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Chiefs assistant Andy Heck unheralded key for ever-changing offensive line: 'I've got the best job on this team'

HENDERSON, Nev. -- The Kansas City Chiefs will play their fourth Super Bowl in five seasons on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. One of the most remarkable feats of the run is that they've undergone significant changes on the offensive line each time.

In four Super Bowls, Patrick Mahomes has had four different left tackles.

After losing Super Bowl LV to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs underwent an overhaul, bringing in the core interior trio of Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith while adding Orlando Brown on the outside. They replaced both tackles this past offseason, signing Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith in free agency.

It's impressive that in a league in which the best offensive lines are characterized by continuity, the Chiefs have been able to plug in new elements and keep chugging along.

The man the offensive line credits most: Andy Heck, Andy Heck and also ... Andy Heck.

Unprompted during Super Bowl week, the K.C. O-linemen have praised their offensive line coach for the confidence and knowledge he's bestowed on the entire group.

"Coach Heck is one of the best coaches in the game, for sure," Humphrey told this week. "He does a great job teaching us things, installing different schemes, things like that. He just does a really good job with it. He's been around coach (Andy) Reid for so long, they have a great relationship, they know how to work well together. They've brought in the right guys, too. They've brought in a group that has created a good culture in the core group and then adding in new guys, that seems to be a seamless transition because of Heck."

Chiefs offensive lines by Super Bowl

Table inside Article
Super Bowl Starting offensive line
SB LIV Eric Fisher, Stefan Wisniewski, Austin Reiter, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Mitchell Schwartz
SB LV Mike Remmers, Stefan Wisniewski, Austin Reiter, Nick Allegretti, Andrew Wylie
SB LVII Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Andrew Wylie
SB LVIII Donovan Smith, Joe Thuney (Nick Allegretti), Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Jawaan Taylor

Starring on Notre Dame's 1988 National Championship team, Heck was selected in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He enjoyed a 12-year pro career with Seattle (five seasons), Chicago (five) and Washington (two) before getting into coaching. Heck spent nine seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, joining the club as assistant offensive line coach in 2004 before being promoted to O-line coach in 2006.

When Andy Reid took over the Chiefs as head coach in 2013, Heck came aboard and has been a rock on the staff ever since.

"One of the best things about working for coach Reid -- he's the best boss I've ever had -- is the stability," Heck, 57, told this week. "You know what you're going to get every day. The fact that he tells the players, 'Hey man, let your personality show.' He empowers all the people on this team, whether it's a player or coach, to do your thing. That means a lot. ... Over time, you get to where you feel like you could read the guy's mind. I know what he's going to like or what he's going to want."

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Amid all the changes over the years, Heck said setting a baseline of expectation is key to keeping the group cohesive.

"I try to keep things consistent," he said. "When guys come into our room, there is a standard set of we communicate a certain way, we teach them our system, we encourage them to have a voice -- so there is a give and take. There is no magic to it. You just go through a healthy process of teaching and, learning, and correcting and let's go out to work every day. And when you bring in the right kind of people, people that love to play football, it's an easy process. Then when you have leaders like Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, or even if you go back a few years, brining in a veteran like Mike Remmers. These are guys that show young guys or new guys 'this is how we do business here' and people gravitate to that."

The players respond to how Heck teaches and provides nuanced detail each week.

"He's great. Real specific in his details in what we need to do, and that's big," nine-year-pro Donovan Smith said. "He provides us all that information that allows us to go out there and fly around. Hats off to him. He's been a staple in this league as a head offensive line coach for years. You don't have those pelts on the wall by just being anybody. So he's a great O-line coach, proud that we're able to get coached by him."

The freedom fostered by the coaching staff has led to a "tight-knit" group that feeds off each other, according to Humphrey.

"Everybody gets along really well," he said. "We're really close, we hang out a lot, things like that. Doing things like that, I feel, builds chemistry a lot faster. We've got a bunch of guys in the room that are like-minded, all ultra-competitive, want to be the best they can be. When you have a room full of guys like that, usually it tends to work out."

It helps that their position coach spent a dozen NFL seasons playing both tackle spots and some guard. Heck can dip into a reservoir of playing knowledge to connect with his players and, perhaps more importantly, know when restraint is in order.

"I've been in their shoes," Heck said. "I've literally looked through the facemask at what they're looking at. I can appreciate that. I know what blocks are difficult. I can physically visualize when I don't think it's fair to ask this guy to do this because I remember that being tough. I've been through other aspects. I've been cut. I've been sat down. All these things that aren't in the coaching handbook come up over the course of a career. So I think having had those experiences does help me connect with players on another level."

His players respect that experience.

"Andy Heck is a guy that had one heck of a football career as a player, and then his coaching tenure has been nothing short of incredible as well," guard Trey Smith told "Talk about someone who has extensive knowledge of the game. A lot of time, you run into coaches who know the game, whiteboard, and what's being taught, but to have someone who has played at a high level in the NFL and has a long, illustrious career such as himself, it's someone you can trust. He can tell you to do something out there -- another guy who doesn't have the same experience, you might be like, 'ahhh, I don't know if that's going to work, man' -- but to have someone that's actually been out there, can give you realistic takes, has such an extensive knowledge of the game, it's something that as a young player I'm extremely thankful for."

We won't pretend everything has been roses for the Chiefs offensive line over the years. There was Super Bowl LV when Mahomes was running for his life (the Bucs totaled three sacks and nine QB hits in the 31-9 win). This year, they've dealt with a trove of penalties, particularly with their new offensive tackles.

Taylor leads the NFL with 20 offensive penalties in 2023, including playoffs, eight more offensive penalties than the next closest player.

"It's very frustrating for all of us. For them. For us as an offense," Heck said of the penalties. "Nobody's going out there to jump offsides or get a holding penalty. That's definitely something we've worked at cleaning up, something that takes a great amount of concentration. It's undeniable that when you're going backward as an offense it makes your likelihood of success on that drive drop sharply. Whenever we stall out and don't finish a drive with a touchdown, it's frustrating. Certainly, if we're the cause of that breakdown, if it's an unforced error. Sometimes a penalty happens, but pre-snap penalties, that's unforced."

Sunday, the Chiefs might be playing without Thuney, who is dealing with a pectoral injury. Yet, no one on the team seems to be sweating such a big-time absence in the Super Bowl.

"I take my lead from coach Reid," Heck said. "He's always preached 'next man up.' So, everybody reps the same in practice, everybody prepares the same. In this case, 'Nick Allegretti, you're the next man up. Let's go. Just step in.' There's not a big production. He steps in, it's a seamless operation."

Heck, whose son plays for the Houston Texans, has spent 11 seasons under Reid in Kansas City, playing a significant role in the Chiefs' dynastic run. He's watched other Reid offensive coaches get chances for advancement, and while he's happy in his gig, he wouldn't pass up a chance to run his own program.

"If all I ever do is be an O-line coach, I'll be very happy," he said. "It's what I love doing. But yeah, I have aspirations. I would love to be given more consideration to become a head coach. But that's probably not in the cards. I've got a great job. I love my job. I feel like I've got the best job on this team."

Perhaps one day, O-line coaches will be viewed in higher regard for their importance in championship football. For now, Heck will settle for playing a vital role in a dynasty.

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