Clark Hunt has risen to the challenge of NFL ownership and has begun carving out a legacy for himself as a successful franchise owner.
Lamar Hunt founded the Chiefs and navigated the franchise through thick and thin. He brought the Chiefs to Kansas City, was a key part of the AFL-NFL merger, and is even credited with naming the Super Bowl. There are few people in the history of professional footballl who had a bigger impact on the game of than Lamar Hunt.
Hunt passed way in December of 2006. While the Hunt family has split ownership of the franchise, Clark Hunt became the face of the ownership and the one overseeing decision-making. He took over the franchise just under 3 months from his 42nd birthday and remains the youngest owner in the NFL today.
It was trial by fire for the new owner, and Clark came out swinging. The new owner managed to lure Scott Pioli from New England to Kansas City. Despite how Pioli’s tenure turned out in the end, at the time of the hiring it was considered a home run. Pioli was the hot name and teams had been trying to lure Pioli away from New England for several years.
Clark gave control to Pioli and the Chiefs and the first year went well, but things quickly hit a tailspin. Most of us try to forget those days and it felt like a decade’s worth of suffering. It seems odd to look back and realize that Pioli was only in town for four seasons.
Pioli’s last year in Kansas City was the worst in franchise history. In 2012, the Chiefs won 2 games, tying a team record they had set only 4 years prior. Even worse, the 2012 season included linebacker Jovan Belcher committing a murder-suicide, and he even took his own life at the team facility in front of coaches and other team personnel.
Many of us likely recall the “Save Our Chiefs” movement, which included empty stadiums, blowout losses, and a banner flown over Arrowhead. The online complaints were endless. One of the most faithful fan bases on the planet began to waver. Conversations about the organization were filled with concerns that Clark cared more about his soccer interests, or just wanted to make money off of the team. The Kingdom challenged Clark Hunt to do something, to make a change, to save the Chiefs.
Clark Hunt answered, and saved our Chiefs.
Before the Pioli hire, the Chiefs had settled into a comfortable place as a middling franchise. In the 10 years before Clark became owner, the team had two seasons with double-digit wins. Their last playoff win had come in 1994, a streak that wouldn’t be broken until 2016.
Pioli was coming from New England, and the move was certainly one meant to propel the franchise upwards. It didn’t work out, but Clark would learn from his mistakes, and most importantly, keep swinging.
Head coach Andy Reid was a known commodity and boasted an impressive coaching resume, but was coming off a year for him that was professionally and personally difficult. There were eight head coaching openings that year, and Reid was a desirable product. Clark Hunt quickly met with Reid and closed the deal before other teams could entertain the future Hall of Fame coach.
This was the same bold, forward strategy that landed Scott Pioli with the Chiefs. This time though, Clark learned a few things. Most notably he changed the structure of the organization. Instead of hiring a general manager who then hired coaches, Clark took oversight of the coaching staff. The Chiefs hired John Dorsey shortly after hiring Reid, but it was made clear that both men would report to Clark separately.
This decision was nuanced, and I’m not many people have given it much thought. However, this restructuring likely played a key role in the 2017 decision to extend Reid and let Dorsey walk. The decision to let Dorsey walk caught many off guard given the team’s success, but a few short years later, it looks like the right move.
It has been a little over 13 years since Clark Hunt took over the Chiefs. In those 13 years, the Chiefs have seen 7 seasons with double-digit wins. They won their first playoff game in over 20 years. They hosted back-to-back AFC Championship Games, hoisted the Lamar Hunt trophy once, and are now Super Bowl bound.
There will be a lot of stories told leading up to the big game. We’ll talk about Andy Reid. We’ll sing the praises of Patrick Mahomes. We’ll revel in the defensive highlights and newly found swagger. In the midst of all the talk, it’s important that we don’t forget the man who saved our Chiefs, the young owner thrust into the filling the footsteps of a giant and has risen to the challenge.
Patrick Mahomes is in his third year and it’s generally agreed that the Chiefs will be in a great position to compete for the next decade with Mahomes at the helm. Reid will continue to coach and has produced enough NFL head coaches throughout the years that when he does finally call it quits, there will likely be someone well-equipped to take over the job.
At the end of the day, as long as Clark Hunt owns this organization, it will be in good hands.