Before training camp last season, Fletcher Cox warned his teammates. Cox is part of a dwindling group of players in the Eagles locker room who experienced Andy Reid as coach, and after three years with Chip Kelly, Cox knew how August would be different under Doug Pederson.
“If it’s anything like Andy’s training camp, it’s going to be a grind,” Cox told them.
One year later, the players in the locker room now have an idea of a Reid-coached team because many of his philosophies and coaching practices returned to Philadelphia with Pederson. (That included long training camp practices in full pads and some with full contact.) But only a few know what it was like to play for Reid, who spent 14 years in Philadelphia and has the most wins of any coach in franchise history.
“And I can probably name all of them,” Cox said this week.
There are eight. Cox has three classmates from the 2012 draft – Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Nick Foles – along with veterans Jason Peters, Brent Celek, Brandon Graham, and Jason Kelce.
For Eagles fans, Sunday’s game in Kansas City will bring back memories of “Big Red” on the sideline. His teams are meticulously prepared, there’s always the chance for curious clock management, and the injury announcements will start the postgame news conference. That was the routine through one of the most successful stretches in Philadelphia, complete with five conference championship game appearances but no Super Bowl ring. And when it ended after the 2012 season, Reid found a quick landing spot in Kansas City – a franchise that has experienced more winning than the Eagles since he left.
The Eagles have undergone a few overhauls since Reid’s diet turned from cheesesteaks to barbecue. The eight players who remain from his time here share experiences and memories that few others in the locker room can understand.
“We can sit here and talk about it,” Kendricks said. “I only had one year with Andy, but I’m in those conversations. I can talk about it. We have a connection because we’ve been here the longest. I was here during the Andy Reid era.”
Welcome to Philly
Of the eight Eagles who played for Reid, seven were drafted by the team while Reid had final say over personnel. So the memories of some are tied to Reid’s welcoming them to the NFL – whether it was as a first-round pick such as Cox, or a fifth-round pick such as Celek.
“Without him, maybe I wouldn’t be here,” Celek said. “I’m always thankful and grateful.”
Cox arrived with the No. 12 overall pick as a 21-year old from Yazoo City, Miss. Reid made it clear to Cox that they brought him in to be an instant contributor. The conviction Reid offer remains a lasting memory.
They all have their individual stories. Before Graham’s first game, he tweeted that he couldn’t wait to whisper into Aaron Rodgers’ ear when rushing the Green Bay passer. Reid called Graham up to his office and reprimanded the rookie for offering bulletin board material.
Foles’ most memorable story came when he played for Reid last year in Kansas City. Foles started in Alex Smith’s place against Jacksonville, and Foles tried two deep shots downfield. He had been on the bench most of the year and wanted to air it out. Reid told Foles to settle down in only the way Reid could. And then no matter how cold it was outside, Reid would show up to practice in shorts.
“So he’s way tougher than I’ll ever be,” Foles said.
Graham said that the way Reid treated players is what he remembers. There was a professionalism in the building and in the interactions that Graham said Pederson has also installed. It’s why even four years later, the players retain loyalty and respect for the departed coach.
“Big Red, he’s just that guy,” Foles said. “There’s something about him, Anyone who plays for him would tell you. You want to play for him. He has something special with all his players.”
For a few of the players, Reid’s resilience during a tumultuous year still resonates. Reid’s son died during the 2012 training camp. Reid didn’t miss a game, and his players admired the strength he maintained during a trying personal experience.
“I already respected and loved him, but I would do anything for that man,” Foles said.
Reid oversaw a rocky year that included the dismissal of his defensive coordinator and defensive line coach before his eventual firing. Starting quarterback Michael Vick was injured. The locker room was fragile. Players knew change was on the way. And Reid maintained that trademark steadiness.
“He never loses his composure,” Curry said. “He’s always calm, cool, collected. All the time.”
Kendricks realizes now how much pressure was on Reid by that point. As a rookie, Kendricks didn’t totally grasp the circumstances.
Knowing what I know now, if I had known it then, I would have known it was resiliency,” Kendricks said. “This is a performance-based league, and people get … fired. And I’ve seen it. And knowing what I know now, and for him to have left the way he did, it was pretty honorable.”
Beyond the players
Although those are the only eight players who played for Reid, others in the building also have memories. Owner Jeffrey Lurie hired Reid and watched him grow from an obscure Green Bay assistant to one of the most notable figures in Philadelphia. But Lurie also remembers meals with Reid when the check was longer than it would typically be for a night out.
The second time they went out for dinner, everyone at the table ordered. Then it was Reid’s turn. And the wait staff had much to write.
“Andy asks for three. Three!” Lurie said. “It wasn’t one, like I’ll have one steak or whatever it is. He asked for three. And it was like normal. It was sort of like, ‘OK!’”
For Pederson, it’s the late nights in Kansas City putting a game plan together. It would approach midnight, with few people left in the building. The Zac Brown Band played in the background. They laughed at old stories from Green Bay or Philadelphia.
“Those are really the moments that I’ve cherished the most with him,” Pederson said.
The way he’s viewed inside the building is remarkable for a coach who was fired, and it’s different from the way some of the fans remember the Reid era. It’s mutual, too; Reid even acknowledged that the fondness doesn’t fade after 14 years. But it will take a break Sunday when the two teams play.
“We embraced the moments we had with Andy,” Cox said. “He’s a great coach. But he’ll be on the other sideline this weekend. We’re not going to take it easy on him.”