Just look at them now: After Sunday's 24-7 win over Oakland, a performance that Smith labeled "kind of a little bit ugly," the Chiefs (6-0) have the potential of taking a 9-0 record into Denver for an AFC West showdown next month.
For the coach and the QB, this season is not as much about vindication as just taking what worked for them in Philadelphia and San Francisco and applying it to a formerly underachieving franchise. To anyone who knows them well, including Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, Reid and Smith really are a lot alike. They're highly competitive, mixed with a steady, patient demeanor that serves them well.
"They're very even-keeled, no peaks and valleys," Whittingham said. "I think it's a very good match and so far the results have shown that."
Before the Chiefs traded for Smith, Reid consulted with Whittingham, his ex-BYU teammate. Whittingham is known for being immersed in his own work, but he's well aware of Kansas City's success. And Reid is "a closet Ute," by Whittingham's account, supporting his friend's career.
When the Chiefs hired Reid and acquired Smith, they brought together symbols of BYU and Utah success. Reid was an offensive lineman when BYU featured quarterbacks Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon; Smith quarterbacked Utah to a 12-0 season in 2004. Add cornerback Sean Smith, a star of the undefeated Utes of '08, and the Chiefs have links to some of the greatest years in the state's college football history.
In many ways, Reid and the two Smiths (Sean signed as a free agent from Miami) walked into an ideal opportunity in Kansas City. The Chiefs somehow lost 14 games last season with six Pro Bowl players on the roster, so all they needed to become respectable was a qualified coach, a consistent quarterback and another capable corner.
Just about everybody sized them up in the offseason as an 8-8 team, representing marked improvement. Suddenly, they're 6-0. The defense is giving up an NFL-low average of 10.8 points, while ranking fifth in total defense at 306.3 yards.
Alex Smith and the offense are doing their part. His numbers have tailed off the past two weeks, following a 31-7 win over the New York Giants that featured his 288 passing yards and three touchdowns. Yet Reid viewed Smith's lackluster showing (14 of 31, 128 yards) against Oakland as more of a good sign than a negative trend, amid Kansas City's absence of receiving weapons.
"He's taking care of the football," Reid said in the postgame news conference. "When it counts, he makes the play. I appreciate him. We're winning football games, and he's doing a nice job managing it. Everybody feeds off his leadership and ability to manage a football game."
Ah. There's that word again: manager. It's often a cleverly disguised insult, or a euphemism for not being an elite quarterback. That's how Smith was described in San Francisco in 2012 when he took the 49ers to the NFC championship game. He was rising above that label last season, before his concussion resulted in Colin Kaepernick's taking over and leading the team to the Super Bowl.
Reid, meanwhile, was becoming stale in Philadelphia after 14 seasons. The parting probably was healthy for both sides. He seems rejuvenated in Kansas City, and the Chiefs are thriving. They have a knack for finishing games, notably a 26-17 victory at Tennessee that required a fourth-quarter comeback and led Reid to endorse Smith's poise.
"That's their leader out there, and so if you're wavering at all or you don't have the right look in your eye, these guys sense that, they can tell," Reid said.
Clearly, Reid and Smith are not wavering people. That's how they've survived a combined 22 seasons in high-profile NFL jobs. Because of his relationships with Whittingham and former Ute coach Urban Meyer, Reid has followed Smith's career since his Utah years and hoped they'd collaborate someday.
So far, the partnership is working better than he could have imagined.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos each could be 9-0 when they meet Nov. 17 in Denver (they also play Dec. 1 in Kansas City). Their upcoming schedules:
Sunday • vs. Houston
Oct. 27 • vs. Cleveland
Nov. 3 • at Buffalo
Nov. 10 • Bye
Sunday • at Indianapolis
Oct. 27 • vs. Washington
Nov. 3 • Bye
Nov. 10 • at San Diego