Not much is guaranteed this Chiefs season. But every Sunday morning, without fail, Coach Herm Edwards will get down on his knees and ask God for two things.
His requests never change. They're nothing like the wishes muttered in those prayer circles before games or the thanks offered by players who point to the sky after a score. Even though he brings a priest to team meetings every Saturday so he can take communion and he goes to Visitation Parish every Sunday in the offseason, he doesn't expect God to give him what the fans want most.
"God already knows the score before the game's going to be played. He just wants to see how you're going to act afterward," the 53-year-old coach tells The Pitch.
"I've never prayed to win. That's never my prayer. My prayer is to protect both teams. And let me handle the outcome in the right way and control my emotions during the game."
On that last one, God has apparently helped.
There's little to see when TV cameras pan to Edwards on the sidelines between plays. He wears the same stoic look, his eyes intense, his arms crossed, his lips pursed, his eyebrows stuck upward. It doesn't matter if the Chiefs are winning or losing — Edwards' expression always looks as though he has just clocked in at an insurance-agency job.
It makes you wonder what Herm Edwards is made of.
He never throws something, Bobby Knight-style. He doesn't cry after victories, like Dick Vermeil. He doesn't issue a red-faced scolding to problem players, the way Marty Schottenheimer did.
Edwards knows fans hate him for his conservative streak.
He says he doesn't care what the fans think. But then, he also knows he has to win — something he's never been particularly good at as a head coach.
Earlier this month, Edwards said November would determine whether his team could make the playoffs. Then the Chiefs dropped three in a row.
The dark wood paneling in Edwards' office gives the room a stately feel, like a dean's office or a smoking room. The paneling, however, also makes it feel as lonely as an empty library.
Edwards says fans don't like him because they haven't signed on to his philosophy. He has a simple goal: Score 24 points a game.
The philosophy can be infuriating to anybody who wishes the Chiefs were still a high-scoring team — a reputation that goes back to legendary coach Hank Stram, who put up 30 points or more six times in his first season. The high-powered offense continued with Joe Montana as quarterback and under coaches Schottenheimer and Vermeil. The Chiefs were exciting to watch in those days, but Vermeil lost his only playoff appearance, and Schottenheimer went 3-7 in the postseason.
When Edwards' teams score 24 points, they usually win. In his 112 games as a head coach, his teams have scored 24 or more points 38 times. Edwards has won three-quarters of those games.
But there's a reason that others haven't bought into his philosophy: Rarely — only about a third of the time — do his teams score 24 points. This year, the Chiefs have managed it only twice.
Edwards knows results aren't coming fast enough for Chiefs fans. "They like going to Las Vegas and gambling," he says. "We have a tendency to live in a society where 7-Eleven is much more convenient than going to the grocery store and standing in line. Because it's quick. We don't have patience in this society ... and I'm a very patient man."
Edwards sits alone in front of the flat-screen TV that dominates his desk. Several secretaries outside his office chat over a Tupperware container of oatmeal cookies. It's October 31, the Wednesday before the Chiefs play Green Bay, and Brett Favre is on the TV, his arm ready to fire a bullet of a pass. Edwards realizes he doesn't have a Favre on his team. One reason that fans haven't liked him in Kansas City, he says, is because of his aging offense.
"This is not the same offensive crew that was here six years ago. It has changed. The years before I got here, it was declining. It wasn't going this way," he says as he moves one hand up. "It was going the other way," he concludes, his hand plunging downward like a crashing plane.
He says he doesn't care that people criticize him — but then his voice rises for a moment. As he gets angry, the secretaries outside his office go silent. His always-expressive eyebrows climb his forehead like a pair of stealth bombers targeting his hairline.
"Because the offense is not scoring a lot of points, people are saying, 'Well, coach doesn't want to throw the ball.' I never said that. That never came out of my mouth."
He pauses for a moment. He doesn't blink before speaking again. It's rare for Edwards to criticize his players publicly, but he places part of the blame for the team's offensive decline on quarterback Damon Huard. "I'm playing a certain way because I know my players, and I know what they can do well. And I'm not going to have Damon Huard throw 35 passes, because if I do, I know it's not going to be very pretty."
Then, as if remembering his prayer to suppress his emotions, he's back to his calm self. He talks about the playoffs.
"If we continue to play the way we've been playing, we've got a shot. And that's all you can ask for. It really depends on this month and how we're going to finish up this month and go into November.
"If you can win some games in November," he continues, "it sets you up pretty good for the December run. After this month, we'll know more about our football team."
Even his mother notices that he doesn't betray his feelings on the sidelines.
"When they show him [on television], he just has his arms crossed and he is standing there," Martha Edwards says. "They don't show him too much because I think he never shows emotions. It's just not interesting enough for them."
It wasn't always that way.
Nobody had a bigger mouth than the teenage Herm Edwards. For his inability to shut up, he earned the nickname "Herm the Germ." He rubbed his shoes with Vaseline so they'd shine in the lights for Friday-night football games. Every chance he got, he reminded anyone who would listen that he'd play in the NFL someday.
"He told all his friends and his coaches, 'You will see me on TV one day,'" Martha Edwards recently told The Pitch from her home in Seaside, California, where Edwards grew up. "They laughed at him. They made fun of him."
So Edwards just said it louder and more often.
He took his boisterous attitude to college, where he bounced around from the University of California-Berkeley to Monterey Peninsula Junior College, then back to Cal and then to San Diego State.
After he graduated, no NFL teams were interested in the skinny defensive end who spent every game in the face of the other teams' wide receivers. But Edwards showed up at the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp and, simply by outworking everyone, ended up a starter by the first preseason game.
In the NFL, Edwards started to mellow. He remembered what his father had taught him about how to succeed. Herman Edwards Sr. served in World War II. Afterward, he was working as a checkpoint guard at an Army base in Gelnhausen, West Germany, where Martha Gerstner was a switchboard operator. They dated for six years before she agreed to return to the States and marry him. Edwards Sr., who died in 1978, warned his son that, with a black father and a white mother, he was sure to face prejudice — but he could beat it by working hard.
Herm Edwards was never a star in the NFL. He never made the Pro Bowl. Instead, he took his father's advice about hard work and didn't miss a game for nine of his 10 seasons — 135 consecutive starts.
He made a name for himself by being in the right spot at the right time in one game, on November 19, 1978, just months after his father's death.
Edwards' Eagles were behind the Giants, 17-12, late in the fourth quarter. The Giants' quarterback fumbled a handoff, and Edwards scooped it up and ran it back for a touchdown. Eagles fans would remember the play as "the Miracle at the Meadowlands."
Edwards offers a simple explanation for how he ended up with that ball. "All you can ask is for an opportunity, and then you have to take it," he says. "I've never squandered my opportunities, and I don't take them lightly."
After he quit playing, Edwards went to work as a scout for the Chiefs in 1990. Edwards found a mentor at the Chiefs in defensive-backs coach Tony Dungy. When Dungy took over as head coach in Tampa in 1996, he took Edwards with him. Dungy taught Edwards his conservative style of play calling and sold him on a new philosophy: abandoning the field-general style of coaching and instead treating players almost as equals. It took Edwards about a decade to work up to a job as head coach, but in 2001 he took the helm of the New York Jets.
Edwards made it to the playoffs three out of his five years with the Jets. But in 2005, the Jets managed just four wins and put up 24 points (or more) only three times. Injuries likely contributed to his team's poor performance. But no city is tougher on its coaches than New York, and Edwards was blamed for turning a playoff-quality team into a loser.
In Edwards' first season in Kansas City, the Chiefs made the playoffs. The playoff game was painful to watch. Kansas City couldn't get a first down in the first half — something that hadn't happened in the NFL in nearly 50 years. Indianapolis rolled over the Chiefs, 23-8.
This year began much like every year for Edwards: poorly. In his seven years as an NFL coach, he has won only two opening-day games. And things typically don't get better for him until it's too late; in six of his seven seasons, he had a losing record by the seventh game.
Herm the Germ might have taken some chances at a time like this, but today's Edwards defends his simple — and conservative — style.
The press conference is supposed to be over, but Edwards has a good story to tell. Three reporters have stopped him in the hallway outside the locker room. It's Thursday, November 1, three days before the Chiefs fall apart in the fourth quarter against Green Bay.
On one side of Edwards is KCSP 610's Rhonda Moss, holding a microphone in his face. In front of him is Doug Tucker, the beat reporter from the Associated Press. On the other side is The Kansas City Star's Randy Covitz, who has asked Edwards if he fears that his players will be star-struck by Favre. Covitz cites a couple of times when teams have seemed humbled in Favre's presence.
"I've got one better for you," Edwards says. The man nicknamed "the Preacher" is getting ready for a story — or one of his rare but infamous rants. He allows a slight smile. He's in a good mood; he's already gone on for a while during his press conference about the barbecue joint in Ames, Iowa, where he always stops for a milkshake on his way to training camp in Wisconsin.
"My first pro game was against Joe Namath when he was with the Rams. You think I wasn't star-struck?"
Edwards lets a minute of silence hang to let that sink in.
"But I got my first NFL interception against Joe Namath."
Afterward, he says, he went over and shook Namath's hand. "Hey, if you can get an interception off one of the great quarterbacks, it's special."
Early in the Green Bay game on November 4, it seems his team has learned from the coach's story. Not only has veteran Patrick Surtain intercepted a pass from Favre, but so has third-stringer Benny Sapp.
With seven minutes and 13 seconds left in the first quarter, Edwards shows his only sign of unchecked emotion.
The Chiefs have punted to the Packers and pinned Favre at his own 2-yard line. Kansas City has a chance for what Edwards is always looking for: a big play on defense.
Favre huddles his team members in the end zone, and the Chiefs defense spreads out in front of them. Edwards, knowing he has a few seconds before Favre snaps the ball, walks out onto the field where safety Bernard Pollard is standing.
"Hey!" Edwards yells to Pollard.
Edwards looks furious and shakes his fist as if banging it on a table.
"We got to take over the game," he tells Pollard. "We can't give up big plays. We're in a position to win."
Despite Edwards' speech, Favre leads the Packers 70 yards to a field goal on that drive.
With three minutes left in the game, the Chiefs, down 23-22, get the ball back. But they can't manage a first down, so they have to punt. The Chiefs get the ball back again, but this time Huard throws an interception that turns into seven points for Green Bay.
The Packers win, 33-22. Favre ends the day with two touchdowns and 360 yards passing.
Clearly, it's time to bench Huard. But for a coach like Edwards, benching a guy isn't an easy thing to do. A week later, when Denver comes to town, Huard is still the starter.
Every winter, college prospects head to the scouting combine at the Indianapolis RCA Dome to run drills for NFL coaches.
At last February's combine, DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler knew he had to perform well. The 300-pound defensive lineman had earned a reputation as a troublemaker when he played for North Carolina State. At a game in September 2006, an official said he saw Tyler spit on a Southern Mississippi player during an argument. "I always lose my temper," Tyler told the Charlotte News & Observer. He denied spitting on the guy, but he acknowledged getting into fights. "I try to play with a lot of emotion and enthusiasm and sometimes I get to talking back and forth with another player. I don't mean anything personally."
Now, at the combine, he had to recast himself as a 22-year-old who was mature enough for the NFL.
As Tyler lined up to run the 40-yard dash, he looked over and saw Herm Edwards watching.
Edwards was standing with Tim Krumrie, the Chiefs' defensive-line coach. Krumrie had been a fairly unknown coach before HBO's Hard Knocks filmed a behind-the-scenes documentary at the Chiefs' training camp this year. Krumrie became a star on the show, mostly because, during routine drills, he yelled at his players until he lost his voice.
Before Tyler could begin his sprint, Edwards approached and took out a dollar.
"I bet you my man here can beat you," Edwards said, referring to Krumrie. Edwards stuck the dollar bill to his forehead. For a guy this conservative, a dollar bet is big. "Tim is going to whoop you."
Recalling the race after practice November 7, Tyler won't say what happened next or who won. "He didn't get the best of me," is all he'll say.
On draft day, though, the Chiefs picked up Tyler in the third round and put him on the roster as a second-string defensive tackle.
Tyler tells the story about the bet with clear admiration for Edwards. Many of the players seem to share this feeling for their coach — something beyond the standard respect.
That close association with his players, however, could also be costing Edwards victories. Like many former players turned coaches, Edwards often builds a bond with his players that can blind his ability to judge when a starter should be pulled or when somebody isn't cutting it.
Since coming to the Chiefs, Edwards has regularly boasted that he has taken a liking to running back Larry Johnson. This year, that friendship seemed to help him ignore Johnson's lackluster performance. Johnson averaged just 3-1/2 yards per run and scored only four touchdowns before an injury sidelined him in the Packers game.
Behind Johnson was veteran Priest Holmes, who was coming back after a neck injury kept him out of the game for two years. Holmes says he met Edwards for the first time right after the Chiefs hired the new coach. Holmes was on injured reserve, and it looked as if he might never play again. When Holmes told Edwards that he wanted to come back, Edwards answered quickly: "I hope to see you back."
Just the same, while Johnson was healthy, Holmes carried the ball only seven times. Holmes and Edwards kept saying the rehabbed running back was ready to play, but it appeared Edwards' friendship with Johnson led the coach to favor him.
Likewise, Edwards stuck by his starting quarterback long after many observers called for a change. Huard had thrown only eight touchdowns — and 11 interceptions — before Edwards decided on November 12 to make Brodie Croyle the starter.
Even though Edwards hasn't given him much of a chance to win the starting job, Croyle has always been one to defend his coach. Croyle says he liked Edwards after their first meeting, during the 2006 Senior Bowl, a game for college players trying to make it into the NFL. Croyle says he figured out right away that Edwards was a players' coach. "He always says, 'You take care of me, and I'll take care of you.' He knows how to help people because he's done it himself."
Edwards also became attached to kicker Justin Medlock. The team drafted
Medlock this year and was so confident in his ability that it traded away veteran kicker Lawrence Tynes.
It would've been easy for Edwards to see a bit of himself in the rookie. Medlock grew up in Santa Clara, California, not far from Edwards' hometown of Seaside. Like Edwards, Medlock is the son of interracial parents. Edwards developed a bad reputation as a loudmouth in college; as a student at UCLA, Medlock pleaded guilty to a DUI charge after he ran into a call box on the highway and flipped his truck. And like Edwards, Medlock showed great promise, having made 70 of his 88 field-goal tries at UCLA.
Medlock struggled through training camp. During the preseason, he made only three of six field goals. There were signs that Medlock might not have the stomach to kick under the pressure of the NFL. Edwards not only kept him — he didn't invite any others kickers to compete in training camp. The Hard Knocks show caught Edwards reassuring Medlock that he shouldn't worry: The job was his.
"You can do this," Edwards told Medlock after another missed field goal. "You wouldn't be here if you couldn't."
In the first game of the season, Medlock choked on a 30-yarder. He made another, but it wasn't enough to save his job. The Chiefs cut him the next day.
It was a questionable move. Edwards seemed to be overreacting, as if to show that a players' coach could still drop the ax.
Medlock, having played just one game as a pro, is now back home in Santa Clara. Reached by phone recently, he said he still doesn't understand why a coach who told him the job was his cut him after one game. But he says he has no hard feelings toward Edwards. "It's just one of those things. It's part of the business."
Before every game, Edwards shines his dress shoes with a kit he keeps hidden in the locker room. He might have learned his work ethic from his father, but the perfectionist thing — that's all Herm. "All I know," his mother says, "is that he wants everything perfect. That's him."
It must bother him when he loses control of his emotions despite his prayers. But his most memorable moments as a coach have been those when he has lost it.
There was, for example, the "You play to win the game" speech he gave when he was a Jets coach. During a postgame press conference on October 30, 2002, Edwards launched into a diatribe about how the goal in sports is to score more points than the other guy. "You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game," he shouted. "You don't play it to just play it."
The infamous "You play to win the game" speech:
As Chiefs coach, his best outburst so far was last New Year's Day. A reporter accused him of lying about who would be the starting quarterback, and Edwards went on a tirade for one minute and 23 seconds in which he demanded of reporters, "Don't get it twisted."
He had another such moment before the Denver game. A Web site had reported that Johnson was out for the year, citing a source in the Chiefs organization. Local reporters were pissed that they had missed a big story. But Edwards denied knowing anything about it. The back-and-forth went on for nine minutes.
"I have nothing to hide," Edwards pleaded, pointing both hands defensively at his chest.
"So you haven't been told his foot's broken?" Rhonda Moss asked one more time.
"No." Obviously, Edwards wasn't going to stand much more. "I got no reason to hide. I'm trying to win a football game."
The Chiefs' head spokesman cut off the questioning.
Edwards headed for the elevator up to his office. As he waited, he shouted to nobody in particular, "I got a lot of holes in me. I feel like a sieve here." Then he shouted back to the gaggle of reporters, "Hey, Rhonda, got any more bullets in that pistol?"
"No, I'm all out," Ross said.
"Good." Edwards stepped on the elevator and was gone.
By that Sunday, November 11, it seemed Edwards had been telling the truth. Johnson was on the sidelines in street clothes, with no cast on his foot. He appeared to be walking without a limp.
Holmes got his first start of the season, and though it wasn't a stellar outing, he averaged 3-1/2 yards per run — as good as Johnson this year.
By halftime, Edwards' game plan seemed to be working. The Chiefs led, 8-6. But then Huard threw an interception and the Broncos scored. On the next possession, Huard fumbled; a Broncos defender picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown.
In two minutes, the game was all but over. The Chiefs managed only a field goal in the second half and lost to a pitiful Broncos team, 27-11.
Once again, the Chiefs had failed to score 24 points. And in the month that Edwards says is the most crucial, they had dropped two in a row.
The day after the Denver game, on November 12, Edwards called Huard into his office. He told him he was giving the starting job to Croyle. And with that, Edwards' support, his unwavering belief in his starters, shifted.
During his press conference the next day, the media badgered Edwards about whether he'd stand behind Croyle if he stumbled. Edwards didn't hesitate. "He has the ball. It's his turn. He's going to make errors. He's going to turn the ball over, and we're going to survive."
Nobody asked whether Edwards was giving up his playoff hopes. Nobody brought up that Edwards had said November was crucial and that the team still hadn't won a game this month.
But Edwards addressed these facts himself. "I hope people don't think, He's making the switch at quarterback because he's throwing in the towel. That's not the case."
If Edwards still thought this season was salvageable, he didn't show it on Sunday. Edwards was facing his mentor, Colts coach Tony Dungy, and for three quarters the coaches seemed to be fighting for the title of most conservative play caller. As the fourth quarter started, the score was tied, 10-10. The game was decided with two plays — an embarrassingly conservative call by Edwards and a gutsy one by Dungy.
With 7 minutes and 45 seconds left, the Chiefs had the ball on their own 37 yard line. It was third down, and the Chiefs needed 18 yards for a first down. Croyle had played like a veteran all game, with a touchdown and no interceptions. He lined up in the shotgun position, appearing ready to throw deep. Everybody on the field, every fan in the stands, everyone watching on TV, knew that the Chiefs needed to pass the ball to get a first down.
Edwards didn't agree. Instead, Croyle handed the ball off, and third-string running back Kolby Smith managed just two yards. Edwards sent his punt team out to give the ball over to the Colts.
It wasn't just a conservative call. Nobody would have figured that Smith could scramble for the first down. Calling a run meant that Edwards just wanted a couple of extra yards for his punter. It meant that Edwards didn't believe his offense could manage the winning score. It meant he was playing for overtime — or that he simply didn't believe that his team could win.
Indianapolis drove the ball down to the 2 yard line before the Chiefs' defense made an impressive stand. On fourth down, Dungy sent in Peyton Manning instead of the kicking team. Manning took the ball himself and pushed through the defensive line for a first down.
It was a gutsy call. It was something Herm Edwards would never have done.
The Chiefs were out of timeouts, so the Colts waited until the game clock showed 4 seconds and kicked the winning field goal.
With a single play, Dungy showed up his prodigy and made it clear why a coach shouldn't always, without fail, play conservatively.
The TV cameras caught Edwards' reaction. As the kick went through the uprights, he kicked out his right leg and mouthed something that looked unmistakably like Damn. It was the only sign of emotion that the cameras had caught from Edwards all day.
And even with his chances of having a winning November gone, and even with the Chiefs' playoff hopes slipping away, and even with fans questioning his conservative play calling, it still might be the last time we see any emotion from Herm Edwards.