Following death of son, Reid will need his players more than ever

by | Senior NFL Columnist

The Phillies honor the tragic passing of Andy Reid's son, Garrett. (AP)  
The Phillies honor the tragic passing of Andy Reid's son, Garrett. (AP)  

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- It is not up to Andy Reid to decide what to do next. It's is up to his players ... and I think we all know what happens.

They will rally behind him as the New England Patriots last summer rallied behind owner Robert Kraft following the death of Kraft's wife, Myra -- and they won't do it out of a sense of obligation because the New England Patriots didn't. They will do it because they care for their head coach as much as he cares for them.

And now, more than ever, they must demonstrate it.

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A year ago, players responded when Reid's future was in jeopardy -- or after angry Eagles' fans chanted "Fire Andy" during the third quarter of a humiliating loss to New England and after the Eagles followed that defeat with a listless performance in Seattle.

Reid's tenure in Philadelphia appeared over then. Only it wasn't, and it wasn't because his players came to the rescue -- winning the next four games to save his job.

"We love to go to bat for coach Reid," said wide receiver DeSean Jackson. "Last year we heard everybody booing him and things like that. So, as a team, we came together. It was like: This is our coach; this is who represents us. We just had to forget what everybody was saying and jell together as one. So we put ourselves on the line for coach Reid, and that's why we played the way we played toward the end of the year."

They closed the season on a roll, finishing a game out of first in the NFC East, destroying their final four opponents by an average margin of 19.7 points and keeping Reid in business for another year. But that was then, and this is now, and now Andy Reid needs more than victories from his players. He needs the compassion, understanding and support he routinely gives them.

Jackson earlier this year called Reid "a father-like figure," and it's time for Reid's second family to come to his side. I can't imagine the pain and suffering Reid and his family must be experiencing now, just as I couldn't imagine the pain and suffering then-Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy experienced in 2005 when his 18-year-old son died.

But Dungy pulled through, not only coaching the rest of that season but three more after that, and it was friends, family and faith that pulled him through. Reid will need all of that to overcome the loss of his son, Garrett.

Parents aren't supposed to bury their children, and there is no one who can prepare Reid and his family for the despair they're feeling. But there are persons -- and a lot of them -- in Philadelphia who can help the Eagles' head coach try to move forward from this tragedy and cope with the loss. I'm talking about his players, and as they rushed to support him a year ago they must rush to support him again.

I don't mean winning the NFC East or making it to the Super Bowl. I mean giving Reid what he needs most -- which is reassurance that they will be there when and if he needs their help. Heck, he was there when convicted felon Michael Vick needed someone to give him a job, and don't tell me that Reid's experience having two sons arrested wasn't a factor there.

Because it was.

Reid believes in second chances, and he believed in giving one to Vick -- and it's no coincidence that when the Eagles ran the table at the end of 2011 it was with Vick coming back from an injury that sidelined him three games before.

"As much as I hate to say it," Vick said, "that was the catalyst for guys pulling together. I know I pulled myself together. I got shot up, and I played hurt. And I came back with a totally different focus because I have unconditional love and respect for my coach."

Good. Because that's what he needs now.

When I sat down with Reid last week to ask him about his tenure in Philadelphia -- a career that enters its 14th season -- I wondered how he defied the odds and lasted so long. More specifically, I wondered how he defied Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh's advice, with Walsh once saying that no head coach should stay in the same place longer than 10 years.

"I'm lucky to be surrounded by good people," Reid said last week. "Honestly, I look forward to coming to work every day. I love it. I get fired up. But I think I'll know. When I can't get out of that beach chair then I'll know it's over."

We laughed then. Nobody laughs anymore. Those "good people" who surround Andy Reid need to surround him now because, as difficult as it will be, he must look forward again.


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