Coaching disciples of Chiefs' Andy Reid have hard time replicating his success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs will try to win their 11th consecutive game against the Denver Broncos (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) as they roar toward a fifth straight AFC West title.

Since Peyton Manning tossed four interceptions against Kansas City in 2015, Chiefs' coach Andy Reid has vexed the Broncos -- so much so that when Broncos coach Vic Fangio was looking for an offensive coordinator this past offseason, he turned to a Reid disciple in Pat Shurmur.

In comments reminiscent of how others describe Reid said of Shurmur: "He is a smart guy and has a good feel for offensive football, and he's passionate about it. He's a great person on top of all of that. I think players respect that part of him. He'll be honest with you."

Shurmur was on Reid's first coaching staff with the Philadelphia Eagles, which was a remarkable collection of personnel. The first staff Reid hired included eight future NFL and college head coaches. Future head coach in Doug Pederson and Reid's current offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, were also players on that Eagles' roster.

The Ravens' John Harbaugh, Bills' Sean McDermott, Washington's Ron Rivera, Bears' Matt Nagy, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Shurmur were all on Reid's first staff with the Eagles in 1999. All have been NFL head coaches, and though Harbaugh has won a Super Bowl and Rivera was the Panthers head coach against the Broncos in Super Bowl 50, it hasn't been easy for any of them to replicate Reid's offensive prowess, playcalling feel and 217 regular-season wins. Nagy and Pederson, in particular, have had a pile of struggles this season.

Teams have found that the branches of the coaching tree can be different than the trunk.

"It's like what Steve Young says about quarterbacks: The great ones are artists, and that's borne out over time. It develops over time," said ESPN's Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick, who spent six seasons, including four as director of pro personnel for the Eagles, in Reid's tenure. "That was the first time [Reid] called plays when he was with the Eagles. He's a much different playcaller now than he was in 1999 or even a few seasons ago. A lot of that Andy has developed over a long period of time. The other guys are not to that point in their careers.

"Generally speaking ... football is so nuanced. A lot of times, there are so many things that go into success and failure with coaches. When new coaches are hired, a lot of times they're going into situations that aren't ideal right off the bat, like the situations they just left. If the situation they just left wasn't so good, owners and coaches wouldn't go and poach these guys out of those situations."

It is easy to forget Reid's clock management issues and -- as odd as it might sound when he has unleashed quarterback Patrick Mahomes onto the football world -- his unwillingness to have his team run the ball. Those criticisms were in place as recently as the 2017 season -- the year before Mahomes became the full-time starter -- when the Chiefs lost a wild-card playoff game to the Titans and then-Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt had five carries in the final three quarters, resulting in a second-half collapse after the Chiefs held a 21-3 halftime lead.

By contrast, this season the Chiefs won a game against the Bills in which they ran the ball 46 times, and they won Sunday against the Buccaneers throwing the ball 50 times.

"Our playcalling is basically a collaboration on what we study for the particular week," Bieniemy said. "On top of that, we'll use our analytics [and] making sure that we're on top of it by collectively putting our guys in the right positions so they can go play. Is it a gut feel? Yes. On top of that, it's study and preparing and making sure that collectively we're all on the same page as we come out of that meeting room."

Harvesting from a successful coach's staff doesn't mean automatic success. The Broncos tried it before on a much grander scale in the brief experiment -- all of 28 games -- that was Josh McDaniels' tenure as head coach. In McDaniels, owner Pat Bowlen wanted one of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's top assistants to bring Super Bowl mojo back to the Broncos.

A video scandal, depleted roster, a pinch of front-office dysfunction and plenty of losses later, McDaniels was fired with four games to go in his second season.

Belichick is the most decorated coach of his era, a future Hall of Famer with six Super Bowl wins as a head coach during the free agency era and nine Super Bowl trips overall. But his former assistants haven't always fared well in the NFL. None has directed a Super Bowl team, and two have been fired this season (the Texans' Bill O'Brien and Lions' Matt Patricia).

The Dolphins' Brian Flores is a former Belichick assistant fighting for playoff position this year. Another, the Giants' Joe Judge has won three games in a row after an 0-5 start in his first season with the team.

For his part, Shurmur has covered plenty of road since his final season as Reid's quarterback coach in 2008, including two seasons as New York Giants head coach and one year as Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, a season that earned him the NFL's Assistant Coach of the Year award.

Shurmur said he takes the lessons from that early Eagles staff -- "We're educators at heart ... and [Reid] is a teacher" -- with him as he continues to try to find a rhythm with the Broncos. Shurmur opened the season on the sideline calling plays, but after the Broncos' Week 4 win over the New York Jets, he moved to the coaches' booth for games.

But the Broncos rank 28th in the league in scoring. Shurmur has said he is trying to find what fits after no offseason workouts or preseason games -- "I like calling plays that work" -- but quarterback Drew Lock is still a work in progress and has missed three games this season after missing half of his rookie season.

"My confidence is good. Pat is an experienced guy," Fangio said in recent weeks when asked about Shurmur. "He's been through this before. The good thing about being experienced is you've seen the highs and the lows. Unfortunately, we're going through the lows right now, but he's had plenty of highs in his career. We're optimistic that we'll get this thing turned around soon. ... It's a cumulative effort between both players and coaches, and we're going to work hard to get that fixed."

It doesn't have to be Reid and Mahomes, but at some point over the next five weeks, the Broncos will need Shurmur and Lock to show their on-field relationship is on the upswing. Lock, Shurmur, Fangio and Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway have all publicly said they believe it is, but Fangio said after the 2019 season closed he expected no changes, and days later, offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello was gone, and Shurmur was hired.

Shurmur is the fifth Broncos offensive coordinator for the third head coach in the past five seasons. The team has had nine quarterbacks start games since the start of the 2017 season -- excluding running back Phillip Lindsay opening Sunday's loss in the shotgun -- and hasn't finished above 19th in scoring since 2014. Reid himself would have a hard time fixing that problem quickly.

"It can be hard for those guys," Riddick said. "You have to avoid sitting there and saying, 'I came from a winning program. I'm going to take the same things I did there and do it here.' That's where the nuance comes in, to adapt, to become his own person. It takes a minute, and you're not only scrutinized from year-to-year. It's series-to-series now, in real time."

ESPN Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher contributed to this report.