ANDY REID STILL recalls the first time he met Travis Kelce, after one of Kelce’s games while he was still at the University of Cincinnati. He remembers thinking it was going to take patience — lots of patience — if he were to ever coach this player.

Kelce treated Reid like a long-lost friend more than a new acquaintance. He called the veteran coach “big fella.”

“He was being Travis, being cocky,” Reid said. “Jiminy, he was cocky.”

It was a fitting start to the relationship between Reid, an old-school coach, and Kelce, a fun-loving tight end who proved Reid right in that he would test his patience plenty.

Even recently, in Reid and Kelce’s 11th season together with the Kansas City Chiefs, the two clashed on the sideline after Kelce slammed his helmet in frustration during an ugly Christmas Day loss to the Las Vegas Raiders at home. Reid instructed an equipment manager to not immediately return the helmet to Kelce and had some words for him before eventually sending him back into the game.

But things generally have worked out as well as Reid and Kelce could have hoped. Under Reid’s tutelage, Kelce has become one of the greatest tight ends of all time. He is fourth all-time among players at his position in catches and receptions. He is no longer the undisciplined and cocky kid Reid met that day in Cincinnati, and yet, in many ways he hasn’t changed at all.

“For Travis, Coach Reid has almost been like that uncle you have that you listen to and get advice from,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “He makes Travis a great football player but I think even a better person. He has a good feel for getting on Travis when he needs that motivation, but at the same time he lets Travis be who he is.”

TIGHT ENDS COACH Tom Melvin could often be found in the players’ parking lot before team meetings early in Kelce’s career. Properly managing his time was an issue for Kelce then, and Reid would send Melvin outside to wait for Kelce and rush him into the building.

Reid isn’t much for yelling and screaming, preferring more subtle ways to get his point across. One is the look he uses when he knits his eyebrows and glares at a player.

Kelce said the look means “enough screwing around,” adding he used to receive it frequently.

“One of the hardest things for me was to juggle enjoying my life off the field and still being a professional and ready and at the top of my game week in and week out,” Kelce said. “A lot of that was Coach Reid sitting me down, talking with me and guiding me through all of it. I was testing it with him.

“I was late to meetings, hanging out too much throughout the week, not necessarily focusing and showing to my coaches that I was giving everything I could. I learned you can show your personality and have fun but you have to be accountable to the guy next to you and be able to handle the highs and the lows of the game. Now, football is the only place in my life where I’m really detailed, really professional. When I’m thinking about football, I’m dialed in. I can lock in, really compartmentalize. That’s because of Coach Reid.”

Kelce is a lot of things, including being the greatest pass-catching tight end of his generation. His streak of seven 1,000-yard seasons, a record for his position, was snapped in 2023 — he was 16 yards short — when the Chiefs rested him, Mahomes and some of their other stars in the season’s final game.

Kelce’s also a big personality who once had his own dating reality show and now is dating the world’s preeminent pop star, Taylor Swift. Travis and his brother Jason, of the Philadelphia Eagles, host a podcast in which Travis isn’t afraid to speak his mind, often profanely. Travis once — while seated next to Mahomes at a nationally televised basketball game — was shown chugging beer.

Reid might prefer that Kelce live a more sedate lifestyle, but he knew what to expect from Kelce when he joined the Chiefs as a third-round draft pick in 2013.

“When Travis came to us, he was a little bit of a party guy,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “Andy showed a lot of patience and tolerance.

“Travis wanted attention. He wanted a lot of things. He did things differently than everyone else. Coming here, having to do things a certain way and really organizing and prioritizing his life was a challenge. There were a lot of one-on-one meetings with Coach and a lot of, ‘This is how I want things done.’ There were a ton of bumps early on, but Coach’s love and faith for Travis never wavered. He got him through a rough time early on.”

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AFTER 14 SEASONS coaching the Eagles, Reid joined the Chiefs in 2013. He was familiar with Travis through Jason, the center who played for him for two seasons with the Eagles.

Reid initially wasn’t certain he wanted Travis with the Chiefs. He saw his pass-catching ability but was conflicted about the season-long suspension in 2010 from the Cincinnati Bearcats for multiple positive marijuana tests.

The coach acknowledged it would have been difficult for the Chiefs to draft Travis if he hadn’t known Jason. Jason said Reid called him shortly before the draft.

“I felt like he was asking me in the moment, ‘You realize I’m taking this shot on him. I want to make sure this works out,'” Jason said. “Kind of like [Reid was saying], ‘You’re part of this working out,’ so if it doesn’t work out, he’s holding me responsible.

“We had a great relationship in Philadelphia even though it was only for two years. He knew me and trusted me as a player. My brother’s film from college I think spoke for itself. I think they knew the type of player they were getting. Because of the inside scoop I guess with me, they were able to kind of get over some of the concerns with him.”

Once he was with the Chiefs, the process of trying to fit Travis into Reid’s mold began.

“He coached me hard,” Kelce said. “He didn’t let me come in and be this happy-go-lucky guy. He challenged me every single day.”

Kelce recalled in one of his first training camps, the Chiefs ran a long-drive drill where the offense stays on the field for 15-20 plays, which is long by NFL practice standards.

“He called almost every single play for me,” Kelce said. “There was a slant and then a deep ball and then we’re coming back with a deep cross and then an out route. I know he was challenging me. I know he wanted to make me feel it in the pit of my stomach, be miserable out on the field but still have to be accountable to my guys.

“Sure enough, I’m dragging tail, and I look over at Coach Reid and he tells me to get it going, tells me that I was moving too slowly. That’s what he does. I see how he challenges other guys, the young guys, nowadays. It’s fun to see how guys react to it. I even go up to guys and let them know, ‘Hey, this is where you can find greatness in yourself, this is where you can take the next step.'”


KELCE MISSED HIS rookie season after having microfracture surgery on his knee. He progressed as a player once he got on the field. His catches and yards increased in each of his first three NFL seasons.

But he had the knack for occasionally setting the Chiefs back with a penalty that was usually sparked by his temper.

During his career, Kelce has been penalized six times for unsportsmanlike conduct and once for taunting. He was ejected from a game in 2016 for throwing a towel at an official after he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. It’s worth noting that five of the seven penalties came in 2017 or earlier, meaning the first four seasons of his career.

“Those acts early on in his career were about him and the self-gratification of acting out,” Veach said. “Now he’s kind of been rewired. Now when he screws up, he’ll go right to Coach and say, ‘I’m sorry, Big Red.’ The game has become less about him and more about the team.”

Kelce is quick to show contrition when he slips up. He threw a punch during training camp at linebacker Jack Cochrane, who was trying to pry the ball away after Kelce made a catch.

Kelce apologized on social media for throwing the punch. Reid said he never had to approach Kelce about the incident because Kelce approached him first.

“You still see that passion and that craziness but in a productive way,” Veach said. “You still see that personality, but it’s done within the confines of professionalism and structure of doing things the right way. He’s a great example now.”

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KELCE IS THE fourth-highest paid tight end in the NFL this year with an average annual salary of $14.3 million. He said he realizes he could have squeezed more from the Chiefs or been paid more as a free agent.

Kelce said there are many reasons he remained with the Chiefs for less money. Two Super Bowl wins and the chance to play with a generational talent like Mahomes are high on the list.

So is playing for Reid.

“I know what I have here is special and I can’t get that anywhere else,” Kelce said. “Coach Reid is one of the biggest reasons for that. I can’t even fathom going anywhere else and having the same success. I would hope I would have gained the same skill sets, but I’ve heard how things are in other buildings, with other organizations. So I’ve been more than blessed.

“That goes for things off the field, too. Everybody knows I’m a fun-loving guy, that I like to get out of the house, but he puts in more work than anybody that I’ve ever met, and what that does is hold you to a standard that you have to match. Being prepared is his biggest thing.”

For his part, Kelce has helped Reid win countless games and caught a touchdown pass in each of the Chiefs’ two recent Super Bowl victories.

But the ways in which he helped Reid go beyond what’s happened on the field. Dealing with a player such as Kelce helped Reid understand it’s OK to allow for personalities to show, as long as that doesn’t affect what happens on the field.

“Travis is a guy that shows his personality very well,” said former Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, a teammate of Kelce’s early in his career. “He’s very charismatic, a fun guy. That’s a little different from Andy. You always know what you’re getting from Andy. No surprises. Kelce is a little bit the other way.

“Kelce helps Andy loosen up and stay young. You’ve got to stay on your toes with Kelce. Having fun is what Kelce is about. That’s just how it is. Kelce needs that guidance. Andy put him in a box, but it wasn’t a little box. He would let him do his thing but there were some parameters.”

The Chiefs are the most successful NFL franchise of the past decade, with eight straight division championships, five straight AFC Championship Game appearances and two Super Bowl titles.

It’s difficult to picture the Chiefs or their fans enjoying the ride as much without Kelce. He gave the franchise an anthem when he famously invoked the Beastie Boys and screamed, “You’ve gotta fight for your right to party!” after its AFC Championship victory after the 2019 season.

After last year’s AFC Championship Game, he called out the Cincinnati mayor, who before the game had made fun of the Chiefs and their struggles against the Bengals. He is the one every player and fan has to hear speak at the Super Bowl parades because no one is ever certain what will come out of his mouth.

In that sense, the life he’s brought to the Chiefs may be his most important gift to Reid and his team.

“You’re talking about a guy that has an abundance of positive energy that’s infectious throughout the organization,” Veach said. “You throw in the receptions and the touchdowns and the Pro Bowls and the Hall of Fame career, just his production is beneficial for Coach. But equally as important is that Travis has been able to filter all of that energy and excitement in a way that brings this team closer together.

“We play ‘(You’ve Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)’ after a touchdown now because of Travis Kelce. That song is connected to this organization because of Travis Kelce. It’s like an energy multiplier. That’s hard to quantify just how important that is. He plays with that kind of character, charisma, passion, and he brings people along with him. In our building, everybody is friends with Travis Kelce. He is an ultimate energy giver. He elevates everybody’s mood, focus, attention and at the end of the day, he’s still fun.”

ESPN’s Tim McManus contributed to this report.