Nineteen years ago, Andy Reid could have passed on Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. Reid decided not to, and they have been close friends ever since.
When Reid was hired as the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach in 1999, one of his first jobs was to organize his coaching staff. Harbaugh was the Eagles' special teams coach in 1998, but if Reid wanted to make a change, he could have. Instead, he kept Harbaugh and never regretted it.
"I actually knew his dad and knew about John," said Reid, now head coach of the 10-2 Kansas City Chiefs, who host the Ravens Sunday. "I had heard about John, and [former Eagles head coach] Ray Rhodes and I were friends, still are friends, and then Ray had told me about him, what a great coach he was. With all those things, I found out for myself that he's a phenomenal coach. I have a ton of respect for him."
Harbaugh feels the same about Reid, but those emotions will fade into the background during Sunday's game. Reid didn't pass on Harbaugh in 1999, but the Chiefs will pass plenty against the Ravens. They have the NFL's highest-scoring offense, averaging 37 points per game, driven by Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who leads the league in touchdown passes with 41.
If the Chiefs' offense gets rolling, Reid won't let up and Harbaugh knows it. He was on Reid's staff for nine seasons in Philadelphia, and he is always on the cutting edge offensively, never afraid to be aggressive as the Chiefs' play-caller. When Harbaugh studied film of Kansas City this week, he saw Reid's fingerprints all over it.
"I learned a great many things from him, and watching his tape now, I still learn a great many things from him," Harbaugh said. "He's certainly at the top of the business in what he does.
"Speed, lots of speed. Very creative – they run all the tough plays, all the circus plays, so to speak, that they execute so well, and the speed just enhances it. I also think they execute very well. They're precise in what they do. That's good coaching and good players. I think Andy studies football everywhere. I know he's had coaches on his staff over the years that have specific areas of study. They look at college football and probably high school football. Probably junior high football, he's probably looking for plays, knowing Andy.''
Harbaugh isn't the only Ravens coach that Reid has influenced. Quarterbacks Coach James Urban was on Reid's staff for seven seasons in Philadelphia, and Reid has a much longer relationship with Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. They first met in 1987, when Mornhinweg was a graduate assistant at Texas El-Paso and Reid was hired as UTEP's offensive line coach. Reid and Mornhinweg often rode to work together in the early morning hours, doing extra film work, bouncing ideas off each other. Mornhinweg is the Ravens' play-caller and also admires Reid's aggressiveness.
"Andy's a unique guy, an ex-offensive lineman who throws the ball over the place," Mornhinweg said, smiling.
Mornhinweg was Reid's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia for seven seasons, where they coached Michael Vick, a mobile quarterback whose playing style is often compared to Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. Reid is not surprised with the success the Ravens have had with Jackson, who has helped them win three straight games as the starter. Reid sees the Ravens doing some things with Jackson that Mornhinweg did with Vick.
"Lamar, he gives you – he can run like a running back, he's as fast as a wide receiver, and he can throw like a son of a gun, like a quarterback, so that's a pretty good combination to have," Reid said.
"I'm sure Marty has already said this, but Michael, we loved coaching him and could do a ton of things. Again, he was as fast as a wide receiver and could run like a running back. He could throw like a son of a gun, like a great quarterback. That's a neat combination to be able to coach, and Marty did a heck of a job with it."
Harbaugh, Mornhinweg and Urban working together with the Ravens is a source of satisfaction for Reid, whose NFL coaching tree keeps growing. Seven current NFL head coaches have worked under Reid – Harbaugh, Todd Bowles (New York Jets), Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills), Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears), Doug Pederson (Philadelphia Eagles), Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers) and Pat Shurmur (New York Giants).
In 2007, Reid promoted Harbaugh from special teams coach to defensive backs coach, hoping the move would make Harbaugh more attractive as a head coaching candidate. The next year, the Ravens hired Harbaugh, who has become the franchise's all-time winningest coach with 111 victories in 11 years, including a Super Bowl and six playoff berths.
"Ozzie [Newsome] made a bold move," Reid said. "That's what makes Ozzie great. He made a bold move there at that time, and I thought for sure that it proved to the owners in the National Football League that special teams coaches are phenomenal football coaches and deserve an opportunity."
Friendship aside, both Reid and Harbaugh are focused on Sunday's opportunity. The Chiefs can clinch a playoff spot with a win, while the Ravens can take a major step toward making the playoffs by winning their fourth straight game. The Chiefs haven't lost at home all season, and the Ravens may need their best game to leave Arrowhead Stadium with a victory. But when Harbaugh sees Reid before the game, it will be another chance to catch up with someone he respects greatly.
"I get asked that a lot, the impact Andy has had on my career, and I'm just grateful," Harbaugh said. "If you start with people that do it the right way – good people, teach you the right things – it just gives you a chance, gives you a leg up, and Andy, for me, was a big part of that in every way.
"Andy did not have to give me a chance coming in at the time (in 1999). I'm sure he had a lot of people he knew, but he decided to take a chance on me, and like I said, I'll be forever grateful for that."