KANSAS CITY, Mo. — NFL players, by and large, aren’t the brightest candles in the box when it comes to a lot of things — money, personal safety, friends, agents, crisis management, the opposite sex — but when it comes to coaches, they can smell a phony from a mile away.
The glorious myth is one heartbeat, one pulse, 53 hands pulling on the same rope. The truth, as it is with most things, offers more shades of gray. College football players are indentured (if often — gasp! — slyly compensated) servants of the mighty dictator with the whistle, the long-term contract and the control over one-year-at-a-time scholarships. Pro football players are 53 small businesses gathered under one roof, grown men who need convincing that this is expletive deleted going to work.
And, as much as anything, this is the most pressing challenge of the NFL coach, especially if they’ve led and enjoyed the dictator life. “Because I say so” suffices when you’re herding 18-year-olds. A 29-year-old linebacker whose knee has been reduced to scars, cartilage and prayers, not so much.
We bring this up because the Kansas City Chiefs have opened the season with three straight impressive wins, crashing the NFL penthouse and treating opposition quarterbacks the way a pack of wolves treats a deer carcass. Just one year removed from 2-14, rock bottom and the top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, there’s a pride here, a purpose. A swagger.
“You know, to get a guy like Andy Reid, and his (history), to come in, that was huge for us,” Chiefs tackle Donald Stephenson told FOXSportsKansasCity.com.
“He just came in, and as soon as he walked in, it’s like we had a certain confidence about us. We knew that things were going to turn around and we prepared for it.”
They trust. They believe.
Look, these guys aren’t dumb — at least, not when it comes to the man at the front of the room. Reid won seven division titles in Philadelphia. He took the Eagles to a Super Bowl. In one of the toughest sports towns in America, he set the bar for more than a decade.
And for the most part, his players in Philly loved him. These are cynical adults. Cynical adults with smartphones and Google apps. They talk. They socialize. They gossip.
They can also look up your resume with a few clicks. Reid came to Kansas City with 132 NFL wins and 93 NFL losses under his belt. Romeo Crennel was 24-40 in five years with the Browns before his elevation to head coach here.
Which is not to pick on Crennel, who was thrust onto the throne and asked to make chicken salad out of a setup that reeked of chicken scratch. But when Brian Daboll is drawing up possible ways for Matt Cassel to attack a defense, it’s only natural for some eyes in the room to roll, same as they did in your office pool.
Conversely, when Reid pulls up a slide and says, “Gentlemen, this his how we’re going to beat the Cowboys,” they know that he’s done it 18 times already.
They know that he knows.
They trust. They believe.
“I was very impressed with them when I was there, when I was there and watched the two practices (in the spring),” Dick Vermeil, the former Chiefs and Eagles coach told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “And they’re very talented. They added some nice talent, they added a quarterback — they’ve done everything to make it a better football team.
“They’re extremely well-coached. They’ve got stability from the general manager (John Dorsey) on down now. I think they’re on their way to a very good season.”
And let’s be clear, too: A veteran pro coach with a proven track record guarantees you absolutely nothing. Hank Stram was a world champion in Kansas City and hit wall after wall in New Orleans. George Seifert rolled with the 49ers and flatlined in Charlotte. Mike Ditka is a Bears legend and a Saints afterthought.
But it’s funny what can happen after a few tweaks in scheme and several more in personnel, isn’t it? This was a roster that underachieved comically (and tragically) last fall despite featuring six Pro Bowlers. To paraphrase former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli’s father-in-law, Bill Parcells, this franchise didn’t just need a new dinner menu. It needed new groceries.
It needed a new cook.
“Coach Reid is going back to a place where he’d been for quite some time,” defensive end Tyson Jackson had said a few days before Reid’s new team in Kansas City visited his old one in Philadelphia. “But he’s with the Chiefs now. And he’s dedicated to us.”
They trust. They believe. And the rest of the world is starting to believe, too.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.