Every so often, the artist comes out in Andy Reid.
It has nothing to do with coaching, instead those times when he puts pen to paper and allows his mind to wander.
“One time when we were talking on the phone, and he was telling me how much he remembered about when we were growing up,” said his brother, Reg, nine years older than Andy. “While we were talking, he sketched a picture of me, then emailed it. It’s just a sketch of my head, but it’s pretty realistic.”
Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs have a deep appreciation for Reid’s creativity. He draws up the offense for one the NFL’s hottest teams; finds new ways to harness the spectacular talent of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Even now, in his 20th season as an NFL head coach, Reid remains a pigskin Picasso.
That figures. His dad, Walter, did jaw-dropping work as a scenic artist in Hollywood, creating backgrounds and props for film, television and stage production.
“My dad worked on all the Broadway plays that would come to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion,” said Reid, 60, sitting behind his desk at Chiefs headquarters. “They had these huge backdrops they’d lower from the second floor, whether it was ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ or ‘The Wiz’ back in the day. My dad went down and worked on ‘Hair.’ It was unbelievable. You’d stand up there and look over the edge, and if you took a wrong step, you’d go down like a mile.”
The Chiefs too have reached toe-tingling heights. They’re 9-1 heading into Monday night’s game against the 9-1 Rams at the Coliseum, moved there by the NFL on Tuesday when field conditions in Mexico City became unsatisfactory. On paper, at least, it would have been the most compelling international game the league has staged. Now it will be the Rams’ first Monday night home game at the Coliseum since Nov. 19, 1979, when 54,097 watched a 20-14 victory over Atlanta.
There’s still a lot of Los Angeles in Reid, who grew up on Holly Knoll Drive, just around the corner from John Marshall High, his alma mater, and Walt Disney’s first California home. Reid still eats Tommy’s burgers, and not just when he’s at his offseason home in Capistrano Beach. He has frozen ones delivered by mail.
“I love those things,” he said. “It’s good for your joints — the grease. Keeps you lubed up, man.”
Comically gruff and unrevealing with the media, Reid is beloved by his players, who refer to him as “Big Red,” his hair color at an earlier age.
“He’s actually more funny than you would think,” running back Spencer Ware said. “Most people think of him as just serious. I can kind of relate to him because I always kind of have a serious look on my face and people think that I might be mean mugging. Maybe I’m joking around. So I can kind of relate to Big Red in that area.”
Reid might show his lighter side to his players, but he also gets to the point. They appreciate that.
“The biggest thing is he treats us well, treats us with respect,” tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “I know he’s got a hard training camp and practices are long and all that. But we don’t have 20-minute meetings every day with rah-rah speeches. It’s just, ‘These are the goals, these are the expectations. Now, it’s on you to go do them.’ So he doesn’t have to be up there every day trying to get us to work hard.”
Reid, a onetime offensive tackle at Glendale College and Brigham Young University, developed his work ethic at an early age. His mother, Elizabeth, was a radiologist, and his father got him occasional work in the entertainment industry. Once, young Andy got a job serving food in the green room of a popular TV talk show, and his rule-following ways clashed with one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
“I’m not sure whether it was the Merv Griffin or the Johnny Carson show,” he said. “But they put me in charge of dishing out the sweet-and-sour meatballs — they were unbelievable — and I was told I could only give three of them out to people.
“You name it, all of Hollywood would come through those shows. I knew all the athletes, so if it was Wilt Chamberlain or one of those guys, they’d get as many meatballs as they wanted.”
But when John Wayne asked for more than three, the kid had to break the bad news.
“I found out later he was a great athlete,” Reid lamented. “Maybe I should have given him a few more meatballs.”
Reid was enormous for his age. There’s a hilarious video clip of him in a Punt, Pass and Kick competition in the early 1970s. He’s a 12-year-old man-child in a Rams uniform, with a line of kids behind him no taller than his beltline.
“The kid behind me was 8,” Reid is quick to note. “I was like 12 or 13.”
Whatever. The YouTube video leaves his players doubled over.
“Damn, that boy was huge,” Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill said. “He’s the size of Justin Houston.”
Well, maybe Reid wasn’t the size of that 6-foot-3, 258-pound Kansas City outside linebacker, but he was big enough that when he was a waterboy at Marshall, some of the varsity players asked him why he didn’t join the team.
“Mike Haynes was between my brother and me,” recalled Reid, referring to the future Hall of Fame defensive back. “He and his buddies were riding me, ‘How come you’re so big and don’t play?’ I said, ‘Listen, I’m in sixth grade.’
“They go, ‘No way!’ It’s like, I’ve been doing this waterboy thing longer than you guys have been around. I’m like the professional waterboy.”
Haynes recalls that, and more.
“I remember that when our kicker would kick the ball through the uprights, our field was so small that the ball would leave the school property and go across the street,” he said. “Andy would go get the ball and bring it back. He’d wear his youth football outfit.”
Nowadays, Reid wears shorts to practice, even when the temperature drops below freezing. He’s spent most of his adult life in cold-weather cities and is hardy like that, an artist whose medium is now Xs and O’s, a Southern Californian in spirit only.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer