Marcus Hayes: Andy Reid lets his guard down

Posted: August 10, 2012

BETHLEHEM — Now you know.

You know how human Andy Reid can be.

How unstilted.

How genuine.

After nearly 14 years of stone-faced determination to refuse admittance to his thoughts, to deny even a glimpse of his feelings, Reid, in mourning, became one of you.

This is how Reid deals with his coaches, with his players, with his family.

This is the man who earned respect and loyalty in a league rotten with deceit.

Reid, on Wednesday, stood, naked and raw, before an assemblage of press that almost never cracked his veneer.

That veneer has shattered.

Humbled and still grieving, with the blessing of wife and family, Reid went back to work Wednesday.

Less than 24 hours after he buried his eldest boy, Garrett, only 29.

"I'm a football coach," Reid said. "It's what I do."

It's what he is.

It is where he needed to be.

Reid emerged from the passenger side of his black SUV at 10:56 a.m. He was handed a practice schedule and roster by an assistant, then lumbered toward a distant corner of the Lehigh fields where his 90 players and voluminous staff awaited his words.

More than 100 yards away, out of earshot and forbidden to videotape the moment, 30 reporters watched.

Reid spoke to the team for perhaps 1 minute. It then dispersed and meandered through a typically mundane pregame walkthrough — a walkthrough Garrett would have watched, too.

After casting about for years, fighting drug addiction and brushes with the law, Garrett lately acted as an unofficial strength and conditioning assistant.

Garrett was found dead in his dorm room at Lehigh on Sunday morning. No cause of death has been released, but a family statement Monday suggested it was drug-related.

The Eagles play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night.

Reid will be on the sideline.

Garrett will not.

Remarkably, incredibly, Reid returned to work.

Eloquently, candidly, he spoke with reporters for 18 minutes afterward.

It was Reid's first media session since the tragedy.

It was the most revealing media session of his life.

He answered every question imaginable.

Every one.

He never quavered.

Not once.

He displayed a humanity, a vulnerability, he never before showed in his nearly 14 years as the Eagles' head coach.

"I'm a humbled man standing before you. A very humbled man," Reid said. "I'm humbled because of the outpouring ... I'm not sure you ever think that many people care.

“I'm sure my son would feel the same way."

And, typically, Reid was anticipatory of criticism, and defiant:

"I know that coming back and coaching was the right thing to do. I know my son wouldn't have wanted it any other way ... In my heart. I just felt it, in my heart. The support of my family. My wife.

“With that, I move on."

And then, comically, Reid recited the eight Eagles whose injuries will keep them out of Thursday's game. He detailed the team's plan for using starters and backups.

It was business as usual ... for a minute or so.

Over the next 14 minutes, Reid fielded zero football-related questions.

He declined to provide details of how he knew Garrett's death was drug-related. He brushed aside a couple of other questions. But this time, he lacked brusqueness. He was respectful, and he was gentle.

Like a man wounded.

A man weakened, but certain of recovery.

He thanked the assembled press for its compassion; the fans and his team for their gushing support; and the NFL, whose representatives flocked to the Mormon temple in Broomall for services Tuesday morning, attended by nearly 1,000 mourners.

Unprovoked, Reid offered a glimpse into his family's daily panic over the addictions that gripped Garrett and his younger brother, Britt. They are the eldest of Reid's five children. Drugs sent both to jail; Garrett, twice.

Britt, married this summer and coaching football at Temple, seems to have righted himself. Garrett, with a new physique and a less rambunctious lifestyle, clearly never did.

"It's a sad situation. It's one my son has been battling for a number of years. My family has been battling," Reid said. "It doesn't mean you stop loving your son. It's not what you do. You love him."

Reid, for perhaps the first time in his tenure as Eagles coach, publicly thanked God for fortifying him and his family. Reid adopted the Mormon faith while playing offensive line at Brigham Young University, where he met his wife, Tammy.

The Reid clan was raised Mormon. Reid rarely referenced it.

"I praise my heavenly father for the support and the strength that he's given me to be able to work through this," Reid said. "My family, and my football family."

Tammy Reid did not resent her husband quickly returning to the team he built, he said.

"She figured I would be going. She encouraged that," Reid said. "As long as I was OK with it, she encouraged it."

Wednesday, Reid said he felt strength from the Eagles players and staff the way he felt it from his own family.

"I feel their love. Their comfort," Reid said.

Reid returned to camp in time to address the team at a pre-practice assembly. He thanked the Eagles for their caring.

It was the first time he had spoken with the team since midday Sunday, when he briefly explained that Garrett's death would take him away from the team for a few days. Wednesday's speech was cathartic all around.

"I had an opportunity to address the football team, which I needed to do," Reid said.

Again and again, Reid returned to the central thought that, while his family and his parents have gaping holes in their souls with his passing, Garrett was in a "better place ... at peace."

Fighting addiction for nearly a decade, Reid said, is "like fighting a grizzly bear. It's hard to win," Reid said.

Now, the Reid clan has its own grizzly. Yes, Reid said; this is a horrible thing for them. A horrible, necessary thing:

"You've got to get it out. You're going to cry a little bit. You're going to laugh a little bit. You're going to cry some more, you're going to laugh some more. This is life. This is life."

One of the wonders of life is how, as children become adults, the relationship turns into a friendship.

That might have been Reid's most revealing revelation. He lost a good friend.

"He taught me a lot of lessons in life that I'll use down the road," Reid said.

The most recent, it seems:

Be vulnerable.

Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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