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The Life and Career of Tom Melvin

Get to know the man coaching the Chiefs tight ends

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By BJ Kissel

Chiefs Reporter

They would meet once a week.

It was important to the new offensive line coach at San Francisco State University that his guys would get together every week and spend some time with one another.

This was Andy Reid’s first coaching job. The year was 1983.

Every Thursday, there they were, in his little 900 square foot apartment, a bunch of offensive linemen joking and relaxing with one another.

But they would also work, thanks to an uncommon electronic device Reid had purchased—known as a VCR. There were no tablets, laptops or internet back then. They’d watch tape of upcoming opponents, discuss blitz pickups and more.

Reid was new to the job, hadn’t been in town all that long and building camaraderie among the guys on his OL was important to him.

“Those guys were only like a few years younger than me,” Reid, who had just finished up his playing days at BYU two years before, recalled of that time. “I thought it was important and good to get in a family type of atmosphere.”

That’s what they were to him—family, and he used these weekly get-togethers to bring his little faction of the team closer together.

One of his seniors on the offensive line for that San Francisco State team was Tom Melvin, the current tight ends coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.

That’s where their journey together begins.

Reid figured the best way to attract a group of always-hungry, husky offensive linemen to his little apartment every week was to throw a special dessert at them that his wife Tammy would make.

"I would buy two gallons of milk and I would make this Mississippi Mud to feed them,” Tammy explained. “It's a chocolate brownie, gooey thing with marshmallow cream on top and then chocolate frosting. It’s to die for.”

It was exactly the kind of thing these guys would come back for every week.

Now, an offensive line coach’s salary at a Division II school didn’t lend itself to frivolous financial spending, but it was Reid’s first job and this time was important to him.

“We were super poor,” Tammy explained. “I can't even stress how much we did not have enough money to do this every week, but Andrew (coach Reid) loved his guys and so I would have them over once a week and make this for them.”

Melvin only had one year to play under Reid, but he was given an opportunity to stay on as his graduate assistant for the 1984-85 seasons.

Tom would always take [Britt] and put him to sleep or just hold him. He was like my lifesaver.”

- Tammy Reid on Melvin

The school hadn’t had GAs before this. It was something new and Reid made it happen for Melvin, who initially went to San Francisco State because of its legendary head coach, Vic Rowen, who had a knack for developing coaches.

Besides Reid and Melvin, Rowen had mentored guys the likes of Gil Haskell, Dirk Koetter, Mike Holmgren, Bob Toledo and Floyd Peters, among others throughout his 39-year coaching career.

Melvin knew that coaching is what he wanted to do, although it was just initially at the high school level.

The weekly “Mississippi Mud Pie” nights were a constant and so was Melvin’s willingness to lend a hand in any way that he could.

This meant at times helping Tammy with either of the Reid’s two young boys, Garrett and Britt, on those Thursday nights.

“Tom would always take [Britt] and put him to sleep or just hold him,” Tammy recalled of those weekly get-togethers. “He was like my lifesaver.”

Melvin would also watch the boys at times so those two could have date nights.

He was more than just a graduate assistant or a former player; he was a friend.

To this day, the bond they share stretches all the way back to those Thursday nights in that tiny little apartment in San Francisco. “The Mississippi Mud was probably the attractor,” Reid laughed of getting the guys to his little apartment each week. “That stuff is really good.”

''It was pure living life to the fullest''

If you drive about 350 miles south down the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco, you will find the small central California coast town of Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara, CA

It’s located 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The Santa Ynez Mountains serve as a backdrop for this small community, commonly referred to as the “American Riviera,” due in large part to the geography and climate being similar to the areas of the Northern Mediterranean Sea coast of Southern France.

It’s the perfect place.

The local university, UC-Santa Barbara, was one of the four schools in the University of California system that played football.

In 1985, Melvin’s last year at San Francisco State, UC-Santa Barbara had just begun a football program, which for two years was a club team, then went Division III for a year before being promoted to a Division II program before the 1988 season.

At that point, they needed an offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Melvin had just spent two years at Northern Arizona University, where he had followed Reid as his grad assistant after San Francisco State. Reid was the offensive line coach.

The offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona was Brad Childress, who is currently an offensive assistant with the Chiefs. The relationship they developed during this time would help not only their professional lives down the road, but also their families.

Reid left NAU after one year to take a job at the University of Texas-El Paso, but Melvin stayed there for another year. The new offensive line coach at NAU that Melvin worked with after Reid was Bill Callahan, who is currently the OL coach in Washington.

“Both of those guys are typical OL coaches,” Melvin noted. “They’re grinders. You hear that from coach [Reid] all of the time. That’s how I was trained.”

Melvin recalled the way Reid would always set the tone with his new players when he got to a new place, both when he was a player at San Francisco State and then together as coaches at Northern Arizona.

“He’s going to weed people out,” Melvin recalled. “He’s going to make it so that the only guys who are standing are the ones who really want to be there.”

Despite their paths now taking them in separate directions, they always stayed in touch.

It was just a bunch of young guys having a blast. I still say, the most fun I ever had in my life, for any part of my life, was that three years in Santa Barbara on the beach. It was just pure living life to its fullest.”

- Melvin on Santa Barbara job

Melvin was a California guy, having attended Cubberely High School in Palo Alto, where he played football, baseball and soccer. Thus the opportunity in Santa Barbara was a perfect fit for Melvin.

He left NAU and returned home to California, a decision he’d never regret.

“It was just a bunch of young guys having a blast,” Melvin said of that time. “I still say, the most fun I ever had in my life, for any part of my life, was that three years in Santa Barbara on the beach.

“It was just pure living life to its fullest.”

The only member of the staff that was married at the time was the head coach. The rest of the guys were just young and living on the beach.

The recruiting aspect of the job was as simple as “picking up the phone,” he said.

“There was no better job in California than that Santa Barbara job,” Reid, another California guy, recalled, “and then they dropped football.”

UCSB dropped their football program in 1990, putting Melvin and all of the other young coaches on that staff out the door.

“I thought my career was done,” Melvin recalled. “I didn’t have anywhere to go.”

At that point, Melvin was looking for jobs outside of football. He just recently got engaged, had earned his Master’s Degree from NAU and was at a crossroads.

He was offered a graduate assistant position from his old friend—Reid, who was at the University of Missouri at the time and couldn’t offer anything else.

They had stayed in touch and gotten together from time to time when Reid was out in California recruiting.

“I was actually there the day in Santa Barbara when he met his future wife,” Reid recalled.

But the graduate assistant path wasn’t a road he could go down again and so he declined that opportunity, although it wasn’t the last time they’d speak about getting together.

In August of 1991, just two weeks before the football season was to begin, Melvin got a call from Occidental College in Los Angeles, a small academically-oriented Division III college that had just a decade earlier been home to the future President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Melvin was hired as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

He didn’t have to walk away from the game that had been such a big part of his life for the previous decade, both as a player and coach.

But Occidental, or “Oxy,” as it’s commonly referred, wasn’t the same kind of institution Melvin had previously been coaching at.

It really was an academic institution.

At one point, Melvin said four of his starting offensive linemen at Oxy went on to become doctors.

“You knew that all of them would be successful doing whatever they chose to do,” Melvin noted. “They were neat kids and I really enjoyed that part of it."

Melvin stayed at Oxy for nine years, and while football was just something these kids were good at, not necessarily something their life’s focus would be about, they had plenty of success on the field.

One of his players, Bryan Madlangbayan, who was an All-Conference running back and one of the best to ever play at Oxy, remembers Melvin for the passion he had for the game.

Tom Melvin (top middle) with Jed Wockenfuss (lower left) and Bryan Madlangbayan (lower right) back at Occidental College.

“He loves football,” Madlangbayan said. “His passion drove his worth ethic and it’s one of those things where he never had to tell anyone how hard to work in order to be great because he was always there doing the work.

“That influenced everything else he did.”

Madlangbayan recalled one particular day after they won a blowout victory over Menlo College back in in 1993, the year they went 8-1, the team was watching film of the game and something about Melvin’s sideline demeanor caught its attention while watching the tape.

That game was one to me was one where [coach Melvin] was willing to, despite what we thought was going to happen all week, listen to what we were saying and go with the changes."

- Jed Wockenfuss on Melvin

“We're watching it and he's talking about the play, but you see him on the sideline practically just throwing his call sheet and screaming at the top of his lungs at the ref,” Bryan recalled. “He's pumping his fists and screaming. One of us made him rewind it a few times and watch it over and over.

“It was a funny moment, but you could just tell how much he cared.”

To be fair, the two holding calls, both of which negated touchdown runs of 50 and then 80 yards on the same drive, were questionable, according to Madlangbayan.

Jed Wockenfuss, one of Melvin’s linemen and a vocal leader on that Oxy team back in 1993, remembers the respect he showed for them, including the willingness to let his players have a voice.

“What I always appreciated about Coach Melvin was that there were times where he just put complete trust in his players,” Wockenfuss explained.

He recalled a particular game against Cal Lutheran, which along with Oxy, was competing for the league championship each year, and how Melvin showed trust in them to divert from their initial game plan.

“Some of their strongest players were right up the middle,” Wockenfuss said of this Cal Lutheran team. “Rather than run away from them because they were fast and were running down these wide plays, we just ran right at them. And when we did, we opened up the whole offense.

“We were able to exploit it late in the game and we won.

“That game was one to me was one where [coach Melvin] was willing to, despite what we thought was going to happen all week, listen to what we were saying and go with the changes."

It was a sign of good coaching, something Melvin would grow accustomed to.

''I still can’t believe he did that.''

The friendship between the Melvins and Reids developed over time and through many experiences, starting with the Mississippi Mud and Thursday nights helping with babysitting.

But there’s one story that stands above the rest in how Melvin literally went hundreds of miles by himself to help the family that had given him his start in coaching, and it’s something he’ll never forget.

It was 1986.

Andy Reid had just accepted the position at NAU and had to leave the next day for Flagstaff.

Just like that, he was gone.

"I was stuck there by myself with two young babies to pack up the place,” Tammy recalled of that 900-square foot apartment in San Francisco. “Tom [Melvin] came over every day after he got done with work and he would pack up boxes for me or watch the babies—Garrett and Britt were teeny-tiny.

“He would help me box up all of the stuff. It was awesome. After that I said, 'We can never move again without you.’”

Melvin would be joining Reid in Flagstaff as his grad assistant—just as he was in San Francisco—but he had some time before he had to move.

Because he was moving down there as well, Melvin had agreed to drive the U-Haul—carrying all of the Reid’s stuff, including towing their Volkswagen bus, down to Flagstaff.

Tammy explained that the U-Haul they were given wasn’t big enough for all of the stuff.

The wheels on the Volkswagen Bus burst because of the long mileage and he had to go replace them. I still can't believe he did that. He's such a good guy.”

- Tammy Reid on Melvin

“I told the guy at the U-Haul, ‘That's not going to be big enough,'” she explained of preparing the trip.

“He was like, 'Lady, you live in a 900-square foot little apartment, it will be big enough.'

“It was not big enough,” she laughed.

There was barely enough room for Melvin to fit into the truck.

"He was stuck in the driver’s seat, just barely a little spot for him,” she joked.

The Volkswagen was packed with stuff and the truck could barely contain all of their belongings.

The last thing they packed into the U-Haul was on the passenger side of the front bed. It was an old portrait that a classmate of Tammy had painted of her as part of a project back in college, and so for the 763 mile trip from San Francisco to Flagstaff, Melvin had to sit in a crammed U-Haul with this portrait of Tammy staring at him the entire time.

But that would be far from the most interesting part of this trip for Melvin, unfortunately.

“The wheels on the Volkswagen Bus burst because of the long mileage and he had to go replace them,” Tammy said with a laugh. “I still can't believe he did that. He's such a good guy.”

There Melvin was, standing on the side of the highway in the middle of California, with all of the Reid family belongings packed in a broken down U-Haul.

Yes, it’s been a journey.

''I had always hoped this would happen''

There was always a connection between the two.

They were together for three years in San Francisco, a year in Flagstaff and then maintained their friendship throughout the years Reid was in El Paso, Columbia and then Green Bay, all as Melvin worked his way around California.

I assumed it was going to happen at some point. When Andy [Reid] was still with Green Bay, Tom would call him and ask him for advice on certain plays and Andy would call the office. We were a small Division III school and Andy Reid calling us from the Green Bay Packers was a pretty big deal.”

- Bryan Madlangbayan on Melvin leaving Oxy

Football had brought them together and then set them on their own path, but they never lost contact with one another.

“I went to go visit him for a week in the spring every year,” Melvin explained. “We'd catch up on football and life and the rest of that stuff, so I stayed in touch with him.”

It was only a matter of time that they’d hook back up on the same staff.

“I assumed it was going to happen at some point,” Madlangbayan said of Melvin leaving Oxy. “When Andy [Reid] was still with Green Bay, Tom would call him and ask him for advice on certain plays and Andy would call the office.

“We were a small Division III school and Andy Reid calling us from the Green Bay Packers was a pretty big deal.”

In 1999, Reid accepted the job as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and it didn’t take long before he phoned his old friend.

Melvin's headshot in Philadelphia

“The opportunity to coach in the National Football League was something he had always dreamed of,” Reid said of Melvin.

“It's always in the back of your mind that this is the plan and I had always hoped this would happen, but you never know until it does,” Melvin said of getting that call.

The position was as an offensive assistant and quality control coach.

“All of us were pretty overjoyed for him,” Madlangbayan, who had come back to coach with him for a few years after his playing days were over, said of Melvin leaving for the NFL.

The idea of moving from the West Coast to the East Coast wasn’t necessarily the easiest transition though, and Melvin had to talk it over with his family.

While he ultimately accepted the job, he made sure to buy a house for his family in the same Philadelphia suburb of Brad Childress, who had also just been hired as the new quarterbacks coach.

The two years they had spent together back at NAU helped make the transition a little more smooth, particularly for their families.

After spending the first three years as the offensive quality control coach for the Eagles, Melvin would be promoted to the tight ends coach in 2002—a position he’d hold for more than a decade.

During that time, he’d help mentor Brent Celek, who would have 280 receptions, 3,472 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns during his six years with the Eagles.

Celek’s best season under Melvin’s tutelage would come in 2009, when he caught 76 passes for 971 yards and 8 touchdowns, one of the best seasons for an Eagles tight end in franchise history.

But in 2012, things would change.

Reid was fired by the Eagles after 14 seasons with the team.

He stays on top of you. Even when you think you did something right, he finds something to fix. It's good having that just because you know you're constantly getting better.”

- Kelce on Melvin

It didn’t take long for Reid to get an opportunity with the Kansas City Chiefs, and it took even less time for Melvin to join him.

He was excited to work for the Chiefs.

“The history – with the Hunt family, with Clark and his dad creating the team,” Melvin explained. “I just think that's the coolest thing ever. This isn’t just a pro football team, this is family. This matters.

“This isn't a toy, this isn't just a business. This is a creation this family has seen from the start.”

It didn’t take long for Melvin to find a young, promising player to start to work with in Kansas City.

A little more than three months after Melvin joined the Chiefs, the team selected Travis Kelce in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

During his first healthy season as a pro last year, Kelce led the NFL in yards per catch and ranked third in the AFC in both receptions (67) and yards receiving (862) among tight ends.

He’s a blossoming star in the NFL right now.

Even with his immense talent, Kelce needs someone to push him every day—to be in his ear and to let him know there’s always something he can do to improve.

That’s Melvin’s job.

"He stays on top of you,” Kelce explained. “Even when you think you did something right, he finds something to fix. It's good having that just because you know you're constantly getting better.

“He’s definitely different from all of the other positional coaches we have. He holds his own.”

The history between Melvin and Reid is picked up by the players.

“You kind of see the genuine, mutual respect between the two,” Kelce explained. “You can see they've been with each other for a long period of time."

''He’s done it the right way''

Melvin, who grew up in a baseball family (his cousin is Bob is a former Major League baseball player and current manager of the Oakland Athletics), said he is the “black sheep” of his family.

“I went to football because I was more aggressive,” he laughed, “a little more Irish, hotheaded.”

It’s a sport that has done well by him for his family.

It's very unique that I was his first offensive lineman in his first full-time coaching job. I was a senior and so I was kind of his guy. He's guided me my entire adult life through decisions on where to go for jobs. He's been my mentor and somebody I can bounce every aspect of life off of.”

- Melvin on Andy Reid

Even today, Melvin explained that after 30 years together, nothing has really changed with his good friend.

“He's still the same guy,” Melvin said of Reid. “He could walk right back on the campus at San Francisco State, see those professors and the people that are still there, and nothing's changed."

Their bond and history together is something that has altered the trajectory of his life, leaning on their advice through every big decision in his life.

“It's very unique that I was his first offensive lineman in his first full-time coaching job,” Melvin said. “I was a senior and so I was kind of his guy. He's guided me my entire adult life through decisions on where to go for jobs. He's been my mentor and somebody I can bounce every aspect of life off of.

“He and Tammy have seen me grow up, and I've known his kids since all of them were born. I watched them grow up.”

Melvin even got Tammy’s advice on how to propose to his wife, Kathy, who he now has four children with in Justin, Joshua, J.T. and Heather, and even has a granddaughter, Haylee.

While lifelong friendships are a natural part of any profession someone stays in for more than three decades, Melvin appreciates the group he’s in with football.

"As I run into ex-teammates, players, kids that I've coached throughout it, you keep reiterating in the fact that this is a fraternity,” he noted. “Once you're in, you're in. It doesn't matter if it's just for training camp or a 10-year career, it doesn't matter – you're part of the family.”

Long before the NFL was a possibility, Melvin was mentoring those future doctors and such back at Occidental College, creating lifelong friendships to this day with those who couldn’t be happier for his successes.

“There are a lot of guys that I've encountered in sports who have success but may not deserve it because they didn't do it the right way,” Madlangbayan mentioned. “Tom is one of those guys that deserves every success he's ever had because he’s done it the right way."

And to think it all started with Mississippi Mud Pie, the chocolate brownie marshmallowy-thing that Tammy would make for the guys every Thursday back at San Francisco State.

Melvin has done his best to repay all of those treats he was given back more than 30 years ago.

Every year he’s worked with Reid, since 1999, on every road trip, Tammy will be on the sidelines for pregame warmups—hours before the game begins.

And every week, Melvin brings her a candy bar and program as she waits on the bench.

"I don't know how it started,” she explained. “I think he's just so kind and thoughtful and I think that's how it started.”

He hasn’t forgotten all they’ve done for him and how they all ended up where they are today.

The goal of those Thursday night get-togethers was to build a family, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

It was about family. It mattered, and it still does.