As told to Albert Breer
Jeffrey Lurie and I were still new to the NFL in 1999, and conventional wisdom would hold that, as we set out to hire the 20th coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, our inexperience would put us at a pretty serious disadvantage in finding the right guy.
But Jeff and I didn’t see it that way at all—in fact, we viewed our detachment from the old NFL establishment as an advantage. And ultimately, that’s exactly what led to us to a Packers position coach about whom very few people had ever heard.
Andy Reid, over 20 years, has certainly made us look good.
But this didn’t start with Andy. Rather, it started with Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs and Chuck Noll and Vince Lombardi. In order to find our next coach—instead of just assuming some hotshot offensive coordinator was the right guy—we wanted to study what had actually worked in the past. And we found that a lot of people had been looking in the wrong places for a long time.
Our study, which focused on coaches who had been to multiple Super Bowls, showed that from a football perspective there were few common threads. Some coaches came up on defense, others on offense. Some believed in throwing the ball all over the yard, others were resolute in running it. Some had extensive play-calling experience on one side of the ball or the other. Others didn’t. There was nothing there.
When we moved from there to character and personality, suddenly everything crystalized. All of these coaches were very detail-oriented, to the point where it drove those around them crazy. They were exceptional at evaluating people, and could apply that not just with players, but with coaches and scouts and support staff alike.
Above all else, they all were grounded in their philosophy, which wasn’t just a facsimile of the belief system held by others with whom they had worked. The individual philosophies differed, but all of them had a passion for their way.
We had our blueprint, and expected our lineup would look different from what the Ravens, Browns, Chiefs, Chargers, Seahawks, Panthers, Bears, and Packers put together that January. And it most certainly did.
As it turned out, we wound up with two defensive coordinators on our short list—Pittsburgh’s Jim Haslett and Oakland’s Willie Shaw—and the quarterbacks coach from Green Bay who’d spent most of his career coaching offensive linemen.
I don’t recall who first raised Andy’s name to us. What I do remember is panning coaches and players and agents, and laying out our criteria for the job, and asking, “Give me the name of someone, regardless of job or title, whom you’ve met and immediately thought, ‘This guy is a great leader.’” And Andy’s name kept coming up.
Then we flipped it, and started asking people whether they knew him and to describe him—and the answers blew away what we’d set for the criteria. We didn’t know, for sure, that our criteria was foolproof. But Jeffrey and I were contrarian thinkers, and in an environment where six or seven new coaches were hired every year, and only one or two would make it, we believed it made sense to go outside the box and use a group of outliers like Walsh and Noll and Gibbs to create our way.
The interview with Andy only confirmed what we’d heard. He brought a big book in with him, like most coaches do, and after we asked him about philosophy and his beliefs, he opened the book for us. Inside were detailed reports and grades on assistant coaches, and rankings for each position. He had potential coordinators ranked 1-10, just as he had prospective quality control coaches ranked 1-10.
Today lots of coaches have these rankings, because they’ve heard the story of Andy interviewing in Philly, but I can’t remember seeing anything like it before then. When Andy left the room, Jeffrey and I said to one another, “Either our process is wrong, or this guy is going to be a really big success.”
After hiring him, it wasn’t long before we had a pretty good feeling that we hadn’t fouled this one up. There wasn’t a moment of clarity so much as a series of them. Where some coaches spend time setting up explanations for why certain things within the program may not work, Andy never seemed to give a second thought to failing. It didn’t occur to him that was possible.
Thankfully, we never had to worry about that. His belief in his philosophy carried us through a tough first year, and by Year 3 we were going to our first of four straight NFC title games. When we got there, it wasn’t about Andy being a brilliant tactician, though he was, or having a certain pedigree. It was about being great at the job he had, and the job we projected him into—the job of head coach.
And all these years later, it’s not surprising to us in the least that he’s still pretty good at that job we hired him for.
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