It is January, and Andy Reid is still coaching football, something he has done in 12 of his 18 seasons as a head coach. Consistency like that is what keeps NFL coaches employed - and what gets them jobs when they eventually need one - and no one is as fond of consistency as Andy Reid.
This past week, as the Kansas City Chiefs prepared for Sunday's divisional playoff game in Arrowhead Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Reid went to the podium for his weekly news conference and began, as always, with the injury report. That the Chiefs were healthy didn't stop him. The news conference was beginning, and he was going to go with injuries.
"All right, so really don't have any injuries to talk about," Reid said. "Everybody is practicing, and we're rolling there."
Actually, two of his linebackers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, were limited in practice because of knee problems, but both are expected to play, and if there's one thing Reid likes as much as consistency, it is positivity. We're rolling there!
During the four seasons since Reid's departure from Philadelphia, things have not always been consistent and positive around here. The Chiefs have compiled a 43-21 regular-season record while, over the same span, the Eagles have gone 34-30, and it felt a lot worse than that.
The handy explanation is that while Reid took over a 2-14 team that had some promise and restored it with sustained applications of consistency and positivity, the Eagles hired Chip Kelly, and he bunged the whole thing up so badly that Jeffrey Lurie had to reload again. Lurie then hired the closest thing he could find to Reid, although it could be there is more to Reid's genius than can be cloned by simply cadging his schedule for meetings and practices. Time will tell on that.
Reid will be 59 in March, and the years are beginning to compress on him. He was the youngest head coach in the NFL when the Eagles hired him, but 18 years is a long time to do this, and particularly long without a championship. If not this season, when? His quarterback will be 33 next season and isn't all that great to begin with, and the Chiefs play in a conference dominated by a team whose quarterback might play until he is 59.
The seasons have been mostly successful. No one quibbles with that. Reid is tied for 10th on the all-time win list with 173, but that could merely be an indication of the stubborn consistency rewarded by the regular season, and not necessarily the quick brilliance required in the lightning round. Four other coaches above or tied with him on that list - Marty Schottenheimer (200), Dan Reeves (190), Chuck Knox (186), and Jeff Fisher (173) - are without a championship as well.
Reid is not outwardly reflective on that sort of thing, and never has been. If it seems ironic that he went from one organization that hadn't won a title since the 1960s to another with the same history, that irony would be lost on him. The Chiefs and the Eagles have won a lot of games and gone to the playoffs many times, but Kansas City hasn't hoisted the Lombardi Trophy since the last year of the AFL, in the Super Bowl that followed the 1969 season, when Lombardi was still alive and the damn thing wasn't even called that. The Eagles were in the same stadium with the trophy twice, but that's as close as they have gotten to following up on their 1960 championship.
The Chiefs have a chance this time, but only that. They aren't dominant and, truth be told, have probably gone farther than a team ranked 20th in offense and 24th in defense has a right to expect. When Reid was asked his message to the team as its playoffs begin against a Steelers team that beat the Chiefs, 43-14, in October, he said: "Go play. Do what got you here."
What got them here is a reflection of the coach's own tenacious nature. The defense gave up yards, but only until they counted. Maybe it was 24th in yards allowed, but the defense also ranked seventh in points allowed and fifth in red-zone defense.
On offense, Alex Smith was an effective game manager, relying on a truckload of short West Coast offense passes. He didn't throw the ball all over the field, but he didn't throw interceptions, either, or take sacks, or do much beyond grinding out just enough points to win.
The Chiefs, as was the case with the Eagles under Reid, were excellent at winning the games they were supposed to win. Kansas City was 7-0 against teams that finished with losing records this season, and 5-4 against teams with winning records. They were opportunistic, benefiting from eight return touchdowns (four interceptions, one fumble recovery, two punt returns, and a kickoff return) while allowing just one, and they finished the season plus-16 in takeaways/turnovers, tied for first in the league. It was a fortunate team, if you choose to look at it that way, but good teams almost always are.
After that loss to Pittsburgh in Week 4 - two early, uncharacteristic turnovers had them down by 22-0 in the first quarter - Reid took the 2-2 Chiefs into the bye, and they came out of it in classic Reidian fashion, winning five straight and 10 of 12 to the end of the season. How did he manage that?
"You take it step-by-step," he said.
Of course, you do. One consistent step followed by the next, and suddenly you have traveled the length of a football field, and then a football season, and then have marched into the playoffs and to the very border of greatness. Now, they try to keep advancing where the footing is most treacherous.
The big man at the front doesn't look behind him. He waves them forward with his arm and peers ahead at the place he has never been. Andy Reid is positive this time, just as every time. He has to be, or he knows it will never happen.