Clark Hunt: Stepping Out of Lamar’s Shadow
By Jason Seibel
At the middle of last season, Clark Hunt’s name was not very popular around Chiefs Kingdom. Many fans (myself included) thought that the CEO of the Kansas City Chiefs was stingy, uninvolved and generally didn’t care about the franchise. Many were questioning the late, great Lamar Hunt’s wisdom in leaving his most prized possession, the Kansas City Chiefs, in the hands of spoiled children. I mean, Clark didn’t have the greatest track record. In the 35 years that Lamar Hunt was the owner and chairman of the Kansas City Chiefs, they had 18 winning seasons (starting when the AFL officially merged with the NFL in 1970 and not counting seasons where they had a .500 record.) Since Clark took over the reins from his father in 2006, the Chiefs have had two winning seasons. Those aren’t good odds, and it doesn’t speak well for Clark Hunt.
King Carl Peterson was hired by the father of the AFL to be the general manager and team president of the Kansas City Chiefs franchise in 1989. During that time, he hired four head coaches and drove the ship through the ups and downs. When Lamar died in December 2006, Clark decided to keep his father’s choice for GM on board. That was his first mistake as the chairman and CEO of the Chiefs. Peterson went on to hire the man we like to refer to as “Harm” Edwards, arguably one of the worst coaches in the history of the franchise. Romeo Crennel may actually come close to that title, but he only had one season to under-perform. Peterson and Clark Hunt gave Harm three whole seasons to dig the Chiefs into a hole.
Clark’s next biggest mistake, was the hiring of the “Smooth Talker from New England,” Scott Pioli. After 20 years under the King Carl era, Chiefs fans were ready for a change. Sayings like “In Pioli we trust” permeated the Chiefs’ fandom. We didn’t bat an eye (or at least most of us didn’t) when he brought in the gruff, unorthodox offensive coordinator from the previous year’s NFC Champion, Arizona Cardinals, to be the new head coach. Todd Haley brought with him an attitude the Chiefs hadn’t seen in sometime. Further, we didn’t even flinch (again, most of us didn’t) when the team traded the 34th overall pick (déjà vu, anyone?) to the Patriots for Matt Cassel and Mike “Intangibles” Vrabel. Under Haley’s leadership and Cassel’s QB play, during the 2010 season the team took home something they hadn’t in seven years, the AFC West Championship.
However, when the Chiefs came out flat in their first playoff appearance since 2006, it didn’t take a degree in psychology to see there was a rift between the GM and head coach. That rift widened the following season when, instead of making a run at repeating their 2010 season, the Chiefs lost the first three games, or in the words of Todd Haley, went 1-3 in the first quarter of the season. The all-out train wreck that was the 2011 Kansas City Chiefs continued to fly down the track when starting QB Matt Cassel (who had the made the Pro Bowl the year prior, albeit as an alternate,) was placed on injured reserve. The best QB the disheveled coach could field was Tyler Palko. That failed experiment ended in the firing of Haley and the emergence of Crennel as the Chiefs’ interim head coach. Crennel quickly replaced Palko with QB Kyle Orton, who the Chiefs had picked up off the waiver wire when “Tebow Time” was first starting. Thankfully, Palko never took a professional snap again. Although it was reported that after the 2011 season when he was released by the Chiefs he started a career at Payless Shoe Source, there is no validity to the rumor. An internet search of “where is Palko” returned no results, indicating not even Google cares where this guy is. But, I digress.
At the beginning of last season, there were high hopes once again. Scott Pioli removed the “interim” tag from Romeo Crennel’s head coach title. The players seemed re-invigorated and there was almost a “ding dong, the witch is dead” mentality surrounding the abrupt departure of Todd Haley. Although Pioli didn’t “go big” in free agency, he signed some talent to help provide depth at some positions of need. Again, during the draft, no huge splash was made, but depth was added to what was considered by most to be a talented roster. Around the league, the Kansas City Chiefs were the trendy pick to win the AFC West, despite Peyton Manning’s arrival in the Mile High City.
Then the bottom fell out. I won’t waste more words telling you what happened next. Even the youngest fan has the image of loss after humiliating loss burned into their memory. It was probably the worst season the Chiefs have ever put together. (The Chiefs have had three, two-win seasons in the lifetime of the franchise: 1977, 2008 and 2012.)Scott Pioli continued to spout sound bites for ESPN and the NFL Network that consisted of his go-to catchphrases. We heard that “it’s a process” and things would level out, but they never did. They just kept going downhill. Fast. Enter the “Save Our Chiefs” movement. Still Pioli continued to smooth talk the reporters. The Chiefs didn’t hold a lead in regulation play for the first seven games of the season. A plane was flown over Arrowhead Stadium declaring what the Chiefs fans thought of the GM and the starting QB. Nothing. In fact, it took a tragedy to spark enough emotion in the players to pull out their second and final win of the season. It was terrible. Romeo Crennel was, thankfully, the first casualty of “Black Monday” and many thought Pioli would quickly follow.
We are all Chiefs fans here. Why did I just use over 800 words to tell you the recent history of the Kansas City Chiefs when many of you know it as well or better than I do? To make my point. Through all of this, Clark Hunt did nothing. Absolutely nothing. It took some dedicated Chief fans to pay their money out of their own pockets to fly a plane over the stadium for him to even slightly take notice.
Then, something amazing happened. The debacle that was the 2012 season came to end; Crennel’s coaching tenure came to an end and Clark Hunt stood up and made himself heard. He flew to Philly and met with then, just-deposed Eagle head coach, Andy Reid. We all know what happened next. Clark got his guy. However, Clark didn’t stop there. Next, he held a press conference and said he was taking a more active role in the team. Chiefs fans took in a collective breath, not knowing how this would play out. Putting the head coach and the general manager on the same level in your corporate structure isn’t generally heard of. Clark was making a point.
Next came the signings. One of the major complaints Chiefs fans have had about Clark Hunt is the tight grip he holds on his checkbook. There was much speculation last season on why Dwayne Bowe wasn’t signed to a long-term contract. Many thought it was a personality conflict between Bowe and Pioli. Others thought it was Hunt’s grip on his checkbook and not wanting to pay Bowe the “big money.” I personally believe it was Pioli telling Hunt that Bowe wasn’t worth it. It’s interesting the difference a year makes.
Football is a business, pure and simple; at least to those involved in it. Clark Hunt finally figured out that his business isn’t doing well, and it was time get out of the corporate office in Dallas and check out the operation in Kansas City. I believe we’ll be quite surprised come next week when the free agent frenzy begins in earnest. There are some big name players who will be demanding some big pay days. While I’m not necessarily for over-paying players, I think that if you want to win, sometimes you have to pay for it.
There are several levels of owners in the NFL. The Green Bay Packers have over 100,000 owners. The Pack is the NFL’s only publicly owned team. They are run by a board of directors, but not one single owner. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be the Dallas Cowboys with owner/general manager/wannabe coach/all-around meddler, Jerry Jones. I would say Clark Hunt and the Kansas City Chiefs fall somewhere in between. I’m not say I want Clark Hunt to be Jerry Jones, but the increased level of involvement points to good things ahead.
Thus far this season, I’m impressed with the moves Hunt has made. He has obviously realized his customer base is unhappy. He knows he needs to change it. Win now and we’re happy. Continue down this path of ineptitude and he won’t be able to give away tickets to Arrowhead. It’s that simple. We’ve got a long way to go. This is the part of the offseason where optimism is at its highest. No games have been played but we’re far enough removed from the stink of the season to have faded away. There’s hope in the Chiefs Kingdom once again. It’s clear Clark is involved and, so far at least, it seems he’s got the right guys calling the shots. Lamar Hunt loved this football franchise and the world of football loved him. He is gone, but not forgotten. It’s about time his spawn stepped up and tried to start filling those Shaq-sized shoes his father left.
Time will tell if this “new and improved” Clark Hunt will be the difference in the 2-14 team we suffered through last year or the 13-3 team that should take the field this year. I’m not saying for certain, but it should be one hell of a ride getting there.
We took a collective breath in when Clark stood up for his franchise. We’re all still waiting to exhale.
That’s how I see it, Addicts. What say you?