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Does Andy Reid Really Not Understand How to Manage the Clock?

In his two decades as an NFL head coach, Reid has been criticized for apparent lapses in judgment when it comes to timeout usage and pace of play. But he may have a better understanding of it all than you’d think.

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Andy Reid has won more NFL games than Chuck Noll, has won more playoff games than Bill Parcells, and has a higher winning percentage in the regular season than Bill Walsh. The way things are going, in just a couple of seasons the only coaches who will have more wins (regular season and playoffs combined) than Reid will be Don Shula, Bill Belichick, George Halas, and Tom Landry.

“My first thought [when I hear that] is, ‘Man, he’s getting old,’” Steve Mariucci says. He and Reid shared an office when they worked for the Packers in the mid-1990s. Mariucci, now an NFL Network analyst, coached Brett Favre and the quarterbacks while Reid coached the tight ends. Reid’s desk had “piles of stuff, but he knew where everything was,” Mariucci says. Despite the messy desk, Mariucci believes Reid’s coaching record will be all but spotless when he retires.

“The record will show that he not only wins games—I believe before it’s all said and done, he’s going to win Super Bowls,” Mariucci says.

Reid hasn’t done that last part yet, which is why he isn’t associated with Walsh, Parcells, Noll, or even Belichick. Instead, the main thing associated with Reid is that he’s never won a Super Bowl, with the ways he has failed following closely behind. Clock mismanagement, questionable timeouts, and blown leads in the winter overshadow his accomplishments in the fall. But people who’ve worked with him say the reputation is unfair.

“Every game and every timeout situation, it has its own story,” Mariucci says.

Reid has been a head coach since 1999, so there are a lot of stories. During wild-card weekend two years ago, the Chiefs were up 21-3 on the Tennessee Titans at halftime, but Kansas City lost 22-21. On wild-card weekend six years ago, the Chiefs were up 38-10 against the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter, but lost 45-44 (the second-biggest blown lead in NFL playoff history). Four years ago, the Chiefs lost to the Patriots in the divisional round after they used 94 seconds to score from the New England 1-yard line. The Chiefs made it into the end zone, but did not give themselves enough time to get the ball back and lost by seven. That loss was reminiscent of when Reid coached the Eagles against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX 15 years ago. Philadelphia had the ball down 10 points with 5:40 to play, but took so long to drive down the field that by the time the Eagles scored, it was too late. Though they fell short, making the game was an accomplishment: The Eagles had lost three consecutive NFC championship games before getting to the Super Bowl.

All of those losses created doubt about Reid’s game management, timeout usage, and challenge flag decisions from fans, critics, and even former players. When Reid’s Chiefs lost to the Patriots in the same fashion as he did with the Eagles, it solidified the reputation. But former Eagles team president Joe Banner, who worked with Reid for 13 seasons, says that Reid’s philosophy about timeouts is misunderstood.

“People kind of think [Andy] always messes up his time,” Banner says. “No. He just has a different approach to it than many coaches.”

Banner says that while Reid’s approach differs from traditional thinking, he had a strong logic and conviction—something that became apparent as Banner watched games with his head coach when the Eagles weren’t playing. Reid is not afraid to use timeouts earlier than most coaches, who usually try to save them for after the two-minute warning.

“There are times at which he’ll take a timeout because he just thinks, ‘We need to settle things down, pause for a moment, and think everything through,’” Banner says.

When called for, Reid approaches timeouts the same way basketball coaches do: He uses them to draw up the right play. In the January 2017 divisional-round game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Reid called a timeout with two minutes left in the third quarter after tight end Travis Kelce committed an unnecessary-roughness penalty that pushed Kansas City to a third-and-20. Quarterback Alex Smith completed a 20-yard pass for a first down immediately after the timeout, and the Chiefs scored a field goal on the drive. Another example came against the Patriots in the January 2016 divisional round. Reid called a timeout just 10 minutes into the game when Kansas City faced a third-and-13. Out of the timeout, Smith ran 15 yards to pick up the first down. In one regular-season game that attracted a lot of criticism, Reid’s Chiefs were down 34-31 to the Chargers with 1:28 to play and facing first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. The clock was running, and Reid called a timeout. The Chiefs scored a touchdown on the next play, but the Chargers got the ball back with 1:17 left to play. Reid was criticized for calling the timeout, which left enough time on the clock for Philip Rivers to lead the game-winning drive. “I was just calming the storm there,” Reid said after the game. “We needed a touchdown at that point [and I was making] sure that we had the right things in and we were ready to go.”

Anecdotally, Reid is an excellent play-caller out of timeouts, but it’s true in larger samples. In 2018, the Chiefs led the league in expected points added per play on the first play out of timeouts. “Some coaches might say, ‘All right, we’re just going to snap the ball, hope what happens is good,’ or take a delay-of-game penalty,” Steve Mariucci says. “But [Andy’s] got to make a split-second decision, ‘Hey, do I use one of my precious timeouts now to settle people down and give us the best chance to continue this drive? Or do I wait?’ I don’t know if there’s any cookie-cutter formula for that. I think it’s just the feel as the game goes on.”

There also have been some high-profile instances when fans were confused why Reid wasn’t using his timeouts. In the January 2016 divisional round, the Chiefs got the ball down 14 points with 6:29 to play. They reached the Patriots’ 1-yard line with 2:52 to go, but didn’t score until there was 1:18 left on the clock. Kansas City used a minute and 34 seconds to go 1 yard. The Chiefs still had all three timeouts to use as they tried to get the ball back, but the Patriots got a first down and killed the clock to win the game. Reid’s lack of urgency and reluctance to stop the clock in the situation was reminiscent of his other devastating playoff loss to the Patriots, in Super Bowl XXXIX. Down 10 with 5:40 left in the game, the Eagles needed to score twice but didn’t enter their two-minute drill, opting to huddle before each play. Donovan McNabb completed his first four passes, but they gained just 15 combined yards and took two minutes off the clock. On the first play out of the two-minute warning, Reid drew up a 30-yard strike for a touchdown with 1:55 left. (Reid drawing up an out-of-timeout play again!) But the Eagles took so much time to get to the end zone that even when they stopped the Patriots and got the ball back, they had only 46 seconds to go 96 yards.

Banner says that while Reid will sometimes use a timeout earlier than expected, he’s also hesitant to stop the clock on offense. “One of the things he believed is when you have the ball, you can control the clock,” Banner says. “You can start or stop it without a timeout. When you don’t have the ball, the only way you can stop it is a timeout. So he would frequently use these timeouts early on defense.”

One example of this came in Week 1 of 2010. The Eagles were down 27-20 to the Packers with 5:25 left in the game, and the Packers had the ball on first down. Reid used three timeouts on back-to-back-to-back runs in a game-time span of 14 seconds. The Eagles got the ball back with 4:13 left with an opportunity to tie the game, but were stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Packers’ 42-yard line at the two-minute warning, and then the Packers kneeled three times to seal the victory.

Michael Vick, the Eagles quarterback in that game, says there was never any confusion about why Reid was using timeouts or when.

“I thought we used our timeout situations very well,” Vick says. “I felt like I was always on the same page in terms of using timeouts.”

Reid’s mistakes are magnified because of how long he’s been coaching and how competitive his teams are. In 21 seasons, Reid has made the playoffs 14 times, including five of his first six years in Philadelphia and six of his first seven years in Kansas City. It doesn’t help that his foil is Belichick, the greatest coach in pro football history and someone who’s mastered the in-game areas that have plagued Reid. Mike Leach, who was hired as Mississippi State head coach this week and has known Reid for decades, says people criticizing Reid are lasering in on a simplistic narrative.

“Everybody remembers some game or somebody has a heartbreaking loss and they have a film, some nuanced thing, and they want to wrap the whole thing into one tidy little thing,” Leach says. “That’s not fair at any level. Everywhere he’s at, he wins.”

The late-game losses have given many the perception that Reid is careless or aloof, but the people who work with him say he is one of the most detail-oriented head coaches in the NFL. Geoff Schwartz, who played for the Chiefs in 2013 and is the brother of current Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, says Reid is meticulous.

“I played with six offensive coordinators in eight years,” Schwartz said. “I’ve never had a coach who explained screens in even close to as much detail as Andy Reid did. He wants things done a certain way because he knows that’s the way it works.”

Reid’s attention to detail is what got him hired in Philadelphia. Banner and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie researched coaches who had been to at least two Super Bowls and looked for common traits. One of the most important was an attention to detail so intense that it drove everyone else up a wall. Reid fit the bill. “He could turn a Y stick, a short little route, into a dissertation,” Mariucci says. Banner and Lurie interviewed Reid for the head-coaching job, though at the time it was rare for someone who hadn’t been a coordinator to get such a chance. Reid showed up to the interview with a 5-inch binder that included daily practice schedules for minicamps and training camp planned down to the minute based on how many plays he wanted to run and install. It wasn’t for show. After they hired him, he used the schedules he had laid out six months earlier.

“There’s just no area of his life, and nothing about his coaching, that isn’t driven by his very strong belief that attention to detail drives success,” Banner says.

Attention to detail wasn’t the only factor Banner and Lurie identified for finding successful head coaches. The no. 1 trait they wanted was leadership, and they had a specific idea of what that meant.

“We thought it was very hard to be a leader unless you had a very clear vision and a vision you really believed in,” Banner says. “It wasn’t to be changed because the owner didn’t like it. It wasn’t going to be changed because the media was criticizing you or the fans were unhappy or maybe it wasn’t what some of the players believed in. You had really strong conviction and it was something you’d really thought through and came to as a result of being thoughtful as opposed to just who you’d worked for in the past.”

Reid has been praised heavily for his ability to hire coaches. At one point or another, Reid employed current Eagles coach Doug Pederson, Bears coach Matt Nagy, Washington coach Ron Rivera, Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, and Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who have combined for three Super Bowl appearances and two victories.

This weekend, Reid begins his next quest to win one of his own when his Chiefs host the Houston Texans in the divisional round. A win would send them to their second straight AFC championship game. A loss would send them home. Mariucci is quick to say that this Chiefs team will be around for years to come. Twenty-plus years after he and Reid coached Favre for the Packers, Reid has the next version of the Hall of Fame quarterback. In Mahomes’s first season as a starter in 2018, Reid coached him to the MVP award. While the quarterback’s 2019 was hampered by knee, ankle, and hand injuries, he was still transcendent at times.

“This is a whole new beginning with Patrick Mahomes,” Mariucci says. “The Chiefs are here to stay.”

Yes, but losing with Mahomes would be even more heartbreaking. A loss in the divisional round or AFC championship could spark the memories of Philadelphia, when Reid lost three consecutive NFC championship games. A blown lead could open the wounds from the Colts or Titans collapses. A failure to come from behind will stir up memories of his losses to the Patriots. Every timeout decision will be scrutinized in a loss. There is the lingering fear that Reid always knows where to find everything in his mess until the moment he needs it most. But 15 years of doubt about Reid’s clock management could evaporate with three more wins in the next four weeks.

“If Andy wins the ring this year,” Vick says, “that won’t even be a thought.”

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