MIAMI (AP) — Brett Veach stands to the side of the Super Bowl’s annual media night melee with a couple of close friends, while the vast majority of people on the stadium floor mill around oblivious to who he is and what he has accomplished.
With his boyish looks, down-to-earth demeanor and willingness to chat with just about anybody no matter their station in life, Veach seems to fit right in with hundreds of volunteers and reporters and fans that choke the stadium floor.
Look closely, though, and there are two tells that Veach is a bit more important: He’s dressed a little more smartly than a volunteer or fan, with a nice button-down shirt, swanky jacket and stylish shoes, and the Kansas City Chiefs credential hanging around his neck happens to give him access to just about anywhere.
After all, he is the Chiefs’ general manager. And the main architect of their best team in five decades.
“I think it’ll be one of the story lines that probably doesn’t receive enough coverage,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told a small group of writers this week, “because the focus is going to be on Andy Reid and the job he’s done over the last seven years. Andy is very deserving, but Brett has been a big part of it.”
He was instrumental in drafting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He traded for defensive end Frank Clark. He signed safety Tyrann Mathieu in free agency. He dismantled a defense that kept Kansas City out of the Super Bowl last season, and he rebuilt it into one that helped the franchise end a 50-year drought in reaching the big game this season.
The rise of the small-school wide receiver from training camp helper to valuable assistant to invaluable talent evaluator and ultimately general manager of the AFC champions is downright Dickensian. The 41-year-old Veach grew up loving and playing the game, but he wasn’t some NFL legacy whose dad was a coach or general manager. He wasn’t given a job on a coaching staff or in a front office because of whom he knew or the strings someone pulled.
No, Veach worked his way up, beginning with an unpaid job with the Eagles during the late-summer months of 2004. He was a grad assistant at Delaware, where he’d wrapped up his playing career, and knew he wanted into the front-office side of football. And he was willing to do anything, whether it was fetching water or breaking down tape.
He did that for two years while working at Delaware and was poised to climb a much different ladder in intercollegiate athletics. But when Reid called a couple of years later, and offered him a full-time job as a coaching assistant, Veach decided to move to Philadelphia and embark on what has become a wild, rapid rise through the ranks.
A year later, he helped to scout a wide receiver the Eagles would ultimately pick: DeSean Jackson. A couple of years after that, Veach was promoted to college and pro scout. When Reid was fired by the Eagles and hired in Kansas City in 2013, he brought him along first as a personnel analyst and later as co-director of player personnel.
It was in that role that Veach banged the drum for Mahomes, impressing upon Reid and then-GM John Dorsey how the strong-armed QB from Texas Tech was the future of the Chiefs at quarterback. They were convinced, trading up to select him with the 10th overall pick, despite having Alex Smith under center. The move in retrospect was genius: The second-year starter was the league MVP last season and has the Chiefs playing for their second Super Bowl title this season.
In the meantime, the Chiefs fired Dorsey and elevated Veach to the GM position, giving the still-largely unknown front-office executive a shot at working alongside Reid for one of the NFL’s tradition-rich organizations.
“Listen,” Reid said, “a lot of credit goes for what we’ve done goes to him. Look what he did with our defensive side of the football, as far as personnel goes. My hat goes off to him. I think he’s done a phenomenal job.
“You feel that energy that he presents every day,” Reid added. “It is not just when he is around you. It’s every day. He has a dynamic personality that way. He’s relentless. It has shown with the guys that he has brought in here.”
The big-name additions get the attention: Clark with his $105.5 million deal, Mathieu with his charisma and playmaking ability. But it’s the rest of the pieces that have been crucial to the Chiefs’ success that set Veach apart. He unearthed undervalued role players such as Damien Williams and Bashaud Breeland, and he kept searching for help even late into the season, when he grabbed veteran pass rusher Terrell Suggs off waivers for the stretch run.
“If you want to highlight one thing this year,” Hunt said, “it would be the turnaround on defense. When he came to me and said, ‘Here are the 10 things we’re going to do to try to improve ourselves from a personnel standpoint on defense,’ I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of change.’ And to get that right, to get them to fit together, to work within the scheme of the new coaching staff, that was a heavy lift. But he did a magnificent job.”
The job isn’t done, though. In many ways it’s just beginning.
Veach has been aggressive in the trade market and wise with draft picks, but two seasons do not exactly establish a track record. He must continue to supply cheap talent for a team whose stars will soon be demanding big money.
Topping the list will be Mahomes, who is eligible for a potentially record-setting extension after this season. Veach has had the luxury of having one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks on a rookie contract, giving him enviable financial flexibility. But he will soon find himself immersed in negotiations of the highest stakes, trying to hammer out a deal that not only keeps the young star in Kansas City but gives the Chiefs the ability to field a competitive team around him.
Those discussions will heat up soon. Maybe even next week, when the Chiefs get back from Miami. But in the meantime, Veach plans to enjoy the opportunity to watch the team he helped build play on the game’s biggest stage.
“We have one more game to go,” he said, “but we feel like we’re in a good spot. It’s tough to win in this league. I mean, shoot, we haven’t been here in 50 years. We weren’t happy with the way the season ended last year. We were determined to go out there and make it better and so far, so good. But like I said, the job is not done yet.”