Kansas City coach Andy Reid felt no rush to get quarterback Patrick Mahomes onto the field because of the learning that was taking place daily during his rookie season.
Some young quarterbacks learn more from playing and experiencing through game action. But Reid determined the right path for Mahomes’ future was to observe and learn behind veteran starter Alex Smith.
“He was able to sit in that room and see how Alex goes about his business as a pro, and a successful pro,” Reid said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “Patrick wants to be good. But that example to have that is important. It’s invaluable. He’s very lucky to have that.”
Mahomes, 23, is in his second NFL season and his first as a starter. He has gotten off to a hot start and appears to be one of the game’s bright young stars. On Sunday, he will make his first home start, taking on the 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium.
And Reid gives a lot of the credit to Mahomes’ early success to Smith, who began his career as the No. 1 overall pick of the 49ers in 2005 before he was traded to Kansas City in favor another young, promising quarterback.
“Not everybody does it like Alex, that’s the thing,” Reid said. “I’ve been doing this a couple of years, not everybody goes about their job as thorough as Alex does. And Alex is a very intelligent guy, on top of all of that. You combine those two things, that’s why he’s been successful.
“And for Patrick to see that, Patrick is also very intelligent and he wants to be good and he’s humble, and he wasn’t afraid to learn from Alex. As a coach, we can tell you to do this and that, but to have a guy like that come in and be able to follow somebody that does it perfect in preparation, that’s a special.”
The Chiefs were 50-26 in the five seasons Smith started. Last season, he achieved a career-high passer rating of 104.7. But in the offseason, Kansas City moved on from Smith, trading him to Washington, to clear the way for Mahomes.
It is not difficult to believe that Smith was just about the perfect teammate for Mahomes, whom Kansas City selected after trading up to No. 10 overall pick in 2017.
Smith was in the same situation with the 49ers when the 49ers moved up for Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft. Smith was the quarterback for the 49ers during a run to the NFC Championship game while Kaepernick remained on the sideline as a rookie.
But in 2012, in the midst of a career year, Smith left the lineup due to a concussion in the middle of the season. When Smith was cleared to play, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh decided to stick with Kaepernick. The 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl, losing to the Baltimore Ravens.
Then, Smith was shipped off to Kansas City for two second-round draft picks in the offseason.
Mahomes and his father, Pat, a former major-league pitcher, in an interview with Peter King for Football Morning in America, credited Smith for being so willing to share his knowledge and mentor the gifted young quarterback.
“How to prepare, mostly,” the Chiefs quarterback told King. “He taught me how to make sure I was ready for any situation that presented itself in a game. I owe him a lot.”
The elder Mahomes said not all veteran professional athletes are as helpful as Smith was to his son. He remembered being a young player in the Minnesota Twins organization and approaching future Hall of Famer Jack Morris.
“That’s what’s so admirable about what Alex did all season for him,” Pat Mahomes said. “I know how it was when I came up. I remember one time that year asking Jack Morris how he threw his split-finger fastball. He said, ‘Get away from me, you little MF. You’ll be trying to take my job next year.’ ”
Reid said his focus has been on continuing to get Mahomes prepared weekly to face another opponent and not to get caught up in the publicity his incredible start has generated.
Through two games, Mahomes has completed 69.1 percent of his pass attempts, averaging 291.0 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating is 143.3. Reid said he believes Mahomes has the right approach because his dad was a professional athlete and he has been around locker rooms his entire life.
“He doesn’t get caught up in that,” Reid said. “I’m sure he has a lot of examples of people who did and it didn’t turn out so well.”