From Chicago to Super Bowl, Chiefs' Mike Kafka making impression as a rising coach

"I know his future is bright," Andy Reid says of Kafka.
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(670 The Score) In the months leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chiefs set their sights on trading up to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes and developing him behind the scenes. Their plans came to fruition, with the raw but talented rookie arriving in Kansas City and spending his first season developing.

One of the those tasked to work with Mahomes was Mike Kafka, a former standout quarterback at Northwestern who was hired by the Chiefs as a quality control coach for Andy Reid's staff. A pivotal part of the job for Kafka, a backup quarterback in the NFL for six years, was to help Mahomes combine his immense talent and ability to improvise with the basic fundamentals.

"He had a big imprint on what I did and developing me to be the player that I am," Mahomes said of Kafka. "And he continues that. He stays on me. He preaches the fundamentals. For somebody like me who likes to get away from that sometimes, it's good to have that person in your ear that's just telling you to take what's there, keep your feet in the right spot, make the throw the right way, because that's stuff that I need. It's stuff that he makes me better with every single day."

Less than four years later, Mahomes has established himself as the premier quarterback in the NFL and has the Chiefs vying for their second straight Super Bowl championship as they prepare to face the Buccaneers on Sunday. Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Kafka has enjoyed a rise of his own. He was promoted to be the Chiefs' quarterback coach in January 2018, a position he has filled for the past three seasons and a potential stepping stone toward ultimately becoming a head coach.

Eleven men who have served under the 62-year-old Reid have been hired as NFL head coaches, in part because he works to develop assistants in the way he does players. Reid hires individuals he believes in and trusts, such as a quarterback he drafted to the Eagles in 2010 who found himself looking for a break in coaching.

That was Kafka, who joined the Chiefs in 2017 after serving one year as a graduate assistant at Northwestern.

"It's unbelievable that he was able to take a chance on me," Kafka said of Reid.

Added Reid: "I know his future is bright."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald recruited Kafka out of St. Rita High School on Chicago's south side, becoming enamored with both his talent and his attitude. Kafka was willing to play wide receiver as a junior before moving to quarterback as a senior. That struck Fitzgerald, who offered him a scholarship to Northwestern.

Kafka redshirted as a freshman, then primarily served as a backup for the next three seasons. Before his senior season, Kafka was forced to battle for snaps at quarterback. Fitzgerald saw a player who was willing to work, even before becoming the Wildcats' starting quarterback.

He knew Kafka could be a coach.

"Just from his work ethic alone and his football IQ, absolutely," Fitzgerald said. "He's one of those guys that was a film grinder, understood coverage. He's so intelligent, and he has such a great calm demeanor.

"Mike has an unbelievable demeanor and a very unselfish approach to how he does it.

"I'm just so proud of him."

Kafka had been a graduate assistant at Northwestern for one year before Reid came calling with a big jump up the coaching ladder. It came with a key responsibility -- overseeing the development of the rookie Mahomes.

The role evolved for Kafka as Reid's trust in him grew. He was elevated to quarterbacks coach after one year in Kansas City and two in coaching, playing a pivotal role not just for Mahomes but the Chiefs' entire offense. Reid relies on Kafka to help keep his scheme on the cutting edge while also grooming him for greater opportunities.

"He's preparing you to make sure you're firm," Kafka said. "Whatever play, whatever coverage, whatever protection, those are the things (Reid thinks) make you a better coach.

"He tests you."

Over the course of five years, Kafka has drawn the admiration of those he works with in his role. From Fitzgerald to Reid to Mahomes, there's a shared belief in Kafka's future as a coach.

A second Super Bowl ring for Kafka can only add his young résumé.

"He's not a rising star," Fitzgerald said. "He is a star."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.