Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp play-call will long be remembered as one of signature moments of Super Bowl LIV — just like Hank Stram’s call of 65 Toss Power Trap in Super Bowl IV.
But as I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the 2019 season, I’ve begun to wonder if the most important play was called by Chiefs owner Clark Hunt years ago.
Our Matt Stagner touched on it during the week before the Super Bowl.
Andy Reid had been released by the Philadelphia Eagles after losses and tragedy of his own — but was nonetheless expected to quickly land a new job. But Clark Hunt decided to be aggressive. When Hunt landed in Philadelphia, Reid was literally on his way to become the Arizona Cardinals’ new head coach. Nine hours later, Reid canceled his other plans and agreed to coach the Chiefs.
Matt was exactly right. Hunt’s aggressive move to retain Reid as the team’s head coach was one of the key moves that led to the Super Bowl victory.
But I believe there was more to it than that.
Clark Hunt had been carefully brought along to succeed his father. In the years before Lamar Hunt’s death in 2006, Clark had become more and more involved in the team’s operations. And just as you would expect in such a situation, when he finally took complete control of the franchise, he did things the same way his father had always done them: depend on a highly-qualified person to run the team — and then stay out of their way.
After Carl Peterson’s resignation as the team’s general manager in early 2009, Hunt did what his father would have done. He hired former New England Patriots executive Scott Pioli — then one of the most sought-after candidates for a general manager position — to run the team.
There’s no need to mince words about this. It was a disaster.
Four years later, the team had turned in a record of 23-41 — and the 2012 season had ended with the tragic deaths of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher.
It couldn’t have been more obvious that significant changes needed to be made.
Hunt deserves credit for making an aggressive move to get the head coach he wanted. But it might be that the more significant decision was to make Reid directly accountable to him — not a general manager who hadn’t yet been hired. That GM — whoever it would turn out to be — would also report directly to the owner.
At the time, this decision was viewed — by myself and others — as a reaction to the mess that had been created under Pioli’s leadership. And perhaps it was. But by accident or design, it created an environment guaranteeing that the franchise’s direction would be determined not by a single person, but instead by a management team.
Since then, the influence each member of this management group has had on the team’s substantive decisions has been hotly debated by fans and analysts. Was the decision to move up and draft Patrick Mahomes more on Reid, John Dorsey or Brett Veach? Did Reid make the call to release Kareem Hunt, or was it Veach — or even Clark Hunt himself?
In such a management structure, even decisions that are solely up to the head coach in a typical top-down organization — such as the hiring of assistant coaches like Steve Spagnuolo — might be influenced by the views of others. (It’s worth remembering that when Pioli was hired as general manager, Hunt was reported to have interviewed Spagnuolo for the head coaching position Pioli ultimately gave to Todd Haley).
Viewed through this lens, the franchise’s unexpected decision to move on from general manager John Dorsey in June of 2017 — a very odd time to make such a move — might make more sense. While many have speculated why it happened, no one really knows; we’ve never been given a real explanation.
But what if it was simply because Dorsey wasn’t able to work effectively in a management team — that is, he wasn’t able to seriously consider input from others?
It is frustrating for fans (and sportswriters) to have so little understanding of how these decisions are made — or perhaps more accurately, whom to blame when things go wrong.
But it’s hard to argue with results.
In the seven seasons since Hunt made his fateful decision, the Chiefs possess the league’s second-best record, have made the playoffs six times and won the AFC West for a franchise-record four consecutive seasons.
And then the team did something no top-down management structure had been able to accomplish for more than four decades: win a championship.
To be sure, none of this might have been possible without Reid as a member of the management group — not only because he is now firmly in the conversation as one of the best coaches in NFL history, but also because of his unique circumstances after being fired as Eagles head coach. Since 2001 — as executive vice-president of football operations in Philadelphia — Reid had held final say on personnel matters. But he no longer wanted that responsibility; he wanted to focus on coaching. As someone who understood how personnel decisions are made, this made him an ideal candidate to be a contributor in a team management structure.
It’s even possible that Reid himself suggested it to Hunt.
However it happened, it was the right call. The shiny new Lombardi trophy that will be on display at Arrowhead Stadium this season is all the evidence you need.