It was, without a doubt, the most difficult thing Jeffrey Lurie has had to do in the nearly three decades he has owned the Philadelphia Eagles.
Firing a friend never is easy, especially when that friend did as much for you as Andy Reid did for Lurie. The Eagles made the playoffs nine times in Reid’s 14 years as the team’s head coach. They won six division titles, went to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl, and had just three losing seasons.
But everything and everybody has a shelf life. By the end of the 2012 season, Lurie felt he had no choice but to make a change, both for the good of his football team and for the good of Andrew Walter Reid.
The Eagles had missed the playoffs for the second straight season, losing 11 of their last 12 and finishing 4-12. Reid’s son Garrett had died of a drug overdose at the Eagles’ training camp that August and Reid spent the season coaching with a heavy heart.
The morning after the Eagles’ season-ending 42-7 loss to the Giants, Lurie informed Reid that he was letting him go. It hardly came as a surprise to “Big Red.”
This wasn’t your typical firing. Lurie called Reid into his office, put his arm around him, and led him to the cafeteria at the team’s training facility, where every member of the organization, from the janitor to the team president, had assembled for a lovefest for Reid. There was a huge cake. There was a football signed by everybody in the room. There was a standing ovation. And there were tears. Lots of tears.
“Tears and hugs,’’ Lurie said to me three years ago, remembering that day seven years earlier. “I’ll always remember bringing the employees together and them giving him a standing ovation on his last day. That meant a lot to him and to us.
“From the day he got there 15 years or whatever it was earlier, he was beloved in that building, and appreciated. His work ethic, his attention to detail, his caring about individuals on a human basis; things the public never has easy access to or gets to see.’’
After the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017, one of the first people he called was Reid.
“I wanted him to know how big a part of us winning was him,’’ Lurie told me. “I really wanted to convey that to him.’’
Reid was instrumental in Lurie’s decision to hire Doug Pederson as his head coach in 2016 after he fired Chip Kelly. Pederson was Reid’s offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“His recommendation of Doug meant a lot to me,’’ Lurie said. “It impacted us. This wasn’t a casual phone call. We had a few calls in the process. I talked to him about virtually every candidate we were interviewing and spent a lot of time on Doug.
“Andy was genuine and very helpful. It gave me the confidence that what Doug was doing with Andy was very important and worthy of giving him the chance to be the head coach.’’
The Eagles won their first-ever Super Bowl in Pederson’s second year as head coach.
When Reid finally harpooned his white whale three years ago and won his first Super Bowl with the Chiefs in his 21st year as an NFL head coach, Lurie was there for it.
Two Sundays from now, Reid and Lurie will see each other again when Reid’s AFC-champion Chiefs and Lurie’s NFC-champion Eagles face each other in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
This isn’t a grudge match. It’s a love story.
Reid, 64, is looking forward to playing his former team. “I spent 14 years there,’’ he said Sunday night after the Chiefs punched their ticket to Arizona with a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. “I had a lot of fun there. I can’t wait until Kansas City and Philly clash. It’s going to be awesome, man. What a great Super Bowl it will be.’’
Reid is the fifth winningest coach in NFL history with 247 career victories, three behind Tom Landry. He guaranteed himself a place in Canton when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl three years ago. But a second Super Bowl victory certainly would enhance his legacy.
After he was fired by the Eagles, many of Reid’s friends and colleagues advised him to take a year off from coaching. Recharge his batteries. Finish grieving for his son.
But three days after he left his farewell party in Philly, he was introduced as the new coach of the Chiefs.
Lurie didn’t give Reid any advice after he fired him. “I’ve always felt with Andy that he knows what’s best for him,’’ the Eagles owner said. “I was a little surprised he wanted to get right back into it and not take a year off. But he knew himself better than any of us did.’’
Reid inherited a 2-14 team in Kansas City that had been to the postseason once in the previous six years. His first team won 11 games and made the playoffs. In his 10 years there, the Chiefs have made nine playoff appearances, won seven consecutive division titles and made five straight AFC Championship Game appearances, and are going to be making their third Super Bowl appearance in the past four years.
Former Eagles president Joe Banner thinks Reid’s decision to take the Chiefs’ job so quickly after getting fired by the Eagles probably helped him deal with his son’s death better than spending some time away from football would have.
“He was devastated by the loss of Garrett,’’ said Banner, an analyst for The 33rd Team. “But he kind of held on to this kind of inner strength that came from his (Mormon) faith. I think the combination of a fresh start (in Kansas City) with something to prove and his incredible faith allowed him to rebound and move forward in a way that I don’t think many people could have.’’
Reid told me three years ago that taking a year off from coaching wasn’t something he seriously considered after the Eagles let him go.
“I loved what I was doing,’’ he said. “I thought (coaching) was good medicine. It helps you through. There’s nothing like the camaraderie. As long as my family was OK with it, I was good with it. So I kept on rolling.’’
Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.