ORLANDO, Fla. - Wearing his customary Aloha shirt, Andy Reid sauntered into Salon V at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lake Resort early yesterday morning, sat down at his assigned table at the AFC coaches-media breakfast and immediately noticed two reporters from Philadelphia sitting at his table.
"Did you just come over here by instinct?" the former Eagles coach said with a smile.
I might not regularly cover him anymore, but the NFL's annual March shindig just wouldn't feel like the NFL's annual March shindig without Breakfast With Big Red.
I've sat across the table from him at 16 of these now, including the 14 he attended as the head coach of the Eagles.
Maybe it's the resort settings or maybe it's the short-sleeve March temperatures or maybe it's the fact that the next regular-season game always is at least 5 1/2 months away.
Whatever, Reid's always been much more relaxed, much more informative, much more fun, at these get-togethers than he ever was at his sleep-inducing, name-rank-and-serial number news conferences back at NovaCare.
As he exchanged pleasantries with reporters yesterday, he reminisced about the first coaches-media breakfast he attended back in March of '99, shortly after owner Jeffrey Lurie hired him.
"That was the year we had the second pick in the draft and ended up taking Donovan [McNabb]," he said. "[Saints coach] Mike Ditka was sitting over there at the next table surrounded by a horde of media guys.
"He pointed over to me and said, 'I'll give up my whole draft for that guy's pick right there.' All of a sudden, all of the reporters that were around him, it was like a swarm of locusts. Wooom! They all left Mike and came rushing over to my table."
Reid wisely told Ditka thanks but no thanks, selected McNabb, and the two guided the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, five NFC Championship Game trips and one three-point Super Bowl loss over the next 12 years.
After the Eagles went 8-8 in '11 and 4-12 in '12, he got the warmest, fuzziest firing in the history of NFL head-coaching firings, complete with a cake and a ball signed by every Eagles employee and a hug from the guy who canned him.
He was unemployed for all of 4 days before the Chiefs hired him as their head coach. Inherited a two-win team and took it to the playoffs in his first season in Kansas City. Under his replacement, Chip Kelly, the Eagles also did the rags-to-riches thing. Won 10 games and the NFC East before losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Saints.
"I thought change would be good for both sides," Reid said. "I thought Chip would bring something in fresh and exciting, as long as the players came back healthy. Because he had a good nucleus of guys.
"And I thought I went into a situation in Kansas City where I felt change could possibly be good, too. And I had a good nucleus of players there, too. I felt it would work for both sides. And it did. I'm glad both did well."
He was the king in Philadelphia, holding the titles of both head coach and executive vice president of football operations. He had final say in personnel decisions, including the draft, free agency and the 53-man roster.
Now, he wears only one hat in Kansas City. His longtime friend, John Dorsey, the Chiefs' general manager, oversees personnel.
Reid insists he's happy not being the king anymore.
"I love it," he said. "For where I'm at in my career, I love it. I love doing what I did in Philly. But I wanted to get back to [focusing on] coaching. I hadn't done much of that for a few years.
"That's why I got into the business. It was great to dive back in and be able to be in the offensive meetings, the install meetings, call the plays, all that stuff."
Five years ago, Reid put his neck on the line for quarterback Michael Vick. He convinced Lurie to take a chance on the guy after he was released from federal prison, where he had served 19 months for running a dogfighting ring.
Vick started 42 games over five seasons for the Eagles. Had some good games and some not so good ones. But he worked hard, which is something he didn't do his first 6 years in the league with Atlanta, and turned his life around and never made Reid regret bringing him to NovaCare.
Last week, Vick signed with the Jets, where he'll be reunited with former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
"I'm so happy for him," Reid said. "He's done good. I'm proud of him. Not even for the football part of it. Just for the other stuff."
Vick turns 34 in June. He still wants to be a starter in the league. The Jets brought him in as Plan B in case Plan A, second-year man Geno Smith, stumbles.
"I'm happy he's back with Marty," Reid said. "Marty knows and understands him.
"Michael's been blessed with some unbelievable gifts. I don't think those have deteriorated. He's still going to go out there and be one of your fastest guys. He's still going to be able to throw the ball as well as anybody.
"I think he'll be a great mentor to the young kid [Smith]. It sounds like they already have an understanding there. He knows the young kid is the starter. He's going to compete with him every day, yet he'll never step on that young kid's toe. That's how he operates."
Reid was asked about another of his former players, three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson, for whom the Eagles have entertained trade offers.
He saw the troubling side of DeSean in 2011 when the kid spent an entire season sulking over the Eagles' refusal to give him a contract extension. Reid yanked him from one game that season and benched him for another.
"I have nothing but good things to say about the kid," Reid said. "I drafted him. I had a great relationship with him. When his father passed away [from pancreatic cancer in '09], that was a hard thing for him to go through at a young age. They were best friends.
"I've experienced life things with him. He was great for me when I was there."
Reid brought a different approach to the Chiefs last season from what he brought to the Eagles in '99. Back then, he was an unknown. He had to prove himself to his players as much as they had to prove themselves to him.
"[Last year] was different than my first year in Philly," he said. "I had experience doing this. I thought it was important that I let my personality show. That the players know I'm all in and that you're going to give them an opportunity to be the best they possibly can be. You've got to be able to present that to the guys, and it's got to be real. Players can read through it if you're putting on an act."
Reid said several of his veteran players approached him after he was hired and assured him they were all in.
"They said, 'Listen, you just tell us what you want done and we'll do it,' " he said. "And then they did it. All the way through the season. I thought that was unique."
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