PHOENIX – When Larry Kentera took over the football reins at Northern Arizona University in 1985, few could have predicted the heavy limbs that would spring from his coaching tree.
During his tenure in Flagstaff, Kentera’s staff featured four future NFL coaches: Bill Callahan who coached the Oakland Raiders, Brad Childress who coached the Minnesota Vikings, Marty Morhinweg who coached the Detroit Lions and current Kansas City coach Andy Reid, whose Chiefs take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 57 Sunday at State Farm Stadium.
It is not common to see a coaching staff of that pedigree assembled, especially at a relatively small Division I school like NAU. Kentera, who turns 99 in April, still looks back at his coaching tree at NAU with a sense of pride.
“They were great college coaches,” Kentera said. “It was a great opportunity for me to have them there.”
Although he could not have predicted they would all go on to be NFL coaches, Kentera said he knew they would go on to do big things. Under Kentera and his staff, the Lumberjacks went 26-29 from 1985-1989. While they did have a losing record overall, the team went 7-4 in back-to- back years in ‘86 where the Lumberjacks finished tied for second in the Big Sky and then again in ‘87.
“They were good coaches. I knew that I was going to lose them,” said Kentera, who before moving north spent years as a defensive assistant at Arizona State under legendary coach Frank Kush. “I knew that was going to happen because they were doing a good job and we were winning up there.”
Brad Childress, who served as offensive coordinator under Kentera from 1986 until 1989, said the staff was committed to achieving the next level. “We worked hard and I knew we all wanted to climb the ladder and go in that direction,” Childress said.
Reid, who coached NAU’s offensive line in ‘86, was also on staff with Childress. Both their futures would continue to be intertwined even after they left NAU. Childress was a part of Reid’s staff in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
NAU, Reid said, was the perfect place to hone their craft.
“Both Brad Childress and I kind of got our start there,” Reid said this week during Super Bowl 57’s Media Day. “It was a phenomenal experience.”
Reid also spoke highly of Kentera when reflecting on his time at NAU. “He’s unbelievable, great human being. I learned a ton from him,” Reid said.
For Childress, the fact that he and Reid and some of the other coaches went on to the NFL came as no surprise.
“We all aspired to do it at the highest level,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me a bit.”
Perhaps nobody is doing it at a higher level than Reid, who has established himself as one of the NFL’s top coaches.
During his time in the league, Reid has accumulated a multitude of honors including NFL Coach of the Year and winning two Super Bowls. He led Kansas City to its first title in 50 years as the head coach of the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. He also earned a Super Bowl ring in 1996, when he served as the assistant offensive line and tight ends coach for the Green Bay Packers.
Childress said he is excited for Reid to once again lead a team to the Super Bowl.
“I know how hard he’s worked at it,” Childress said. “I know how hard we worked at the Eagles and in Kansas City to try and climb that ladder every year. It’s exciting for me.”
Reid returns to the state where he used to coach, only this time it’s for the biggest game in all of football. Kentera is thrilled one of his former coaches has again reached the sport’s defining moment.
“I think with the position that he is in, I don’t think it’d make any difference where the Super Bowl was,” Kentera said. “Just as long as you went on to a Super Bowl whether it was back in Arizona or not, but that is kind of intriguing that he is now coming back to Arizona.”