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Even keel disguises Reid's passion for game

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2003


PHILADELPHIA -- The temperature outside was 27 degrees, cold enough to squeeze snow flurries from passing clouds.

But inside an auditorium at the NovaCare Complex, the Eagles' plush practice facility, a heavy-set man strode across a stage wearing a long-sleeved pullover and shorts.

Always black shorts. Always.

Andy Reid's weekday news conferences begin with an injury report followed by a brief summary of the team before reporters receive a cue from the Eagles coach.

"Yours," the NFL's Coach of the Year says quickly.

Despite even the best attempts, Reid will listen and pause before answering. The responses in these semi-public forums are as bland as saltines but always honest and meticulously thought out.

"The one thing I've always tried to do is treat guys fairly," Reid said when asked about gaining his players' respect, "and try to shoot straight with them."

For all the hours the 44-year-old dedicates to this team, this pursuit to become an NFL head coach that began as a graduate assistant at BYU in 1982, his players have given back tenfold.

It is part of the reason why the Eagles, 3-13 the season before Reid took over in 1999, are one win from taking themselves and "Big Red," as they call him, to the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia has won 11 each of the past three seasons. Today marks the Eagles' second consecutive appearance in the NFC Championship Game, an accomplishment even more remarkable considering Philadelphia was without its No. 1 quarterback for the last six games of the regular season.

It lost 29-24 to the Rams in the championship game last season.

"He keeps us down to earth and doesn't let us get too big-headed or anything," center Hank Fraley said. "He keeps us mellow. He lets us see what it's like to just see it one game at a time, one thing at a time.

"All the celebration can wait until the end of the season. He just won't let us get too ahead of ourselves."

Friends and insiders know the real Reid resembles little of the bland workaholic the public sees. He is smart, witty, family-oriented but ridiculously dedicated to his job.

Bucs coach Jon Gruden may wake at 3:17 every morning, but does he sleep at the office three nights a week during the season?

Reid does. If not, he's at work by 4:30 a.m.

"Andy's a different kind of guy," defensive tackle Darwin Walker said. "But our attitude and intensity and the way we play are a reflection of him."

Eagles fans bellyached over owner Jeffrey Lurie's decision to hire Reid, who had spent 16 years as an assistant but never had been a head coach on any level, rather than an accomplished coach such as Mike Holmgren.

But it was those same fans who booed when Philadelphia used the second pick in the 1999 draft to pick a quarterback from Syracuse over a bruising running back from Texas named Ricky Williams.

Look at them now.

The city is bathed in a hundred different shades of green.

Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb, who continues to learn the intricacies of the West Coast offense, have helped resuscitate an ailing football town. Now a new generation of E-A-G-L-E-S fans are seeing the town alive again, on the verge of something that hasn't happened here since 1981.

"You have to have the right people around you," Reid said. "That's what's important."

During his days as an assistant under Holmgren in Green Bay, Reid began compiling a cookbook with all the necessary ingredients he would need to one day build a successful football franchise.

In the three-ring binder that grew to be 6 inches thick, he compiled notes from Holmgren's speeches to players, practice and travel schedules, scouting reports ... everything an ambitious coach needed was thought of and noted.

"Andy is totally organized and totally confident," tight end Chad Lewis said. "He runs a tight ship and does a great job."

Today is justification for all of Reid's effort.

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