KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jon Gruden joined the coaching staff of the Green Bay Packers in 1992, and he viewed himself as an “all-time grinder,” willing to arrive early and work harder than anyone else, yet he met his match in another newcomer to the staff that season in Andy Reid.
“Reid beat me into the office everyday, and he stayed later,” Gruden said. “He loves football more than me. He's one of the few guys I know in my life that actually likes football more than me. That's what I love about him and admire about him the most.”
Reid feels much the same way about his free Gruden.
“He's a phenomenal football coach,” Reid said. “He loves it, he's passionate about. He was passionate about it when he was broadcasting. He didn't get too far away from the game, I mean he was right there.”
That friendship may get tested this week, however. The Chiefs enter the game as staggering 15-point favorites on the road against a divisional rival. Head to head, however, Gruden has enjoyed the edge over Reid, winning four of five contests. That includes a 27-10 victory in the 2003 NFC championship game that propelled Tampa Bay and Gruden toward a Super Bowl title.
“I know what we're in for,” Gruden said. “I know what his record is. I know what the Chiefs are right now. I know they're capable of doing. I know what the point spread is. I know a lot about what I see on tape.”
What Gruden sees in Chiefs, however, is a different offense that what they pair worked together on a quarter of a century ago with the Packers. They share a connection through the West Coast offense on which they both built their offensive bona fides.
But Gruden sees Reid taking the offense in new directions dictated by his talented playmakers and quarterback Patrick Mahomes
“Everyone talks about evolving,” Gruden said. “You evolve based on what your personnel is.”
He points to the Chiefs' speed with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins at receiver along with tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunts. He reminds that left tackle Eric Fisher was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
“And oh, by the way, the quarterback might be the most dynamic player to enter the NFL in history,” Gruden said in reference to Mahomes. “You'd evolve too, you'd evolve real quick.”
The Chiefs enter as heavy favorites based on what Mahomes and the offense have done through the first 11 games of the season. Reid has put no limitations on Mahomes, Gruden says, allowing him to change plays at the line, use multiples shifts and run complicated options like a veteran.
“They're not shrinking the offense for some first-year starter,” Gruden said. “He's put everything you can imagine on this kid's plate. He has unleashed him. That's the sign of a coach that has great confidence in his quarter.”
Gruden met with Mahomes leading up to the 2017 draft for the “Jon Gruden QB Camp” show on ESPN. He says he saw the talent in Mahomes even then.
“We used to make the top 25 plays,” Gruden said. “When you looked at the top 25 plays of Mahomes, it was amazing. I'm sure Andy Reid did the same thing, saw the same skill level and moved up to get him in the draft and I'm sure he's glad he did. But this guy's got spectacular stuff.
Mahomes is coming off the bye week following perhaps both his best and enigmatic performance to date. He completed 33-of-46 passes for a career-best 478 yards and six touchdowns. He also tossed three interceptions and lost two fumbles leading to 21 points for the Rams.
“You have to be secure with the ball,” Mahomes said. “You can’t lose the ball, fumble the ball. I haven’t been strip sacked a lot, but at the same time I am going to try and improve on just keeping two hands on the ball even when I do try to break the pocket.”
But just as Gruden predicts, don't expect Reid to pull in the reins on Mahomes this week following a turnover-filled performance. Mahomes still has the green light to fire the ball at will.
“One thing about Pat, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” Reid said. “I’m not worried about that. I want him to keep firing. Learn from your mistakes but keep firing.”