Hanging With Herm: Chiefs Coach Running Team His Way

By Elizabeth Merrill
Updated: April 18, 2006

KANSAS CITY — The day started 12 hours ago, before the roosters and Katie Couric, and Herm Edwards is resting in a swivel chair with one foot on his desk. But only for a minute. The NFL is a workingman’s game, move it or lose it, and Edwards has the Chargers game on his flat screen and two months from now on his mind.

Forty-five minutes ago, he was hunched down in a one-on-one blocking drill. Gotta do it on the grass, he says. Now he’s inside his immaculate office on the fourth floor at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday, gazing at his perfectly stacked papers, and someone asks Edwards whether he’s a neat freak.

“Take a look at the bathroom in there,” he says sheepishly.

A wooden door slides open, and somewhere, Martha Stewart is jealous. Five hand towels are neatly folded, and the floor sparkles. A fat, red scented candle by the sink gives off a whiff of sophistication.

The motif comes courtesy of his wife. The upkeep is totally Herm.

“When you sit in this chair,” Edwards says, “five things are going to happen that you didn’t anticipate. If you’re not organized, it sends you in a panic.

“I like things in order. Then you know where they are. You know what to do. There’s no indecision.”

Take a quick jaunt around the complex these days, and it’s obvious Edwards, in three months as Kansas City’s football coach, has done some major redecorating to put his stamp on the program. The pool table in the middle of the locker room is gone, and so are a handful of televisions that hung on the walls.

A sign says, “No cell phones.” A fresh coat of paint is being splashed in the players’ lounge, where a 6-foot NFL shield will soon be plastered on the wall.

Edwards has his hands in everything, even on this seemingly mundane Monday in mid-April. After an early-morning workout, he reads a Bible passage before dashing into a meeting. It’s from Job.

“One thing about Job is that he had a lot of patience,” Edwards says. “You go to Job this time of year because there’s a lot of things flying around.

“Be really patient today, partner.”

Nothing — be it rain, snow, or locked doors — keeps Edwards from his early-morning workout. One time in New York, when he was coaching the Jets, he scaled an 8-foot fence when his pass code didn’t work.

In Kansas City, Edwards usually arrives at the workout facility around 4:45 a.m., early enough that the Chiefs had to change their security system to accommodate him.

Dressed in a blue T-shirt, black shorts and Pumas, Edwards, who turns 52 later this month, still looks fit enough to play cornerback. He’s gathered his staff on the practice field Monday for their first clinic, a sort of Football 101 by position.

Each assistant will give a hands-on fundamentals lesson this week to the staff. It’s nerve-racking for some because they’re doing it in front of their new boss.

Tim Krumrie, an old-school defensive-line coach who looks as if he just stepped off the set of “The Longest Yard,” is unfazed. He picks up a one-man sled and tosses it like a rag doll. He barks a few expletives and tells everybody to listen because he has the floor. He has Edwards run through ropes and simulate a defensive tackle.

Krumrie, it seems, has always been fearless. Back in his playing days with the Bengals, he suffered one of the most gruesome football injuries ever televised. He shattered his leg in the Super Bowl against the 49ers trying to tackle Roger Craig. For six years, Krumrie played with a 15-inch steel rod in his leg.

He dives on the ground Monday, his long, moppy locks flying, and scoops up a fumble in front of a collection of middle-aged coaches.

“This is the baby right here,” Krumrie says as he holds up a football. “Never let it go.”

By 3 p.m., Edwards is back in the weight room, giving a tour. He points to a sign above the entryway that says, “Check your ego at the door.” On a wall next to the windows is another message:

“Your habits form who you are.”

In the next few months, two symbols will be tattooed on the Chiefs’ collective psyche — the NFL shield and the arrowhead logo. Both are everywhere on the complex now, from the floors to the walls to the windows.

The pool table in the locker room was removed, in part, because it was covering an arrowhead on the carpet. It also symbolized something that Edwards doesn’t want in his locker room.

“I don’t want guys to get comfortable,” Edwards says. “I really don’t. I think you have to have a feeling in your gut when you walk into this building of a little bit of anxiety. Because that keeps you alert. That keeps you alive. That keeps you wanting to get better.”

Ever since he was a kid, Edwards was never comfortable. He grew up the son of an Army sergeant and was an undrafted rookie cornerback at Philadelphia. Edwards gets uncharacteristically sentimental when he talks about the NFL shield. He says its stars and stripes represent America. He wants it painted everywhere to remind the players that they’re in an occupation that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

He likes the arrowheads because they represent team.

Edwards recently pulled out the list of locker spaces, traditionally assigned by position, and switched everything up. He moved the offense with the defense, the quarterbacks with the defensive linemen.

“You create team unity and (the idea) that we’re all in this together,” Edwards says.

“Generally, the defensive backs don’t hang around with the offensive line. Because they’re out of the way, you don’t think about that. Now all of a sudden, you sit next to a guy and he’s been on your team for five years and you’d be surprised. He may have some of the same things in common that you have.”

Three months ago, when Edwards was settling into Dick Vermeil’s old office, the place was so empty that it almost echoed. Now Edwards has added his own touch, albeit with a white glove.

He has a collection of mini-NFL mugs that are lined up perfectly on a shelf. He has three bobblehead characters — one of himself, one of his good friend Tony Dungy and one of Vermeil.

“Dungy and Dick,” Edwards says. “The two wise men.”

Edwards, who played for Vermeil in Philly, doesn’t want a few coats of paint to cover everything his mentor put together in five years. He’ll just do things a little differently.

He’s handed the team a schedule through June, and the players are bracing themselves for a more disciplined, regimented training camp. Edwards was already working on that schedule Monday. He likes to work at least two months ahead.

And on Monday, there was no slowing down. There are draft meetings and staff meetings and film to watch. Edwards hopes to hop into his Chiefs-red Chevy SUV and be out of the office by 7 p.m.

He grabs some of the neatly stacked papers. Be patient, partner.