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The Chiefs: Changing Fortunes

For Andy Reid, the 2012 season may have ended before it began.

They say that no parent should ever have to bury their own child but, literally days before the Philadelphia Eagles season started, Andy Reid was mourning the loss of his son and attending to his funeral.

For the Kansas City Chiefs, the 2012 season ended the way their new head coaches’ season began: with tragedy and loss, mourning and a funeral.

Then it’s also not surprising that both teams finished with some of the worst records in the league. In the Eagles case, it is somewhat understandable, especially if Reid’s heart wasn’t in the games. For the Chiefs, it was the worst blow… at the worst of all possible moments… at the end of a franchise history worst season.

So how can an organization and a coach… who have gone through such great personal and professional defeat… pull themselves together and change their fortunes?

Well, first of all, they understand each other: the players and their new coach. After that, the evidence that the Kansas City Chiefs fortunes may be changing, leads directly to owner Clark Hunt.

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It’s been 19 years since the Chiefs have been to a conference championship game. In the AFC, only Miami and Cincinnati have had longer continuous droughts (Cleveland didn’t have a team for three of those years and would be included otherwise).

The Chiefs playoff victory drought has also reached 19 years. If you include the whole league, only two other teams have gone longer: Detroit (21 years) and Cincinnati (22 years).

While “the record” is “the what,” it is, as of yet, unclear as to “the why.”

If you want to go all the way back to the 1970’s when head coach Hank Stram left and Paul Wiggin took over, the Chiefs haven’t carried the championship mantle ever since then. I’m not just talking about a trophy, it’s about the way winners and champions carry themselves.

From 1960-1974 Hank Stram led the Chiefs to a 131-97-10 record, winning championships in 1962, 1966 and 1969 (Super Bowl). In 15 seasons Stram only had three losing records.

From the time Hank Stram left in 1974, until Marty Schottenheimer took over in 1989, the Chiefs had a 81-128-1 record and only two winning seasons in that span.

From 1989 to 1998, in the reign of Marty… Schottenheimer only had one non-winning season, his last. Since Schott stopped winning as the Chiefs head coach in 1997 — over the past fifteen seasons — no other Chiefs head coach has had consecutive winning seasons. In fact, in that same fifteen year span, the Chiefs have had but five total winning campaigns.

Since 1997, only five winning seasons? That’s right.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer had nine straight winning seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs head coach but the organization hasn’t been able to create more than five winning seasons since that time.

So what was it that, changed the fortunes, of the Kansas City Chiefs during the 1990s?

It’s an important question… because ever since Hank Stram stopped coaching the Chiefs in 1974, the nine years of winning with Schottenheimer is what’s keeps the Chiefs franchise from falling into the abyss of complete historical mediocrity.

From the Hank Stram era until now… minus the Schottenheimer era… the Chiefs have had a total of 7 winning seasons.

So, once again, what was it that changed the fortunes of the Kansas City Chiefs during the 1990s?

Might the answer to that question lead us to understand whether or not Clark Hunt’s 2013 Chiefs are on the right path?

In 1989, Lamar Hunt was there and was the same wonderful, visionary, energy filled owner who helped create the American Football League 29 years earlier. So, was it just that Lamar hired the right GM, Carl Peterson, who then hired the right coach, Marty Schottenheimer?

If you think it was Carl who made the difference, wasn’t he the same GM who navigated the Chiefs from 1997 to 2008? A span with only 4 winning seasons.

If you think it was Lamar who made the difference, wasn’t he the same owner who was there when the organization had only two winning seasons from 1974 to 1989?

You could argue that what changed the Chiefs fortunes for nine years straight was… the “working” relationship of Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer. We know it wasn’t always smooth sailing for those two but, that may be precisely what made it work. Or at least, it worked as long as they accepted each others role.

What may be the deciding factor in whether or not our current Chiefs fortunes are about to change or not… is that Chiefs owner Clark Hunt hired the coach first and the GM second. In this arrangement, both men will report directly to owner Clark Hunt. Each has their own personal and professional relationship with the chairman of the board.

Some GM-HC battles in the NFL are legendary. What’s important here is that there will be a… balance of power. Clark Hunt has made sure that will happen within a structure he has set up and manages himself.

Of all the moves the Kansas City Chiefs have made this off season, Clark Hunts’ move to arrest control over the General Manager-Head Coach relationship… may be the biggest move of all.

Interestingly enough, when Marty Schottenheimer met with Clark Hunt before last season ended, many speculated that Hunt might be interested in bringing Marty back. Since then we’ve found out that Schottenheimer told Hunt at that time that he had no desire to coach again but, did offer advise.

On January 4th, the very day that Andy Reid was hired by Clark Hunt, Marty Schottenheimer spoke with USA Today and said,

I think it’s a spectacular choice,  I honestly think it’s important to get a guy who’s done it, who’s been there. He’s got the DNA for putting together successful teams, and he was able to sustain success over a long period of time.

Who would disagree that good coaching is critical to what can change the fortunes of a team? However, who would disagree that it’s critically important for a GM to give a coach the right talent to work with?

Clark Hunt seems to have figured it out.

In an article written by Floyd Reece for ESPN called, “Five Essentials to Head Coach-GM Success” he says that,

The essentials that keep this relationship working:

  1. Specific and detailed outline of responsibilities- Lines must be drawn and responsibilities must be determined in all areas.
  2. Communication- Even though responsibilities have been determined, neither should make even a minor decision without consulting the other.
  3. Trust- A single person in charge of it all cannot keep up. Trust is the glue that adheres to coach and general manager.
  4. Relationship with the owner- Both the general manager and coach should have a separate personal relationship with the owner….
  5. Expertise- If the objective of having a football franchise is to win championships, the best chance to do that is to have the most qualified people.

With everything we know about Andy Reid and John Dorsey’s relationship and backgrounds… it looks like Clark Hunt  may have been fortunate enough to hit a hole in one. I’m increasingly doubting the dumb luck theory.

Now, the Chiefs just need to go out and win some games to see if their fortunes really have changed.

What do you think Addicts? Are the Chiefs fortunes about to change? Or have they changed already?

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