Edwards' passion for building winners runs deep


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Jan 22, 2006
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Edwards' passion for building winners runs deep
By Joe Posnanski

McClatchy Newspapers


MONTEREY, Calif. - Herman Edwards points to the street where he had shined the boots of soldiers on their way to Vietnam. He was 13 then, and he would shout out: "Shoe shine 35 cents! Spit shine for 50!" He is 52 now. Edwards still shouts out.

"If you want to wear a do-rag on your head, you can go play in the parking lot!" Edwards yells at the 800 or so kids who sit and kneel in the grass. "Understand? Because I don't care! This is a free camp! Free! And you are going to play by my rules!"

Herm Edwards does not scrimp on exclamation points.

The kids listen because Edwards is an NFL coach, and he is speaking truth. This is a free camp. It may be true that in 11 years of running the Herm Edwards Football Camp in his old hometown he does not remember ever throwing anybody out. He looks ready to do it, though.

"If you fight, you're gone!" Edwards yells. "If you use bad language, you're gone! It's very simple to me! You do right, or you're gone! I don't care!"

Only the last exclamation points to a lie.

The white house on Highland Street in the town of Seaside has a shiny red Kansas City Chiefs sticker on the mailbox. The green New York Jets sticker has almost been scraped away. Martha has worked hard scraping. Stickers can be stubborn.

"Mom won't live anywhere else," Herman Edwards says.

The story of Herman Edwards, the Kansas City Chiefs coach, begins here, on this small street in this small house in this small town that borders Monterey. Herm Edwards would pedal his Schwinn Sting-Ray to the end of Highland, turn west and gaze down the hill - it looked as if he could coast all the way into Monterey Bay. The view sold Herm's father, Herman Edwards Sr., and he bought this house in 1961 with money he had saved over 20 years in the U.S. Army.

The couple next door quickly started a neighborhood petition to keep the family out.

"It wasn't the ghetto here or anything like that," Herm says. Now, he's driving his Range Rover on Highland. "But it got rough. I'll put it this way. I always knew where I lived. I always knew I was in Seaside. That wasn't plush. I wasn't in Monterey. I wasn't in Carmel. I was in Seaside. I knew what that meant. I still know."

The car glides past Martin Luther King Junior High, which was called something else before the assassination - Edwards can't remember what. In those days, he wore an afro so big he had trouble pulling a football helmet over it. Anyway, basketball was his sport. "I used to tell people I was 6-foot-4," Edwards says. "And with that afro, I was."

Turn back to Highland. Martha's home. She's 81, but nobody ever believes it, least of all Martha. She shows off her prize collection of Herman Edwards posters, paintings, pictures, magazine covers and bobblehead dolls. "I'm so glad he's back in Kansas City," she says.

"Mom," Herm begins.

"Well, I am," she continues. "New York was no good at the end."

Herm grimaces. Martha's right. The last season in New York was rough - even now it's not exactly clear what went down.

In four seasons, Edwards had coached more playoff games than any other Jets coach. But in 2005, quarterbacks went down faster than Gatorade, and the team lost seven straight, finished 4-12. When the season ended, rumors flapped - Herm wanted out or the Jets wanted him out or both or neither. For a couple of wild weeks, unnamed sources dueled in the papers, talk-radio lines lit red, disloyalty accusations charged the air. Herm Edwards' house on Long Island was surrounded by reporters and television trucks. He says his wife, Lia, cried. The standoff ended with the Jets getting a fourth-round pick. The Chiefs got Herm Edwards to be head coach.

"If the Jets had said they wanted me as their head coach, I would still be their head coach," is what Herm Edwards wants to say about that.

"I'm just so glad you are in Kansas City," Martha says. "New York got so rough."

"It wasn't that rough," Herm says, and his face hardens.

As the Range Rover breezes through the turns of the old neighborhood, spectacular views - moving postcards - flash through the window. Green mountains. Blue bay. Green mountain again. Edwards says he never noticed his hometown's beauty. "When you grow up around it, you don't think about it," he says. "I come back now and think, `How could I not notice this?'"

He had other things on his mind. Young Herm told everybody he would become famous. He would be on television. Most kids think like that, maybe. Edwards kept saying it even after he got into high school, long after other kids, for one reason or another, dropped pipe dreams. Herm Edwards was going places.

"I was getting out of here, Coach, I knew that," he says. When Edwards gets to know people a little, he calls them "Coach."

"You look around here now, and you think, `Wow, it's beautiful.' But it was jail to me then, Coach. I wasn't going to live in this town all my life and talk about how I played football in high school. No way, Coach. No way."

He was in the first class of Seaside kids to be bused to Monterey High School. After football practice, the bus wouldn't get him home until 7 p.m. But he was on the best football team around. Herm intercepted 48 passes in three years - almost two per game. It's a record they still talk about. Edwards had wanted to be a wide receiver, but Monterey did not throw the ball. Herm figured intercepting passes was about the only way he could get his hands on the ball.

"It was the craziest thing you ever saw, Coach," Herm says. "I could see everything so clearly, it was like I was the one running the pass patterns. I just knew where the ball was going. I wasn't guessing. I knew. Craziest thing you ever saw."

Actually, the craziest thing he ever did happened at Monterey Peninsula Junior College. The other team set up for the game-winning field goal. Edwards, without telling anyone, drifted back toward the goalpost so that if the kick came up short, he could return it. The kick was not short. It was true. So Herman Edwards did what came to mind. He stood in front of the goalpost, jumped up and blocked the ball just before it cleared the upright. They still talk about that.

"It was all instinct," Herm says. "I wasn't trying to do that. It just worked out, Coach. Everything worked like magic. I lived on instinct then. I still do now."

The old barracks on Fort Ord are deserted; the wood has warped. This is now the campus of Cal State-Monterey Bay, where the sports teams are called Otters and the basketball arena is "The Kelp Bed." With so many skeletons of Army buildings standing, though, it still looks like a military base. This was where Sgt. Herman Edwards Sr. finished his Army days after serving in two wars.

Herman Sr. met Martha on The Coleman Kaserne, a military facility in Germany. This was just after World War II ended. Martha was German, and she worked as a telephone operator because her English was quite good. Like in the movies, she fell for the stranger across a crowded room. He fell for her, too. They petitioned the U.S. government for the right to marry. They were granted that right but were warned the wedding would not be legal in most states in the American South. He was black. She was white.

"My father gave me discipline," Herm Jr. says. "But my mother, Coach, my mother gave me passion!"

He says "passion" with the exclamation point, the word coming out like a shouted whisper. And he switches topics. He points to the field where young soldiers used to drill and where now those 800-or-so children play football.

"I want you to notice something," he says. "When you look at the field, what do you see?"

There is a lot to see. Three dozen volunteer coaches in red scream (none have whistles - at this camp, only Herm gets a whistle). A small child shot-puts a football high in the air, and six or seven players stand together and wait for it to fall, like seagulls on the beach begging for food. An older player tucks a football under his arm, and he fakes right, left, right, left again, and someone behind him yells, "I already tagged you." A large young man with the body of a lineman but the heart of a quarterback throws a spiral. Later, when Herm Edwards asks for quarterbacks, he will stand up. "You're a quarterback?" Herm will ask with a grin. "You Daunte Culpepper?"

There are girls and boys here, tall and short, slim and chubby, white and black and all shades in between. This is the free football camp Herm Edwards envisioned when he said to his friends in Monterey: "I don't want to raise more money. I want to touch the kids personally." Herm hopes to bring a camp like this to Kansas City next year.

"What do you see?" he asks.

See? Happy kids playing football? "No!" he says. "You see a clean field! See that now? There's no garbage on this field anywhere! No pieces of paper! No cups! No garbage anywhere!"

He smiles. Herman Edwards Sr. always told his son: There is nothing more important than taking pride in what you do.

People at the Monterey Boys and Girls Club love to talk about how small the place used to be. Opinions vary. Most say it was roughly the size of an old trailer. Ron Johnson, a former NFL wide receiver who runs the club, says it was smaller than that.

"That man won't tell you this," Johnson says, as he points at his lifelong friend and former NFL teammate Herm Edwards. "But he built this place."

Herm does not have to say anything because his name is on the wall, right above the cafeteria where 600 meals are dished out to kids every day. Across a 5,000-square-foot play area, there's the computer center, and research center, two basketball courts and also the science center, where there's a tarantula that scares Edwards.

"He looked at the old Boys and Girls Club and said, `Oh man, we've got to do better than this,'" Johnson says. "And he started a capital campaign. And the money was raised. That's just how Herm is. That's how he has been for as long as I've known him."

Herm shrugs. "When I first thought we needed a new Boys and Girls Club, nobody saw it," he says. "It's like they couldn't picture it. It was too big, maybe. I don't know. I always had this in mind. I could always see it."

He switches topics again, and like one song blending into another, he talks about the Chiefs. "The thing about the Chiefs is everybody needs to understand the job. The job of the offense is not to score points. The job of the defense is not to stop the other team from scoring points. You understand, Coach? That's what people think it's about. That's the way this team was playing. But that's not what the job is." Behind him, there are the cracks and laughter of kids playing pool.

"The job," he says, "is to win. That's all. Everybody's heard me say that. You play to win the game (it is even the name of his book), but nobody knows what I mean by that. What I mean is, sometimes scoring 30 points is worse than scoring 20 points because you score too quickly, and your defense is on the field all day and can't stop anybody in the fourth quarter. You understand me, Coach?

"I mean sometimes our defense has to stop the other team deep in their territory so Dante Hall will be in position to get a punt return. I mean sometimes our offense needs to hold the ball for 6 minutes to give our defense a break. I mean it all has to work together. Everybody has to work to win. That's the whole thing."

The kids then run at Herm in a swarm, and he signs his name on the backs of their T-shirts.

"We have a chance to win, Coach," Herm says. "I can see it."

The small white house on Highland was Herman Edwards Sr.'s pride, the only house he ever bought. He died in 1978, after Herm Jr.'s first season in the NFL. Edwards Sr. had been in a car crash, and Herm rushed to the hospital. He promised to take care of his mother and sister. He watched his father die. Herman Sr. was 60.

"They said `natural causes,'" Herm says. "What are those?"

He often tells stories about his father, both to the kids at the camp and to his players in the NFL. He has told the story about his father making him "sweep the corners" in the backyard so many times that many of his friends and former players can recount it word for word. He also tells of times the bugle would blow on Fort Ord. His father would stop the car, get out and salute the flag. He would make young Herm salute the flag, too.

"But nobody's around, Dad," young Herm would say.

"That's when it's most important," Edwards Sr. replied.

"His father instilled incredible loyalty in Herm," says Lamonte Winston, the Chiefs' longtime director of player development. Winston says Edwards got him into the NFL more than 15 years ago. They had met at an NFL tryout camp - Winston was coaching then. The two connected. Winston was hired by the Chiefs the next year based mostly on Edwards' recommendation. It never takes Edwards long to evaluate someone.

"He's told me so many stories about his father," Winston says. "I think he's been trying to live up and be the kind of man his father wanted him to be. I don't think that's ever very far from his mind."

Yes, when Herman Edwards Sr. bought the small white house on Highland, the neighbors did start a petition. The petition was sent to the real estate agent, but Herman and Martha got the message. We don't want you. They bought the house anyway. Martha still lives there 45 years later. She will not move. Everyone else who lived on the street is long gone.

There's another part of that story. A few years after the petition failed, those neighbors came over to see Martha Edwards. They apologized. They said: "We were scared. But now we see what kind of people you are." And they pointed at Herm Jr. and his sister and they said, "We are so proud of the way you raised your children."

"Coach, people can change," Herm Edwards says. "That's what I live for. That's why I come back home every year. You can help people change, Coach. You can make a difference in their lives. Football. Life. You can help people!"

And with that last exclamation point, he blows his whistle and runs back on the field, which is not far from where he used to shine shoes and salute the flag and dream of being a star. He tells a young man to pick up a crumpled cup that the wind had blown out of the garbage can.

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