|Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie addresses the media after Andy Reid's son, Garrett, is found dead. (AP)|
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Nothing will ever be the same for Andy Reid. That's the sad, horrible reality of this Sunday, when he woke up preparing for another mundane morning of training camp, with his oldest son Garrett nearby, and instead lost him forever.
Garrett Reid, 29, was found dead in a dorm room here at Lehigh University prior to the Philadelphia Eagles' walkthrough this morning (police said there were no signs of suicide or foul play), casting a pall over this training camp, and this season. Reid had been working with the team's strength and conditioning staff, a welcome sight on the sidelines. Now a young man who had seemingly made positive changes in his life after struggling with drug and legal problems is gone, and his father, a leader of this organization for 13 years as head coach, is left to reconcile it all.
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Forget about being a coach to his players, at least for a day or two. Reid has to be a father to his four other children, who lost their brother. He has to be a husband to his wife, who lost a son. He has to be the emotional anchor for them, in what is a time of crisis. And even on this of all days Reid conveyed to owner Jeffrey Lurie how quickly he expects to be back with the team, as in within this week, apologizing for "interfering" with his players' success at practice today.
"All he wanted to talk to me about was a couple of things," Lurie said after addressing the players at the start of the afternoon practice. "How incredibly excited he is for this football team. That's been obvious. And secondly, he treasures these practices and he feels bad he's not at practice today and probably tomorrow."
Meantime, during what seems like it will be a brief absence, the entire organization grieves with him, while best wishes poured in for Reid and the Eagles from the Commissioner, fellow coaches and other organizations. Former players like Donovan McNabb, a quarterback forever linked with Reid, were thinking about their old coach.
"I was both shocked and saddened when I heard the news this morning of Garrett's passing," McNabb said. "During my time with the Eagles, both Garrett and Britt spent a lot of time around the football team and I know how much Andy loves them. I spent a lot of time with Andy and his family; we had a great friendship ... we still do. My heart goes out to Andy, Tammy and the rest of the Reid family. I cannot imagine what they are feeling right now. God be with them."
Even without yet knowing of Garret Reid's passing, you could tell that something was off at the morning walkthrough, things oddly subdued, movements somewhat robotic as a smattering of fans sat clustered in small corners of the bleachers under a dull grey sky. Players gathered in prayer before the start of the walkthrough, and walked off the field looking blank, some a bit crestfallen, as team officials announced they would not be available to the media.
General manager Howie Roseman bravely accepted the unenviable task of telling the world why Reid was not on the field for the morning session, with police officials flanking him. Roseman was able to read through a statement, announcing the news shortly after the special teams walkthrough had concluded, before breaking into tears, visibly shaken.
"He's always been strong for us," Roseman said of Reid, "and we're going to be strong for him right now. As a father and a friend, we're all hurting."
In the short term, the Eagles try to cope, going on with practice with offensive coordinator Marty Morninweg and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, both longtime Reid aides, running practices and meetings. The afternoon practice went on as scheduled as well, with three veterans, quarterback Michael Vick, receiver Jason Avant and corner Nnamdi Asomugha, eventually speaking briefly and solemnly to the media. Avant mentioned how when his father died Reid was the first one to call him. "We're praying as hard as we can for him," Avant said, "to let him know how much this team really, really, really, really loves him."
Morninweg called Reid "a rock" and said the players and coaches just want to be there for someone who always supported them. "It's a very difficult situation for us, " Vick said. "... We're going to be there for him, and show strength for him."
"From a football perspective I can tell you that Andy has asked that we go forward with training camp," Roseman said.
As the longest-tenured coach in the league, Reid, who literally hovers over these practice fields in stature and demeanor, is impossible not to miss. He's usually the easiest figure to pick out during a session. There is no template for how to recover from this, and the Eagles will give Reid as much time as he needs, though from his conversation with his owner it seemed like football remained on his mind even today.
Reid's persona at press conferences can be gruff and cold, but he is anything like that with those who work with him. During his six minutes addressing the situation Lurie became emotional, and spoke frequently of Reid's duality, the steely exterior and the warmth within. "Deep down he's a teddy bear," Lurie said. "All of us who know him know that very well."
There is another duality all coaches at this level must navigate, a prickly balance between work and home, knowing the insane hours and round-the-clock culture of the NFL will force them to miss family events. They won't see their children grow up the way other Dads do, and must make peace with that. More to the point, the moms and children must somehow do the same.
It's a profession that can also reap unique familial rewards as well, fathers and sons coaching together, bonding in a way few could experience. I can only imagine what it was like for Reid to be at this camp with Garrett, seeing him thriving, staying out of trouble for a few years now after a series of drug-related arrests and incidents in his past, and a problem with heroin. He had thrown himself into the gym, putting on muscle and trying to learn more about strength and conditioning from the Eagles' expert staff.
From seeing Garrett as an awestruck teenager at his first Eagles camp, to Reid opting to take a leave of absence from the club in 2007 to tend to his troubled boys, to seeing Garrett now working with the staff, it must have felt rewarding to have football play some role in his apparent recovery ... yet then only to see his life still expunged far too soon.
Lurie spoke of how hard Reid tried with his family, how much he cares for them, then seemed to allude to a star-crossed nature. "Sometimes what happens, happens in life," Lurie said. "As he and I discuseed, life throws you curveballs."
Given Garrett's past, it would be impossible for some not to wonder if old demons crept back up.
Lehigh police Chief Edward Shutt said a 911 call came in at 7:20 a.m. Sunday morning for a "nonresponsive male" (the walkthrough was to begin at 8:15). Upon arrival, Garrett Reid could not be revived and was pronounced dead on the scene. "There was no suspicious activity," Shupp said. The coroner's office has begun its investigation, in conjunction with the local police. Coroner Zachary Lysek said he made the pronouncement of death this morning. Results should be known of an autopsy within a few days.
In 2005, Tony Dungy continued with his craft one week after his son, James, took his own life in 2005 at age 18, and went on to coach several more years. At least initially, it sounds as if Reid might walk a similar path. No matter what he chooses, it's a horribly private decision for anyone to have to make. There is no right or wrong. It's a hellish plight beyond Monday Morning Quarterbacking or second guessing.
The Eagles will support him. They'll try to make things seem as normal as possible. They'll still aim for a Super Bowl. But this camp, and this season, will always be remembered for when he lost Garrett, and that has to change one profoundly on a personal and professional level. I suspect he may not be quite the same man, or quite the same coach. Reid may wake up in the morning and feel very differently about his profession, but from his conversations today he spoke as many thought he might.
There is no way to prepare for burying your child. You can't know that loss unless you've lived it. Reid's is a pain every parent prays they never know, and hopefully there is some solace to come for all those grieving in this tiny Pennsylvania college town. And for Reid, the game he loves and the players he cherishes will be a part of that immediate process.