Edwards has Chiefs on top heading into bye weekend
By Doug Tucker, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Everybody who's surprised to see the Chiefs in first place, and that includes just about everybody, failed to heed the lessons of history.
What's happening now in Kansas City also took place in New York in 2001 and 2002, and in KC only a year ago. For reasons that even he cannot explain, Herm Edwards' teams habitually start slow, then get things right.
The Jets in 2001 and '02, his first two seasons as a head coach, both lost two of their first three games, but still reached the playoffs. His first Kansas City team last season limped to an 0-2 start but regrouped, won nine of its next 14 and captured an AFC wild-card berth.
Now, after a second straight 0-2 start, the one-time star cornerback of the Philadelphia Eagles has the Chiefs at 4-3 and in first place in the AFC West. And he may be doing the best coaching job of his life.
Not only is the charismatic son of a career military man keeping Kansas City in contention, he's doing so while giving the Chiefs a top-to-bottom makeover, retooling both offense and defense and still managing to keep little fires from flaring into a roaring blaze.
That includes Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson's turning moody and petulant after holding out of training camp and signing a $45 million contract. In two different games, a frustrated Johnson hurled the ball to the ground and drew boos and costly penalties when things weren't going his way. Then, when cornerback Benny Sapp had a similar meltdown and picked up a very unnecessary 15-yard penalty that kept a Cincinnati drive alive, the coach would have no more.
"I'm a very patient man, but I'm also patient in the fact that there are two sides of me," Edwards said after a team meeting that one player described as "intense."
"I'm patient with you and then I put you in the tolerance category. When you get put in the tolerance category, I'll tolerate you until I can replace you. When a guy gets into that box, it's not good."
The next day, a penitent Sapp apologized to fans, teammates, ownership, coaches and just about everyone else who might have witnessed or heard about his absurd conduct. He hasn't so much as frowned at anyone since.
Johnson, for about a month, has refused to speak publicly about anything. But neither has he thrown the ball into the ground. He's also rushed for more than 100 yards in two straight games and seems to be regaining the pace that enabled him to break the team rushing record two years in a row after Edwards had privately reassured the insecure superstar he was understood and appreciated.
"The thing about Herm is he's a leader," said fullback Boomer Grigsby. "Every player in this locker room genuinely respects him. And when you genuinely respect the guy who's running the ship, you want to listen to him. You want to follow his lead."
That goes double for the staff, says special teams coach Mike Priefer, the son of an NFL coach and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.
"I've been around leaders all my life - coaches when I was growing up, at the Naval Academy, serving in the Navy," said Priefer. "He's the best leader I've ever been around. He allows coaches to coach. He trusts you to do your job. He never loses his temper. He's not going to embarrass you by yelling and screaming at you in public. If there's a problem, he comes to your office.
"He knows how to say the right things at the right time to the right people."
When dealing with players, Edwards' biggest asset may be the fact he used to be one in the NFL. It lends a credibility that only seven other current NFL head coaches can claim. Plus, he has the added advantage of having come into the league as an undrafted free agent, a guy who beat long odds to carve out an outstanding 10-year career. A player who's dealing with anxieties and insecurities knows his coach once walked down the same path.
"It's very important because he understands how certain things happen on the field," said Jarrad Page, one of two starting safeties in just their second year. "He understands everything that goes along with the game, looking through the eyes of a player and not just through the eyes of a coach. He's actually played the game. That's big.
"I'll be standing there listening to him sometimes and all of a sudden I'll think, 'He knows exactly how I'm feeling right now.' "
Playing in the NFL from 1976-85 may have given Edwards valuable insight into what Priest Holmes has been going through while making one of the most improbable comebacks in recent NFL history.
Out of football for almost two years after a spinal injury, the former Pro Bowl running back suddenly showed up in camp last July and announced he was ready to resume his career.
Most people thought it was a joke. Many feared Holmes would be an unnecessary distraction. But Edwards took him seriously. The two had a couple of long talks and Edwards became convinced the man was sincere. He told him exactly what would be expected, and exactly where he stood.
Last Sunday at Oakland, after going through a grueling and lonely three-month training program, Holmes was rewarded when his head coach put him on the active roster and gave him a handful of carries.
Now, Holmes' presence could give the Chiefs a unique one-two punch and help energize a flagging offense. He might also prove a good motivator for Johnson.
"Any time I have a problem or a concern, I can go to him and know I'm not going to be looked down upon," Holmes said of Edwards. "I needed time to get back on the field and he gave me that. His experience as a player is going to allow him to look at a situation and maybe judge it a little differently than a coach who hasn't played."
In the meantime, the transition of the Chiefs goes on.
From Dick Vermeil in 2006, Edwards inherited the oldest team in the league, an offensively oriented group that won plenty of games and set dozens of team rushing and scoring records in five years. But it never won a playoff game. Edwards' long-term plan to emphasize defense and the running game will take time. The offensive line is ill-suited for the power football Edwards prefers. Until it can be replaced, the Chiefs will probably continue to rank near the bottom of the league in rushing and scoring.
Yet, here they are in first place in the AFC West. For fans who expected several painful years of rebuilding, it's an exciting, unexpected bonus.
"There is definitely something special going on here," Holmes said. "It starts with the head coach."
The Associated Press http://www.usatoday.com/sports/footb...32245199_x.htm