December 13, 2006 was a sad day for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. That was the day that Chiefs owner and founder Lamar Hunt passed away. The man did so much for football in general, not just our team, that it was impossible to be anything but sad. However, I remember thinking that day that there was one possible bright spot. The word on the street was that Lamar’s son Clark would likely be the new guy at the top of the Chiefs totem pole and that he did not share his father’s unquestioning loyalty to Carl Peterson. For me that was a bright spot on a very dark day in Chiefs history.
In the years that have passed since that day Clark has really flown under the radar. Public comments are few and far between. There is a pretty wide range of opinions on the job he’s doing. If there wasn’t a lockout in place, we probably wouldn’t be talking about him at all. However, with the current lockout situation many are starting to question Hunt, specifically his spending the last few seasons. Others are willing to credit Hunt for the current success the team is having. After the break I’ll look at some of the facts we have regarding Hunt and the timeline since he took control of the team. Then I’ll explore a few different outlooks on the head Chief, Clark Hunt.
Okay, so here is a basic timeline:
March 2006 – the NFL owners accept the players offer to extend the CBA through 2011
April 4, 2006 – voters approve tax increase to renovate the Truman Sports Complex
December 13, 2006 – Lamar Hunt passes
The Chiefs finish the 2006 season at 9-7 and make the playoffs with a payroll of 81.7 million (29th in the NFL)
August 15, 2007 – Chiefs announce final plans for Arrowhead renovations. The Hunt family ups their contribution for the renovations from 75 million to 125 million.
October 3, 2007 – Reconstruction of Arrowhead begins
The Chiefs finish the 2007 season (Clark’s first) at 4-12 with a payroll of 108.4 million (5th in the NFL)
May 2008 – the owners opt out of the CBA.
December 15, 2008 – Clark Hunt announces the resignation of Carl Peterson
The Chiefs finish the 2008 season 2-14 with a payroll of 84 million (32nd in the NFL)
January 13, 2009 – Hunt hires Scott Pioli as the new GM. Pioli will eventually fire Herm Edwards and hire Todd Haley.
The Chiefs finish the 2009 season 4-12 with a payroll of 81.8 million (32nd in the NFL)
With no new CBA agreement in place the 2010 season has no salary cap (or floor)
September 13, 2010 – The Chiefs officially open the renovated Arrowhead Stadium with a 21-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
The Chiefs finish the 2010 season with a 10-6 record and make the playoffs with a payroll of 74.7 million (30th in the NFL)
March 11, 2011 – The NFL lockout begins
So here are some of the key points regarding Clark Hunt as the Chiefs owner. In his first season as owner Clark did not fire Carl Peterson. The Chiefs were coming off Herm Edward’s first season as coach and had made the playoffs. Given those circumstances I can understand giving Carl/Herm one more year to make it work. In that season Clark ponied up the cash to go for it. The payroll jumped from 81.7 million to 108.4 million. That would appear to indicate that Clark was willing to try and spend to make a run at it. However, Carl/Herm fell WAY short and the Chiefs finished 4-12.
Here’s where things get interesting. I personally feel that Carl and Herm should have been shown the door after that 2007 season. However, Clark opted to keep them around for one more year but with a lot more cheap young players replacing the more expensive veterans from the season before. What makes this interesting is that following the now legendary Chiefs draft of 2008 the owners opted out of the CBA in May. Now I find it hard to believe that the decision to opt out was a spur of the moment decision that the owners went with that May. There had to be a lot of discussion about it leading up to that vote.
So the question is did Clark Hunt decide to go with a team full of young, cheap players because that’s what needed to be done after the veterans of the Vermeil era lost their mojo or because he knew where all this CBA stuff was headed and wanted to start saving money. Also, keep in mind that the Arrowhead renovations had just started the previous fall, so I’m sure that had to have some effect on his finances. What you think of Clark Hunt really comes down to what you think about this time in Chiefs history. Were his Chiefs payroll decisions driven more by football or finances? Maybe it was a little of both.
Now I’m going to present three different opinions of Clark Hunt for you to choose from. Which one best reflects what you think of the Chiefs owner? After I’m done I’ll tell you which one I’m leaning towards.
#1 – Clark Hunt is a cheapskate who could care less about the football product, the fans, and people in general as long as he is making money.
As soon as the new stadium was locked in and construction started he cut the payroll by 24.5 million dollars. After he and his fellow owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement he has finished with the 32nd, 32nd, and 30th lowest payrolls in the sport. The success the Chiefs had on the field in 2010 was in spite of Hunt’s ownership, not because of it. Despite having bottom basement payrolls and the extra income of a playoff game last season he has still cut jobs and pay in the Chiefs offices during the lockout. It will be difficult for the team to have long term success with Clark Hunt holding the checkbook.
#2 – Clark Hunt is a very savvy businessman whose leadership has put the Chiefs in a position both financially and on the football field to succeed after the lockout ends.
At the end of the 4-12 2007 season it was clear that the aging roster full of Vermeil holdovers had to be overhauled. Herm Edwards was only two years into his contract (don’t forget the Chiefs even gave up a draft pick to get the guy), the Chiefs had money tied up in renovations, and now the financial future of the league was looking unclear after the owners opted out of the CBA. So Hunt decided to let Edwards field a team of young and cheap players to start the overhaul. It needed to be done and it helped the team financially. After letting Carl and Herm suffer through the pain of such a drastic reduction in pay and experience he sent them packing and went out and got the best GM candidate on the market. Scott Pioli had been offered other jobs, but Clark Hunt got his man. He made it clear to Pioli that he could hire the coach and pick the players but he wanted to keep the payroll low until after the CBA mess was cleared up. So Pioli went about continuing to build a team based on the young and still inexpensive players that Herm and Carl had started to bring in. Pioli was allowed to go out and get (and pay) his quarterback and few key veterans, but the overall payroll stayed low (just like the age of the players). Pioli hired a head coach and coaching staff that would make sure the young players developed and were coming into their prime after the lockout ended. Once a new CBA is reached the Chiefs will be financially sound with a roster full of young talent that is just coming into their prime. If the owners get their way and salaries are cut the Chiefs will benefit because they will already be well below the cap numbers and in a great position to pick up the veterans that other teams will have to cut in order to get under the lower cap. Thanks to Clark Hunt’s savvy business decisions over the past 4 years the Chiefs will be a long term contender as the league moves forward after the NFL lockout.
#3 – Clark Hunt is more of a “hands off” owner and the football roster and payroll are a result of the decisions made by his GMs and head coaches.
People are giving Clark Hunt way too much credit for the good and the bad of the Chiefs organization. The team had a huge payroll in 2007 because Carl Peterson was trying to save his job. Carl wanted to prove that “his way” of bringing in veteran free agents could get the job done. When that clearly didn’t work Carl had to try something different so he and Edwards went young in 2008. The decline in payroll didn’t have anything to do with the stadium or the CBA. They got rid of old, expensive players that weren’t getting it done and drafted guys like Jamaal Charles and Brandon Flowers to replace them. The reason the payroll hasn’t jumped back up yet is because Scott Pioli and Todd Haley have been busy trying to figure out which of these young players they want to build around and once they feel they have the foundation set they will spend whatever they need to fill out the roster with the players they want. Clark Hunt may sign the checks, but at the end of the day the players and their contracts are the decision of the GM and his coach.
So what do you think Addicts? Do any of those descriptions fit your opinion? Do you have one that is completely different then all three?
It is my opinion that the truth probably combines some of all three. Do I think that the expense of the renovations and the uncertainty of a lockout had an effect on the Chiefs payroll? Yes. Do I think Clark has a long term plan for the Chiefs to make money for him AND win games? Yes. Do I think Scott Pioli would have taken the job as Chiefs GM if Clark Hunt wasn’t going to let him go out and get the players he wanted? No.
Bottom line, I think it’s fair to criticize Hunt for spending so little the last three seasons and still compliment him for hiring Scott Pioli. I don’t think the man is a saint or the devil. As I look around the league I certainly wouldn’t rank him as one of the worst owners in the NFL, but he has a lot to prove to me still before I would claim that he is one of the best. Like many things Chiefs related these days, only time will tell. In the meantime, with this lockout on, at least it gives us something to debate so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!