‘We try not to take him for granted:’ Chiefs coach Mike Kafka on Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid have a standing date every Friday during the football season.
After Mahomes finishes his massages and treatment and Reid wraps up meetings with his assistants, the pair convene in Reid’s office at the Chiefs’ practice facility late in the afternoon.
Then, together, they comb through the game plan for an hour and a half.
Thanks to those weekly in-depth conversations, the pair are almost eerily in sync by the time the game rolls around a few days later.
“I know what he’s going to call before he even calls it,” Mahomes said. “We’re getting the play, and I see something on defense, and we’re on such the same page, I don’t even have to say anything. I know what play I want to be called, and he calls that play almost every single time.”
On the surface, these Friday meetings between the Chiefs’ two most important minds aren’t unlike the ones Mahomes had with coaches throughout his high school and college career. And Reid has had plenty of planning conversations with other quarterbacks through the years.
But there’s something different about these tête-à-têtes.
It’s a relationship that goes beyond teacher-pupil, sensei-grasshopper or even mentor-mentee.
Andy Reid is an artist and Patrick Mahomes is his muse.
The football field is the coach’s canvas and his quarterback is the brush that could allow him to complete his ultimate masterpiece: a Super Bowl championship.
“I think that Coach Reid has one of those minds that he says, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could …’ and then Patrick fills that blank with everything he could possibly say,” punter Dustin Colquitt said. “Anything he can dream up. And that’s what makes it fun.”
A likely future Hall of Famer, Reid, 61, has mentored a handful of elite quarterbacks over the years, but there’s something different about Mahomes. The 23-year-old quarterback has energized the grizzled football lifer, bringing out his playful side and giving him inspiration that’s as limitless as Mahomes’ arm strength.
“I think this relationship is different,” general manager Brett Veach said. “(Reid) has respect for all of his quarterbacks, and he knows that he’s working with something special. It allows his creativity to run wild, and it allows all of his assistant coaches to be involved because you can bring in more ideas, and he’s not going to say it’s too much or this kid can’t do it. He can handle it, he can do it, he can throw it.
“Andy’s a bulldog, and you can just tell he has a little bit bigger pep in his step when he’s going to quarterback meetings. He’s excited. The kid, he gets everybody excited. He gets the fans excited, he gets the crowd excited, but he gets the head coach excited, too.”
Veach didn’t wait long before jumpstarting the buzz around his MVP quarterback for the upcoming season.
The general manager opened his pre-draft news conference in April by telling reporters that Reid had been drawing up more plays for Mahomes. Then held up his thumb and index finger as if he was showing reporters a thick stack of cards.
The “Pat Plays” are real — and they’re more than just a stack.
The plays are everywhere, and come from everywhere. Reid sketches them on napkins in a pinch, but he prefers to jot down his ideas on note cards. He’s always got a couple in his pocket for emergencies.
“Anytime something pops in his brain or anytime someone’s watching something, he’ll just scribble ideas down,” Veach said. “It’s probably like a songwriter, where they have lyrics in their mind or a melody in their mind, and then they mess with some stuff, and then they leave it, and then they just build their catalog like that.”
Reid has always had a knack for drawing up plays and collaborating with his assistants, but his creativity has stretched even further since Mahomes joined the organization in 2017. Suddenly, things that might’ve been impossible with other quarterbacks are within reach. And while Reid has worked with other quarterbacks who could do similar things with their skill-sets — guys like Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick — there’s something undeniably different about Mahomes’ ability to translate Reid’s ideas into highlight-reel realities.
“I think Andy understands that the talent he has in this kid is like nothing he’s ever had before,” Veach said. “Not to say he didn’t have good quarterbacks before, not to say he didn’t have a great rapport or relationship with them, but I think Andy’s creativity is not restricted now in any way, not by mental, not by arm strength, not by mobility. Because sometimes you get super-smart guys, and maybe they don’t have this ... or you get guys that don’t have this, but they have that.
“Patrick is the total package. He’s complete. He has mobility, he has accuracy. He has arm strength. He’s smart. He can retain.”
Sometimes Reid can’t hold back his excitement about the ideas, interrupting quarterback meetings with note cards in hand.
He’ll amble into the small room and take his place in the front, gleefully explaining and diagramming the plays he’s sketched on the cards.
“They’re always plays that work,” Mahomes said, shaking his head and smiling. “Even if you don’t think they’re going to work, they work anyway.”
But Reid doesn’t reveal all his tricks. He gives away just enough to pique Mahomes’ interest.
“‘Hey, I can’t give you too much yet,’” Mahomes remembers Reid telling him. “‘Don’t want you to get too excited.’
“It’s totally random. But he’s just feeling it sometimes. He’ll just walk in and he’ll draw up the play for you.”
It’s not just that Reid can add in dozens of new plays to his quarterback’s repertoire, it’s the fact that he doesn’t have to take any out that truly makes his relationship with Mahomes special.
“I think you can tell by walking in his room and seeing the volume of plays that he has and know that he doesn’t ever have to cross anything out of a game plan,” said Veach, who’s worked with Reid since their days with the Eagles. “I’ve been with him for a long time, and for different reasons, different quarterbacks, he’s crossed stuff out of game plans. But this is the first time he’s had a quarterback where there’s nothing he’s crossed out of a game plan.”
Muse becomes artist
Reid thrives on drawing up plays, but Mahomes isn’t afraid to interject his own ideas.
That part of their relationship developed in Mahomes’ de facto redshirt season. As a member of a quarterback room that included veterans Alex Smith and Tyler Bray, Mahomes learned to be confident in his ideas and his ability to voice an opinion.
No suggestion was too ludicrous and no observation was too small.
Following the lead of the older quarterbacks, Mahomes began to get comfortable with suggesting his own ideas to the head coach.
“Anyone could talk, anyone could ask questions and anyone could go out there and get feedback from each other,” Mahomes said. “I think that first year, if I saw something and I said something to Alex, Alex would listen. … I think that open communication in that quarterback room that first year definitely helped me get that comfortability to speak my mind and be who I am and know that coach Reid was going to help me every single day.”
As he began to better understand Reid’s concepts, Mahomes found he was especially good at coming up with complements to some of the Chiefs’ run-pass option plays (RPOs) — something he started doing at Texas Tech.
“I was always good at realizing what the defense’s rules are and trying to exploit them,” Mahomes said. “It’s not necessarily the routes or about the design of the play, it’s about finding the green grass, as I say it, and finding the open area and getting it out to them.
“As I’ve evolved, now I’ve got a better understanding of what the concepts actually are compared to where I was at in high school. It’s helped me where I can kind of talk and help change the routes off our RPOs to make sure that we get in the right areas where the defenses void whenever they’re going for the run-fakes.”
Open lines of communication
Mike Kafka didn’t quite know what to make of it the first time it happened.
It was early in the 2018 preseason, and in between series, Reid came over to the huddle of quarterbacks and offensive coaches on the bench.
Without any fanfare, he took a seat beside Mahomes and started listening and asking questions of his quarterback and the assistants.
“I don’t think he ever did that before Patrick,” Kafka, the Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach, said. “He never came down and sat down on the bench and got input and ideas.
“At first you didn’t really know he was going to do it, because he had never done that before. And then he did it, and it was like, ‘Cool, let’s go.’ It was easy. It was an easy transition.”
The habit stuck through the regular season. Reid’s in-game quarterback conferences grabbed the spotlight last October when Monday Night Football cameras caught their huddle, illustrating the pair’s collaborative relationship for the sports world to see.
“I love the times between series on the bench during a game, when it’s just us three, us four with (offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy), talking about how we’re going to attack them next,” Kafka said. “Everyone, it’s calm. We’re decisive. Everyone is on the same page, and the offense is rolling and you’re feeling pretty good about everything.”
But even when people aren’t watching and the stakes aren’t as high, Mahomes and Reid are constantly communicating.
It’s not uncommon to see Mahomes step away from a training camp drill to go talk with Reid. And in quarterback meetings, there’s an open exchange of ideas that dates back to Mahomes’ early days with the organization, when he was learning from Smith, the former Chiefs starter at his position.
There’s a constant open dialogue between the pair, something that makes their relationship different than many other connections between head coaches and their quarterbacks.
“Coach is very much involved in that room, which has been great for Patrick because getting inside the mind of the play-caller and the quarterback, those two conversations, they have to be on the same page every single time,” Kafka said. “They’re able to speak freely and honestly, and I think there’s no secrets between those guys. That’s a huge part of it.”
An ‘inner beam’
For Mahomes, it’s Reid’s experience in the NFL that takes the quarterback-coach relationship to the next level.
“I had a great relationship with (Texas Tech) coach (Kliff) Kingsbury, and him kind of taking me and evolving me from really a baseball player into a football player into a quarterback and pushing me,” Mahomes said. “But I think with just going to Coach Reid and him just picking up right where Coach King left off, and him just being able to keep pushing me and showing me different stuff that I never had been exposed to and keep pushing me every single day just to be better, I think that was big.”
Mahomes’ youth also makes their connection different from Reid’s earlier QB-coach relationships.
“I’ve got him when he’s young,” Reid said. “It’s a lot like Donovan (McNabb) that way. It’s different than Michael (Vick) or Brett Favre. Those guys were already established. There’s something about that, something about being able to work with him.”
Everyone around the organization recognizes that there’s just something different about the way this pair works together. It’s in the communication, in Reid’s increased creativity and in the subtle changes to Reid’s demeanor since Mahomes arrived in Kansas City.
Colquitt, the punter who’s been in Kansas City for Reid’s entire six-year tenure, puts it best.
“When I look at Coach Reid’s body language, it’s fun seeing how excited he is knowing that he can really be creative and it’s going to get carried out,” Colquitt said. “It’s not an outward smile but that inner beam that, ‘Hey, this is making me alive.’”