For Reid and Philly, a complex relationship

Andy Reid, who coached the Eagles for 14 years, returns to Philadelphia on Thursday. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

PHILADELPHIA -- To comprehend the complex relationship between Eagles fans and Andy Reid, you have to appreciate the sheer length of his tenure in this city with zero Super Bowl titles.

Reid was coach of the Eagles for 14 years. For exactly 5,104 days if you count the four leap years that leaped by. He was coach of the Eagles longer than Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. By the time he was relieved of command on New Year’s Eve 2012, there were college-age kids who couldn’t remember anyone else wearing a headset on the Eagles’ sideline.

That is a lot of familiarity, and we all know the connection between familiarity and contempt. Even level-headed Eagles fans who respect Reid and appreciate the years of quality football he delivered grew weary of his phlegmatic demeanor.

Every news conference began with Reid clearing his throat, listing injured players and then intoning, “Time’s yours.”

Every question about personnel issues? “We’ll be fine there.”

Every question about subpar performances? “I have to do a better job there.”

When a player screwed up? “I have to put them in better position to make plays.”

This was a persona the personable Reid deliberately presented to the public. When he was reeling off NFC East titles and establishing Lincoln Financial Field as a regular host for divisional playoffs and conference championship games, those little quirks were overlooked.

But when things went sideways, and they went very bad at the end, Reid had virtually no reservoir of goodwill from which to draw. He had drained it through terrible personnel moves and mind-searing decisions such as naming offensive line coach Juan Castillo his defensive coordinator.

So the hiring of Chip Kelly was universally welcomed simply because it was a change in the stale old narrative. Eagles fans immediately packed the Reid era into a box and stored it in their mental attic. They moved on as if Reid had been any four-years-and-gone coaching transient: Rich Kotite or Ray Rhodes or what’s-his-name, the guy after Dick Vermeil.

In that sense, Reid had come full circle. When he was hired in 1999, he had never even been a coordinator in the NFL. Fan reaction was summed up by two words: Andy Who? Now, in fans' rush to embrace change, Reid had become Andy Who? all over again.

Until Thursday night. "Big Red" is coming back, and in his Kansas City Chiefs garb, he looks even Bigger and certainly Redder. Just to spice things up, his team is 2-0. The only time Reid ever started a season 3-0 here was 2004, the year the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.

And Kelly? He was a combination of Elvis, the Beatles and the guy who invented sliced bread after the Eagles’ stunning season-opening, Monday-night win at Washington. He didn’t just win a football game, he was the anti-Andy -- Mr. Sports Science who invented his own offense instead of cribbing Mike Holmgren’s.

Reid wouldn’t run the ball unless both of his quarterbacks' arms were broken. Kelly ran the ball 49 times against Washington.

Reid wouldn’t adjust his game plan until both of his quarterbacks' arms were broken. Kelly’s scheme forces Michael Vick to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball.

Reid forever struggled against 3-4 defenses but insisted on running a 4-3 base. By 2012, his team was giving up 33 touchdown passes in 16 games. Kelly immediately implemented a 3-4, which confused and disrupted Washington’s offense.

Everything was better. The beer was colder. The high-def picture was clearer. Jon Gruden sounded like a good analyst instead of a constant reminder of that devastating loss in the 2002 NFC Championship Game.

Life was good. And then Kelly had to coach a second game.

Against San Diego on Sunday, the Eagles just kept winging deep passes to DeSean Jackson until he caught one. The run game disappeared. The defense might as well have had the offensive line coach running it. Kelly got into the red zone with a chance to win the game, failed to involve LeSean McCoy, mismanaged the clock and didn’t know he could use a timeout to keep Vick in the game for a crucial play after an injury stoppage.

If Reid had been standing on the sideline for all that, the caller boards at 97.5 The Fanatic would have burst into flame Monday morning.

And here are some exact quotes from Kelly after the 33-30 loss:

“We have to do a better job generating the pass rush.”

“We’ve got to coach them better and put them in positions to make plays.”

“That’s on me.”

“We left points out there offensively, too. We've got to do a better job of that.”

All that was missing was a “Time’s yours” and a joke about barbecue sauce on the play chart.

The lesson is not that Kelly is like Andy Reid, because he isn’t. The lesson isn’t that Eagles fans are doomed to relive the same seasons over and over, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” because they aren’t.

The lesson is that many of those things that annoyed fans about Andy Reid are simply universal football coach things. He just happened to be the football coach in one city for a generation.

And it should be noted here, for the record, that he was one terrific football coach for most of that era. From 2000 through 2004, the only better place to be an NFL fan than Philadelphia was Foxborough, Mass. Andy Reid made that happen, and he deserves the respect and affection of Eagles fans for that.

If he’d won a Super Bowl -- and heaven knows he should have won one by accident, given the team’s consistent excellence -- that wouldn’t be an issue. It would have taken a big chunk of marble, but there would be an Andy Reid statue outside the Linc.

Instead, well, it is complicated. There was a chance Eagles fans would boo Reid on Thursday night because they’re so enamored with Kelly and his new approach. Now there’s a chance they’ll boo Reid because he’s 2-0 and doing just fine in his new gig.

Either way, there is respect at the heart of it. A boo under these unique circumstances is a Philadelphia salute. And the cheers -- which, rest assured, will drown out the boos -- speak for themselves.