KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Andy Reid is tired of all the clichéd questions about fresh starts. He insists that he wasn’t burned out or in need of a break after 14 seasons leading the Philadelphia Eagles.
Then again, maybe it wasn’t Reid who needed to start all over.
Maybe it was the Kansas City Chiefs.
They had just endured one of the most miserable years in NFL history, one that was not only a complete failure on the field but a depressing disaster away from it. From the murder-suicide involving linebacker Jovan Belcher to the two measly wins, to the dismissal of general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel, there was very little positive that came of last year.
In fact, just about the only positive may have been this: The Chiefs were able to hire Reid, who had just been fired by the Eagles, to orchestrate a much-needed culture change.
All of a sudden, jerseys were tucked into shorts. Everybody in the office was asked to wear matching outfits. There was no wasted time, not in practice nor in meetings. There was a sense of professionalism for the first time in years.
“The thing that stands out to me is he keeps it about football,” said quarterback Alex Smith, whom the Chiefs acquired not long after Reid and general manager John Dorsey came on board.
“He created a healthy environment,” Smith explained. “There are a lot of situations you have to go through to build relationships, but he’s created a healthy environment to come in and focus on football every single day. He’s done a great job of doing that.”
Indeed, what was once a volatile working environment has become serene. What was once a toxic place to practice and play has become energized and enthusiastic. What was once a 2-14 team is 9-0 heading into its week off.
“The team has been through so much the last couple years,” linebacker Justin Houston said, “so we can withstand a lot of things.”
The reclamation of the Chiefs may have begun with a culture change, but it took some savvy moves by Dorsey and some brilliant coaching by Reid to make it work.
Along with acquiring Smith, the Chiefs selected right tackle Eric Fisher with the first pick in the draft. They bolstered their defensive backfield by signing Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, and plugged other holes with guys such as defensive end Mike DeVito — not flashy, just effective.
But the real genius behind Dorsey’s work has been seen in guys such as cornerback Marcus Cooper, who was two picks away from Mr. Irrelevant. He was waived by the 49ers and snatched up by the Chiefs, and he’s developed into one of the best feel-good stories in all of football this season.
Tight end Sean McGrath was similarly picked off the scrap heap.
“That’s all John,” Reid said. “He’s done a good job of finding talent wherever he can.”
Once the talent was on hand, Reid began molding it into shape.
The Chiefs offense evolved into one that relies heavily on the short passing game, and is predicated on Smith playing mistake-free. The defense is no longer the read-and-react favored by Crennel but a blitzing, exotic and downright nasty group led by coordinator Bob Sutton.
What’s been spit out is a team that has joined the 1977 Falcons as the only ones in NFL history to allow 17 points or fewer in each of their first nine games. They’re a team that’s matched the 2003 Chiefs for the best start in franchise history. They’re a team that for a while was on pace to shatter the NFL record for sacks in a season.
“Confidence is constantly building,” safety Kendrick Lewis said.
There’s perhaps no better example of how confident the Chiefs have become than the fourth quarter, when they’re outscoring opponents 70-17. In fact, they’ve given teams 20 possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter and yielded just three points.
That’s how you close out wins in the NFL.
There are detractors that say the Chiefs have played a soft schedule, and that an offense that only managed three field goals in a win over Buffalo will be their downfall. They argue that the Chiefs are the worst 9-0 team in NFL history, and that the crazy numbers they’re putting up — the 23 takeaways, the plus-15 turnover differential — are all a mirage.
But the Chiefs know that their finishing stretch includes two high-profile showdowns against the Broncos, along with games against the Chargers, Colts and Redskins. There will be plenty of chances to prove that they’re for real.
“We’ve been through a lot, on and off the field last year, and this year is a big testament to our character and what we stand for,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “And all that stuff we’ve been through in the past is helping us now, keeping us humble.”