ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — One of the first things that captured Andre Reed’s attention came during a staff meeting, when the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs’ coaches were evaluating individual players.
It wasn’t exactly like they were being treated as commodities, but it had a similar feeling. Their times in a 40-yard dash. Heights, weights and bench press numbers. All boiled down into what each guy could do to help the Chiefs win more than two games this season.
Reed never saw that side of the business when he was playing for the Buffalo Bills.
“The things they talk about — how practice went, how this guy needs to play, do this more — all that kind of stuff, that’s eye-opening,” Reed told The Associated Press. “You don’t hear that on the field, but once you get the whole staff together, it’s a little more intense.”
Reed has been working with the Chiefs throughout training camp as a coaching intern, imparting his knowledge on an impressionable young group of wide receivers. He basically had his pick of where he wanted to work, Reed said, but new Chiefs coach Andy Reid made the decision easy.
“Well, first of all he should be in the Hall of Fame. I’m sure he’ll be in there pretty quick,” Reid said. “But he’s interested in coaching, so this is a nice introduction for players.”
At times, Reed looks like he could still play the game.
During one 11-on-11 session, wide receiver Dexter McCluster caught a long pass over the middle of the field and then sprinted to the end zone, just like he’d been taught. When McCluster crossed the goal line, Reed was waiting there to jump up and bump chests with him.
“We have a different relationship,” McCluster explained, “because that guy has been there and had success. I think with that, you’re better off.”
Reed sure had his share of success during a 16-year NFL career.
The former fourth-round pick quickly established himself with the Bills and became a favorite target of Jim Kelly. Together, they helped lead Buffalo to four straight Super Bowls — losing each time — and formed one of the best pass-catch combinations of their generation.
Reed finished his career with one season in Washington, but nearly all of his 234 games, 951 receptions and 13,000-plus yards came while he was with the Bills.
So it’s not as if he doesn’t have some knowledge to lend the Chiefs.
“Well, when I came in as a rookie in ’85, it was a guy named Jerry Butler who really took me under his wing,” Reed said of the former Bills wide receiver, who went on to become a successful coach and front-office executive after his own playing days.
“He saw something in me, in my eyes,” Reed said. “I look at these kids in the eye and can see what their mentality is. He took me under his wing and I’ll tell you, I just followed the guy like a little kid holding a helmet, I followed that guy. Everything he did, I wanted to be like that. That’s what these kids have to do, find somebody and really do your craft.”
Perhaps at long last, Reed can be that guy.
One of his biggest challenges has been to connect with Jon Baldwin, the former first-round pick who has yet to prove much in the NFL. He has just 41 catches for 579 yards in his first two seasons.
“He’s a young kid. Young kids really let things stick with them,” Reed said. “It’s how you come back the next play or when you have the next opportunity, that’s what it’s really about.”
It’s not uncommon for former players to return to the game as volunteers, either through the Bill Walsh minority coaching fellowship or simply as a team’s intern.
Former linebacker Al Simmons helped out the Titans over the summer, and longtime Steelers safety Rod Woodson has been helping out in Pittsburgh. Defensive end Kenechi Udeze, who was forced to retire early because of leukemia, is getting into coaching with the Vikings.
“Coaching is a passion of mine, and it’s something that I definitely want to do for a very long time,” Udeze said, echoing sentiments expressed by Reed. “I just want to stay in it.”
Reed doesn’t know how long he’ll help out the Chiefs, or whether his stint may someday turn into a full-time job. But for now, he’s back on the simmering practice fields of training camp, getting a fresh perspective on a game he’s been around his entire life.
“I’m just going to go off my experience when I played. Whether or not that’s good or the best thing, that’s up to the player to get out of me,” he said. “That’s why I think I can succeed there, or anywhere, is just to give them the experiences I had in a different situation.”