Reid's family matters more important than football

Although his family issues come at a bad time for the Eagles, Andy Reid had no choice but to put family first, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Originally Published: February 12, 2007
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The Philadelphia Eagles announced Monday that coach Andy Reid will take a leave of absence until mid-March to help his two sons deal with a mountain of legal entanglements. As stunning as the Jan. 30 news involving Andy Reid's sons was, there is one more surprising element to the story.

Given the demands of the coaching profession, and the degree of absentee parenting the vocation so often mandates, it's amazing such incidents aren't more commonplace.

That's not a defense for the two Reid boys, Britt and Garrett, or for Andy Reid and his wife, Tammy. It's just a point of fact. For the most part, NFL coaches aren't planted at the dinner table at night with their families, quizzing their kids about what went on at school that day or bugging them with queries about how much homework they have been assigned.

Coaches are usually so preoccupied with, say, the passing game, that they aren't around when it's time to turn to Junior and ask him to pass the mashed potatoes. By the time coaches arrive home after a long day of rearranging X's and O's, their children are catching Z's.

The idyllic Ward Cleaver existence, let's just say, isn't a realistic NFL existence. Or at least it hasn't been since the coaching profession became a crucible.

Andy Reid
Andy Reid's immediate concerns do not include free agency and the draft.

Said one AFC head coach on Monday morning: "Last year [ESPN.com] did a story on the physical stress our job imposes. But that's nothing, honestly, compared to the stress the job puts on your family life. This is a job where it's pretty easy for the perspective act home to get out of whack on a lot of fronts. It's not intentional. It just happens. [Reid] is a good man. But what's that deal about how bad things happen to good people, too? We're seeing it."

Reid is hardly the first NFL head coach to have his family life come unhinged, at least temporarily, by disturbing events at home. But he is the latest, and that makes Reid, one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, the coach upon whom everyone focuses.

Little more than a year ago, the nation grieved with Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy -- the embodiment of solid parenting, grounded values and a rare perspective away from the job -- when his 18-year-old son, James, committed suicide. Earlier this season, when the gossip columns in the Boston-area were detailing the collapse of Bill Belichick's marriage, it was notable that his three children began joining him on the sidelines at Patriots' games. Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher resigned, ostensibly because he wants to spend more time with his wife and three daughters.

There are times when life bolts by quicker than LaDainian Tomlinson speeds past you down the sideline. Sometimes you see him coming. More often, you turn only in time to read the number on the back of his uniform, when it's too late for you, or your defense, to react.

Stories are legendary of how Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, in his first incarnation with the franchise, used to sleep on the sofa in his office, so obsessed was he with plotting every detail. His wife, Pat, would send him cassette tapes, updating Gibbs on exactly what was transpiring at home.

Not many coaches sleep on the office sofa anymore. Then again, a lot of NFL coaches still miss important events at home. Funny, but it's a profession that sometimes can make it seem as though you just can't win, no matter your record. In nearly 30 years of covering the league, I've known coaches who have been ripped for logging too many hours. And I've known others who ordered their staffs to go home at 6 p.m. every day, to arrive in time to spend a few hours of quality time with their families, and who were summarily criticized for operating from a so-called "country club" philosophy.

No matter the paradigm, coaching in the NFL, despite its rewards of celebrity and fortune, is hardly a country club existence. It is, in some ways, like viewing daily life from the inside of a meat grinder.

"You try to make things as normal as you can … but stability isn't one of the strong suits," former Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. noted last season. "The hours are long, the demands are tough, you move around a lot."

Consider this: Andy Reid has five kids and they were born in five different states.

The best state in which Reid can reside for now is the one he entered on Monday, when he informed team president Joe Banner that he needed to step away from his football duties to tend to responsibilities far more critical. Banner and Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, two family-oriented men, certainly didn't flinch when Reid sought the leave of absence.

Despite a front office filled with personnel, coaches and cap experts who hold a lot of fancy titles, Reid still functions as the top football man in the organization. And between Monday and the time he returns in mid-March, the Eagles will have to deal with matters such as the scouting combine later this month and the start of free agency in about three weeks. Reid's encompassing role notwithstanding, the franchise will survive.

There was a ton of fretting in Philadelphia on Monday about who will mind the store in Reid's absence. Banner and general manager Tom Heckert will do just fine. Right now, though, with his family in crisis, it's far more important that Reid tend to issues on the homefront.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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