No words can convey what Andy Reid is feeling right now, after his oldest son Garrett was found dead Sunday in a dormitory room at the Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp. But let’s talk about it for a bit, anyway, because, well, it’s a story for our times.
At some point, as you’re probably aware, Garrett’s life went off the rails, and he was trying, as an unofficial assistant with the Eagles, to get it back on track. His younger brother Britt ran into trouble around the same time, five years ago. Both ended up going to prison — Garrett, then 24, for drugs (he admitted being a dealer), Britt, then 22, primarily on weapons charges (though drugs also figured into it). The judge who sentenced them said the Reid household “sounds more or less like a drug emporium with the drugs all over the house. There isn’t any structure there that this court can depend on. This is a family in crisis.”
It was bizarre to hear a football coach, whose professional life revolves around structure, accused of running a loose ship at home. And frankly, we’ll never know what went on inside the walls of the Reid manse. But it’s certainly fair to say, without being judgmental, that being a Super Bowl coach and a super-duper father is, in this day and age, a trick worthy of David Blaine. The first job is just too demanding — and worse, seems to ask more of you every season.
Joe Gibbs once called winning “the third most important thing in my life. God is first,” he said. “Family and loved ones are second, and then my occupation is third.” While that might be the pecking order, though, it isn’t how the hours tend to be apportioned. During the season — and even offseason — wife and kids can get short shrift as dad attends to his various duties. Nowadays, after all, a head coach is rarely just a head coach. He’s usually also a club president (Gibbs) or an executive VP of football operations (Reid), his fingers in every pie.
It can be a closed-off existence, to say the least. At the beginning of each game week, Gibbs and his staff would disappear into a conference room they called “The Submarine” — and wouldn’t come up for air until they had a plan for beating the opponent. The close quarters, the mapping out of strategy, the feeling of being out of touch with the Real World, made it all feel very Red October-ish. About the only thing missing was the periscope.
Gibbs’ wife Pat used to send him audio tapes from home, recordings of his sons J.D. and Coy talking about their various activities, so he could keep abreast of what was going on in the family. Such are the lengths coaches have to go to retain some normalcy in their lives, a sense of connectedness beyond the boundaries of the football field.
And it can be a tenuous connection, indeed. Barely a year before the Reid boys were arrested, James Dungy, the 18-year-old son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, committed suicide in an apartment in Tampa. It makes you realize — nepotistic as it might appear — why coaches often hire their kids as assistants. It’s probably more than just giving them a leg up in the profession. It’s probably also an attempt to make up for lost years, years spent bouncing around the country, from one assistant’s position to another, so dad can climb the coaching ladder.
When Gibbs returned for a second stint as the Redskins’ coach, he brought Coy along as an offensive quality control assistant. A few years earlier, one of his predecessors, Marty Schottenheimer, named his son Brian the quarterbacks coach. And Mike Shanahan’s son Kyle, of course, is the current offensive coordinator. That’s right, three of the past five Redskins coaches have had their offspring on their staffs. Interesting, no?
Alas, for Andy Reid, dealing with Garrett’s drug addiction was far more challenging than dealing with the zone blitz or some other diabolical wrinkle. There’s an order to X’s and O’s, you see, that simply doesn’t exist in modern life, much as we might want it to.
Still, there are similarities between the two, Andy told Philadelphia Magazine after his sons were locked away. “In a game,” he said, “once the whistle blows the human element is there, and it’s [a matter of] how you’ve trained them. Some days they are going to throw an interception or miss a tackle. You didn’t train them that way. But you live with it, and you keep on teaching them. That’s why we’re here, we’re here to be teachers. And so you do the same thing at home, you teach them and then let them go. You blow the whistle and let them play. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
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