Monday, November 16, 2009
The Genius of Andy Reid: a rare look behind the curtain
Now in his 11th season as head coach and director of football operations of the Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid stands as the winningest coach in franchise history, having steered his team to 10 playoff victories, 5 NFC Championship games, and 1 NFC Championship. Despite all his success, the calls for Andy Reid's head have reached a fever pitch in recent years. The Philadelphia Eagles faithful have grown weary of Andy's game-day gaffes and bouts of apparent mental retardation. The desperate cries for a championship echo through the air, from Pennsport to Port Richmond, from Wilmington to Allentown. For many it is a matter of life and death, as if if an Eagles Super Bowl victory would somehow cure every 45 year old Delaware Valley man of his cystic acne, sweat pants, and unemployment all at once.
In the middle of this turbulent 2009 season, the oft-guarded coach, of the 5-4 Philadelphia Eagles, has invited me to his sprawling Villanova Estate for a rare one-on-one. As I approach the Reid Family Home, I see a rotund silhouette at a distance shooting hoops at the top of the driveway, like a fat lonely kid, having a quiet recess by himself, bricking one freethrow after another, bouncing the ball with two hands twice and then accidentally off the side of his giant Frankenstein sneaker. This is Andy Reid.
Unlike most fat recess kids, Andy has a whole wheelbarrow full of regulation NBA balls at his side, and so he saves himself the humiliation of splitting his Husky pants while bending over to pick up another one. He lines up for another freethrow, this one, an airball, careens off the base of the wheel-away Huffy hoop, and rolls directly toward me.
"I wish I coached basketball." He hollers to me from 20 yards away as the rolling ball stops at my feet. "Those guys have it easy. They only have to worry about 5 or 6 guys, all black and talented. There's no strategy, no real coaching. Football you gotta manage fast black guys, fat white guys, fat black guys, Samoans, Australian punters, Gay kickers, and everything in between. And those NBA coaches, they get all the timeouts they want. 20 seconds, 2 minutes, 8 minutes. Whatever."
If Andy Reid's name was Achilles, his heel would look like a high school football scoreboard with 8 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter and all the timeout lights smashed to oblivion. Historically Andy Reid's teams have treated timeouts like snot rags. Looking for every feasible way to get rid of them, burning them, wiping their asses with them, stuffing them in between the seat cushions in the backseat of the Suburban. It's as if Andy doesn't even know what they're for. So I asked him if he knew.
Andy muttered gruffly "You came all the way out here to talk to me about timeouts?", as he fires off another airball, this one sails 6 feet wide of the backboard. "I thought you wanted to play one on one?"
"I wanted to talk to you one on one," I said. "I wanted to ask you about timeouts. It's been quite a lightning rod issue for you."
"You sure you didn't wanna ask me something else. Both my sons are junkies y'know. Ask me about them. Wanna see their rooms? They got all types of crazy shit in there." I didn't take the bait. "Okay fine, let's talk timeouts", he relented. "What do you want to know?"
"I just want to know what you think is more valuable, 5 yards or a timeout" I asked, referring to the 5 yards a team is penalized for delay of game, and the reason Andy Reid uses most of his timeouts.
Andy smirked, "That's easy. The 5 yards. You can't get that back, but timeouts, they keep on coming. Heck if you run out of them, they just give you more the next game ... and there's other ways of getting more timeouts, but I'm not gonna get into all that."
I pressed on, "Andy could you tell me what timeouts are for?"
He looked at me sideways, as if looking for a hidden angle, "Okay fine, what is this for a school paper or something? Okay kid, I'll tell you everything I know about timeouts. Just let me finish this milkshake first."
I stood there, enduring 15 seconds of excruciating bubbling straw noise and then he began, "Timeouts, what they do is they stop the clock. But only until the next snap of the ball, and you gotta snap the ball every 40 seconds about, so really, three timeouts, that's just 2 minutes. Hell I've taken pisses that lasted 10 times that long." He continued "You see timeouts, they don't give you that many to begin with, but sometimes I feel like I have too many. You get 3 in the first half and 3 in the second. I try to make sure I use all mine up. I'd use all 6 in the first half if i could, that way i don't have to worry about making sure i use them in the next half."
"Andy, some would say that you might want to save those timeouts for the end of the game. You know, in case you're behind and you need to conserve time," I suggested.
"I knew you would say that," he quipped. "Everyone is always saying the same thing. Save the timeouts until the end. Well that's what the other team expects me to do. But I like to use mine when they're not paying attention, early on in the game, and that way they don't know I'm trying to conserve time and they end up doing it for me. That's my plan, trick the opposing team into accidentally conserving time by calling timeouts in odd situations. When you call a timeout at the end of the game, the team will make sure the next play chews up as much time as possible. But at the beginning of the game or start of the half, they just think you screwed up and they run a regular play."
"So it's strategic then." I clarified. "Because oftentimes, when you call timeouts it seems like you're just not sure what play you wanna run and you need more time."
"That's what it's supposed to look like. But believe me, we have it all mapped out. We have at least 17 plays in the playbook that are designed to make Donovan take a timeout. [Offensive Coordinator] Marty [Mornigwheg] is a genius at drawing up these timeout plays. Some of them are just straight up timeout plays, where i just tell Donovan to take timeout. Other ones we have special Timeout packages that we bring into the game. We'll call a regular play and even Donovan thinks it's a regular play, but it's not, it's the Timeout package. We'll send our dumbest players in and they waste so much time, Donovan has to call a timeout, even though he didn't want to. The other team never sees it coming and we catch them offguard by calling our second timeout with a quarter and half still left to go. Greg Lewis used to be the best at this, but we had to let him go. I miss him, but we have even dumber players now to pick up the slack. And signing Vick was a big pickup too. People thought it was for the Wildcat, but really it was more to do with his ability to create timeout necessary scenarios, TNS's."
I wasn't sure if he was kidding so I prodded further, "Andy, what do you do at the end of the game when you are trailing and you are out of timeouts?"
"You see, I got that one figured out as well," he was growing excited. "You know how we always pass. Like every play we pass. 1st and 10. 3rd and 4. 3rd and 1. 4th and inches. Pass.Pass.Pass.Pass. That's what we do. Now why do we do it? And this here's off the record."
I couldn't believe my ears. Andy Reid, the Mormon of Solitude, was about to let me in on one of the most baffling questions of his entire tenure. Why do the Eagles always pass the ball? Even against the Raiders. Even against the Chargers. Even against teams with girls at linebacker and murderers in the secondary.
He continued, "When I was at BYU I stumbled upon a loophole in the regulation rules of football. I brought it with me to the NFL and I credit this little nugget of knowledge with a lot my success. If you pass the ball and it's an incompletion the clock stops. So every time you pass the ball and you miss it, it's like an extra timeout. So if Donovan goes 30 for 55 passing, that's like we got 25 extra timeouts."
I pointed out one of the myriad flaws in this logic, "The clock stops for an incomplete pass, but what about a completion? The clock keeps moving. And since you need to advance the ball you have to have completions, in which case unless you get out of bounds, the clock keeps running, you have no timeouts to stop it, and the clock runs out and you lose the game."
"Won't happen. Have you seen how Donovan throws the ball. It's either in the dirt, 20 feet over someone's head, behind the receiver, or just totally uncatchable for another reason. Rotation, velocity, etc. He's especially uncatchable at the end of games. So we don't have to worry about completions. We get the incompletions and all the bonus time outs that come with them. We have a lot of incompletions and you just can't lose with that many timeouts."
"But you lost this week", I corrected.
"Well I'm not sure what happened there. I'm gonna have to go back and take a look at that, but that is interesting."
"What happens," I asked, "if the opponent has the ball and you want it back, but you don't have any timeouts, and you can't stop the clock by throwing and incomplete pass?"
"Easy, we make sure they throw an incomplete pass."
"What if they run the ball?" I asked.
"Why would they do that? Running is retarded."
Bagerick Calais is the fake pseudonym of a fake person who has not interviewed Andy Reid or anyone ...ever.