Kansas City Chiefs overcame tragedy, showed fortitude in last decade

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Head coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs enters the field with his team before the start of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 19, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Head coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs enters the field with his team before the start of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 19, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

The Chiefs faced immense adversity this decade. Their current success is largely owed to the way they responded to the challenges along the way.

The Kansas City Chiefs have quietly evolved into a model franchise and consistent winner. The 2010s should be remembered as a decade in which the Chiefs tested and found the formula for sustained success. This decade of trial and error has cemented the Chiefs as a team ready to contend for another decade.

The story of the past decade centers on the way the Chiefs responded to dysfunction and unspeakable tragedy. In this sense, the 2010s were the decade the Chiefs learned to be strong.

The early ’10s was marked by the most devastating event in franchise history. On December 1st, 2012, defensive player Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and later himself. He committed suicide at the Chiefs’ practice facility in front of then-coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli. The devastating, mind-numbing tragedy cast an encroaching, dark shadow over the Chiefs organization and the NFL in general. It’s hard to find words to do the situation any sort of justice, but I remember the game that followed the tragedy.

The Chiefs played and defeated the Carolina Panthers. Players were in tears throughout the game; it was the kind of event that had very little to do with football and a whole lot more to do with healing. The record of the 2012 Chiefs or their potential draft spot—questions most losing teams consider—didn’t seem pertinent. Something so much bigger than football swallowed the entire 2012 season, and the Chiefs franchise at that moment.

Additionally, there were plenty of coaching changes in the early part of the last 10 years, a problem on par with most teams in search of an identity. The 2010 Chiefs were able to earn a wild card spot, mainly due to an easy schedule and an excellent rushing attack, but they weren’t exactly a playoff-caliber group. They were swiftly beaten in the wild card round. The 2011 Chiefs began the season 5-8 and fired head coach Todd Haley, who wasn’t well-liked for his abrasive, arrogant personality. They ended the year 7-9. Next came the worst year of the Chiefs’ decade, for reasons beyond football. The 2012 Chiefs, led by Romeo Crennel, went 2-14. Following 2012, Crennell and Pioli were fired. Andy Reid was brought in as head coach, and John Dorsey as general manager.

Merely calling the 2012 season a failure due to the 2-14 record fails to capture just how wounded the Chiefs franchise was. Following the events of December 1st, the Chiefs were in sore need of guidance, healing, and stability. The hiring of Andy Reid was the turning point of the decade in this sense.

Reid possesses an incredible ability to relate to his players. He is well-known for giving second chances, most notably to players like Michael Vick. He’s a man of emotional depth and one who is no stranger to tragedy himself. Reid is often thought of as a “players coach” But that term underscores the kind of gifted leader Reid is. He has a capacity for empathy and an ability to relate that can boost the morale of an entire team. Guys want to play for him because they know he has their back.

The hiring of Reid presented an opportunity for the Chiefs to overcome the ailing of the early decade. In the wake of tragedy and dysfunction, Reid’s unique leadership qualities provided stability and positive momentum for the Chiefs’ franchise. Part of the proof is in the Chiefs’ sustained success under Reid.

Since the 2013 season, the Chiefs have posted records of 11-5, 9-7, 11-5, 12-4, 10-6, 12-4,12-4 respectively. This sustained record of success indicates a winning culture. But “winning culture” consists of more than a talented roster, and/or innovative playcalling. There are ample examples of teams with a lot of talent that underachieve—think of the 2019 Cowboys and Browns. A winning culture is one that’s built from a foundation of trust. Brett Veach, the current general manager, Andy Reid, and Patrick Mahomes have cemented the kind of synergy upon which great franchises are built.

Sustained success relies on an undercurrent of trust, and the Chiefs under Reid have demonstrated the ability to win in different ways. This three-part connection is what was missing earlier in the decade. The reason sustained success is difficult to come by is because it’s so hard to establish a coach, quarterback, front office triad that clicks. Consistency in terms of those positions is more than an ingredient for success. It allows a team to positively respond to adversity.  With Reid and company, the Chiefs have an internal strength that will keep them competitive into the next decade.

The resiliency of the Chiefs this decade has proven they are a top-tier franchise. In the face of tragedy, they healed internally by hiring the right coach to handle such hardship. They have formed an excellent leadership core. It’s this franchise model with such solid principles and communication at work that should keep the Chiefs sailing ahead for the decade to come.

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