Clark Hunt, product of the Goldman Sachs training program, and vocal advocate of its operational principles, espouses a top-down, detail-oriented approach to business. In attempting to grasp why the Kansas City Chiefs, as an NFL football team, are failing, it is fitting to start at the top. After all, it is Clark Hunt who takes it upon himself to define and instill the identity of the Kansas City Chiefs, right down to the last detail.
The business goal of Goldman Sachs is to be successful at making money both for its clients and for itself. If, like Goldman Sachs, making money is the primary standard by which Clark Hunt measures success and worth, then I guess I must admit that his leadership style is certainly effective toward that end. What Clark Hunt may not do is stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other NFL owners, look them in the eye with pride and confidence on the grounds that he also oversees a successful football organization, from top to bottom.
Perhaps it is because Clark Hunt was born into so much money that he knows no other definition for success other than maximizing the accumulation of it. If not attributable to his privileged upbringing, then perhaps it is simply because Mr. Hunt is a true believer of the Goldman Sachs way, perhaps willfully blind to any other. Whatever the case, when it comes to being a winner on Sunday afternoons, Clark Hunt has yet to demonstrate competence at instilling a culture that adheres to what is sometimes called the warrior way. By that, I mean an organizational commitment to technical mastery, loyalty, and honor unto death.
A culture that emphasizes secrecy and surveillance is, by definition, an insecure organization. Insecurity implies distrust. Distrust breeds fear and resentment. The legacy of fear and resentment is disloyalty.
There was once a time when secrecy was not essential to Chiefs football. There once was a time when everyone in the world knew exactly what the Chiefs were planning to do on the very next play. There once was a time when any and all such foreknowledge could not prevent the Chiefs from doing exactly what they intended. That time, that mastery, that loyalty, such honor, is no more.
Scott Pioli, for his part (if reports are to be believed), seems to care about finding candy wrappers just as much as he cares about finding “the right 53.” Again, if reports are to be believed, the type of loyalty that Pioli commands to himself seems to be hewn as much from fear of retaliation as it is from the respect and belief that his approach will result in team success on Sundays. Truthfully, can it be said that Scott Pioli cultivates technical mastery, loyalty, and honor into this team? If so, where lies the proof?
Romeo Crennel, the “players’” coach, with his victory over the undefeated Packers last season, was a great story for a minute. The team that he fielded that day was one which appeared to exemplify appreciation for and loyalty to his, shall we say, less emotional approach to coaching. In the players’ minds, Crennel had once been in their shoes, understood what they were going through, and so they relate to him at that level.
It seems increasingly clear now that Crennel’s approach to coaching, while perhaps long on loyalty, seems to be failing miserably in its emphasis on technical mastery and from all appearances, is woefully devoid of “honor unto death.” Yes, Romeo loves his players and they love him back, but where does the love end, and the toughness begin? Where is the honor in constant humiliation?
Put simply, Crennel is failing to get his players to execute at the level of which they are capable and more broadly, failing to motivate them. With the harsh days of Haley now past, Crennel has gone the other direction, perhaps more comfortable with the thought of being liked by his team, than pushing the right buttons without regard to whether the players like him or not.
As for the players themselves, the Chiefs field one of the most talented collection of players in the league. For example, when surrounded by the right pieces, Matt Cassel, while perhaps not an “elite” quarterback, has at least demonstrated that he can lead a team to at least 10 or 11 regular season wins. On paper, there is not a backfield in the league that is better than what the Chiefs currently possess.
The Chiefs also lay claim to two first-round wide receivers, a first-round veteran left tackle, and a highly rated right tackle. Second-round pick Dexter McCluster shows flashes of being a dynamic slot receiver. When effectively used, Steve Breaston can move the chains and occasionally get you chunks of yards. Our two leading tight ends can both catch, block, and get YAC. The Chiefs offense is long on talent and yet lacking in intensity.
The Chiefs defense, same story. They boast six first-round picks, five of whom line up as part of the front seven. Their three best cornerbacks are all second-round picks. Like the offense, they are loaded with talent yet again, lacking in intensity. When a veteran defenseman plays out of position, that is not a talent issue, that is mental softness issue, a lack of commitment to technical mastery.
On both sides of the line, the Chiefs are being dominated. Crushed. They, like the rest of the team, do not inflict any pain, they are its flaccid victims.
A rally win in New Orleans will not right this ship. Playing the Indian War Chant over the loudspeakers of Arrowhead does not make this a team of warriors. What is required of this organization is a behavioral revolution, one that embraces and embodies the warrior spirit.