and never took a lead during a game until week 10 of the season.
They also experienced tragedy at the end of that season when midfielder Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then drove to the team’s training facility and killed himself in front of his coach and general manager.
Coach Romeo Krennel was fired a month later on December 31, 2012. He became the third consecutive coach to end his tenure at Kansas City with a loss. 2012 marked the Chiefs’ second two-win season in five years – they went 2-14 in 2008 – in addition to a pair of four-win seasons in 2007 and 2009.
In early 2012, the Chiefs were interested in signing Peyton Manning, who was a free agent at the time after being released by the Indianapolis Colts. But the organization was held in such low regard that Manning ignored the chiefs’ suggestions, never answering their calls. Instead, Manning signed with one of their AFC West rivals, the Denver Broncos.
“I’m not sure – if I were in his place – I would also say that the Chiefs are the best option,” team president Mark Donovan told Sportzshala.
The dysfunction was not limited to the field. Prior to Reed’s arrival, there was often friction between the general manager and the head coach, disagreements about trying to win now rather than building something that could be sustained long term.
The situation in 2011 was so toxic that despite a playoff chance, the Chiefs fired coach Todd Haley at the end of the season, in part over disagreements with general manager Scott Pioli.
“When you don’t succeed, a lot of the time it’s because people aren’t pulling in the same direction,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said. Andy, that we had different views on the football side of the operation and that didn’t help us succeed on the pitch.”
Despite two wins, the Chiefs sent six players to the Pro Bowl, indicating a level of talent that belied their record.
“There was a period of time when all the players were aware of the tension that existed between the front office and the coaching staff,” said former linebacker Andy Studebaker. We didn’t know everything that was happening. It’s like you know mom and dad just got into a fight, but you’re not entirely sure what happened. We just realized that things are falling apart and getting worse. You felt how the culture was being destroyed because people chose sides and no one knew who would survive. So it became something political.
“As a player, you start to wonder, ‘Where is this going to take me?’ Team feeling begins to crumble. Unfortunately, we had a lot of really good players. Due to instability everywhere, we couldn’t win games. the end to find out that we have lost.”
VOLTAGE BETWEEN The front office and head coach ended after Reed’s arrival. Those who work with Reed say his most underrated talent is his ability to get people moving in the same direction.
Former Eagles president Joe Banner described draft meetings in Philadelphia in which arguments about the players the Eagles should select were contentious. But when those meetings ended, there were people with collective support for the decisions made, and then a collective effort was made to make sure the choice was right.
“You won’t have division under Andy,” Banner said. “He’s not going to put up with it for a second. Even important decisions, if he is not sure about something, and someone else is really convinced of it, he will obey people, even when he has the last word.
Reid also quickly changed the culture in the Chiefs locker room. Johnson said Reid made an immediate impact by focusing on “the little things” such as arriving on time for meetings, not wearing sweatshirts or hats to meetings, and ensuring proper uniforms.
“As soon as he entered the building, you could hear the confidence in his voice,” Johnson said. “We appreciated the way he carried himself, the way he treated everyone like a man. I remember the first team meeting we had, he went all in and never looked back. He never talked about what he did during the Eagles. was all about being a chef and what we were going to do from that day on.”
Reid ended up getting the Chiefs rid of some of the players because they didn’t fit in with his culture. Most notable was Pro Bowl guard Marcus Peters, who led the NFL in steals as a rookie in 2015.
But Peters had disagreements with coaches and other members of the organization, and in 2017 he was suspended for a game after he threw a penalty flag into the stands and then left the field during a game against the New York Jets.
During another game, Peters was caught by TV cameras insulting fans at Arrowhead Stadium. He was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams and will earn first-team All-Pro honors in 2019, splitting the season between the Rams and the Baltimore Ravens.
“Believe it or not, Andy was a Marcus Peters fan, a big fan,” Johnson said. “Andy liked the way he acted, the way he made plays. He loved him like a child. But Marcus had a few words of choice with the people in the organization, and he wasn’t about to do that.
“Andy wanted disciplined, smart guys who bought into the system. He was old school, but in a good way. He had a proven way of winning and he wanted everyone to follow him. … When you build a culture, you have to get everyone involved.”
And just as Reed was ready to part ways with up-and-coming stars — Peters continued his rookie campaign by choosing All-Pro in 2016 — he was ready to develop young players, mostly as a quarterback.
REED WAS Green Bay Packers assistant coach in 1992 when they traded for an obscure reserve player named Brett Favre. Packers general manager Ron Wolf thought Favre could become the franchise’s quarterback.
Favre, of course, eventually became a Packers Hall of Famer, as did Wolf, in part for his role in the trade. Trying to get the quarterback impressed Reed.
Banner said Reid was never afraid to play a young quarterback, noting that Reid had a first-round draft pick in Philadelphia’s first year of quarterback Donovan McNabb. McNabb took over the Eagles’ starting position as a rookie and remained with the Eagles for ten years.
On the other hand, the Chiefs haven’t drafted a quarterback since they took Todd Blackledge in the first round of the 1983 draft. For 34 years, Reid’s predecessors relied heavily on backups received from other teams. But Reed wasn’t afraid to take risks in pursuit of the franchise’s quarterback.
“We told Clark that within five years we would get [Reid] quarterback,” said John Dorsey, who joined the Chiefs as general manager shortly after they hired Reed. “It just had to be the right guy.”
So Reid was patient.
One of his first moves after joining the Chiefs was to acquire backup quarterback Alex Smith, who had lost his starting job with the San Francisco 49ers.
“I knew from our time together in Philadelphia that he loved Alex Smith,” Banner said. “But I also realized that acquiring someone like that was a short-term answer for him. I knew he would find someone pretty quickly who he thought would be a long-term solution.”
Smith led the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2013, his first season in Kansas City, and again in 2015 and 2016. The divisional round left the Chiefs feeling they would need a boost as a quarterback if they ever made it deep into the playoffs.