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Arrowhead advantage: NFL decisions made this week set stage for success

It has been more than seven years since Chiefs owner Clark Hunt changed the course of the franchise by bringing Andy Reid aboard.

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Kansas City Chiefs Introduce Andy Reid David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Way, way back in 2007 — at this writing, 14 years ago — Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said that he wanted his franchise to be like the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I’m a strong believer that continuity at the head coaching position is very important to long-term success,’’ said Hunt at the time. “Probably you could point to the Pittsburgh Steelers as the best example of that. They do a great job of drafting players, developing them and playing them and they have tremendous continuity with their head coaches. They have a system and an approach about how they do it and it’s important we develop that kind of mindset here.’’

Again, at the time, the Steelers’ methods had led to only three head coaches, 23 playoff appearances and five Super Bowl championships since 1972. The Steelers would go on to add a sixth title in February of 2009 — a month after Hunt thought to take the first step in that direction — by bringing on Scott Pioli to replace longtime executive and “king” (for lack of better terms) Carl Peterson.

Pioli came highly acclaimed by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who had watched him grow from assistant director to vice president of player personnel. Belichick’s recommendation could not have been higher — and it would have been difficult not to trust the words of somebody who had made four Super Bowl trips over the last decade, winning three.

The Pioli era, as we know today, did not lead to the type of shift in franchise direction for which Hunt was hoping. The Chiefs returned to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons in 2010, but the Wild Card loss that followed was — by far — his tenure’s high point. An eventual very public power struggle between general manager and head coach and a reported emphasis on operational secrecy and intimidation overshadowed any progress. For now well-known reasons both on and off the field, the Chiefs’ underwent their worst season ever in 2012, when they finished 2-14.

A new hope

NFL: OCT 21 Bengals at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Five years after Hunt proclaimed he wanted his organization to be more like the one in Pittsburgh, he was back to square one. But the Chiefs’ owner did not need a third time to find his charm. Bringing aboard current Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has been his single greatest decision in what has been 15 years as chairman of the club.

The story is now Kansas City legend: Hunt secured the recently-fired Reid by meeting him at a Philadelphia airport, talking through their visions for hours and ensuring that Reid did not board flights to Arizona or San Diego. Reid came with 14 years of head coaching experience, having built a successful program with the Philadelphia Eagles that had led to four straight trips to the NFC championship game in the early 2000s.

“I had been in the league a while, so I had known the family before I came here,” Reid said this week. “I’ve said this before which is true, I sat in those owner meetings and there were just some people I looked at and I’d go, ‘Boy, if something ever happened, I’m working for a great owner (Jeffrey Lurie), but if something ever happened here, I could see myself working for those people. They are just good people.’

“The Hunts were one of those families. I knew Clark, I knew his dad and I’m not going to say it was a no-brainer because you’ve got to think about everything, but I already had the answers to the test kind of just by knowing them.”

About nine days after Hunt hired Reid, he hired John Dorsey, the longtime Packers talent evaluator who had worked with Reid in the mid-to-late 1990s. Learning from his previous regime, Hunt set a structure where both Reid and Dorsey would report directly to him — as would team president Mark Donovan.

Thinking back to his 2013 decision in mid-November, Hunt said he could not be happier with the way it played out.

“The short answer is I smile a whole lot more,” he said. “If you just think about the journey that we’ve been on over the last eight years, when we hired Andy, we were obviously coming off of several very difficult seasons and the turnaround with Andy was almost immediate, going 9-0 his first season in Kansas City.”

The foundation

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs-Patrick Mahomes Press Conference Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Reid and Dorsey overturned the roster in 2013, trading for Alex Smith, giving the Chiefs stability at sports’ most important position for the first time since Trent Green. Dorsey drafted Eric Fisher and Travis Kelce — and found The Magnificent Seven.

Under Reid’s guidance, the organization's culture had instantly changed for the better. Reid and Dorsey rebuilt the team's foundation from 2013 to 2017 — and during the 2017 offseason, Hunt made another difficult decision by saying goodbye to Dorsey for a homegrown Reid talent: Brett Veach. Veach had started as Reid’s coaching intern in Philadelphia in 2004, followed Reid to Kansas City as a personnel analyst in 2013 and had been the co-director of player personnel prior to his promotion to general manager.

Reid credits Veach with finding quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Texas Tech product who had bad mechanics and threw from too many different arm angles. Dorsey executed a key trade with the Buffalo Bills on draft night — and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hunt’s decision to go with Reid led to Dorsey and then Veach, who has shown a sharp eye for talent and has reconstructed the team’s cap strategy, managing to find ways to keep the Chiefs’ core players under contract for years to come.

“To his credit, he’s done nothing but get better, and that’s helped our football team get better,” Hunt added on Reid, “Obviously, that crescendoed with the Super Bowl victory this past February, and I’m excited to look to the future because I don’t think there’s been any change in his energy level, and just the way the players respond to him, they’re excited to come to practice every day, excited to play for him and fully on board with our goals to win world championships.”

A critical week in the NFL

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-Kansas City Chiefs Champions Parade Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Most who follow professional football to any degree rightfully would have scoffed at Hunt's use of the plural — championships — had he said it in 2007 or 2013.

In 2021, it’s not outlandish at all. In a way, it is expected.

It all goes back to 2013. Hunt knew what he wanted: championships. And he placed a bet on a man who — in large part — had only become available because he had yet to win one.

Fast forward to this week, when there are the annual six or so head coaching jobs available. Several teams are also hiring general managers. Hunt’s timeline makes for the perfect example as to why decisions being made this week couldn’t be of greater importance.

For the Chiefs, they no longer have to look to other franchises such as the Steelers as a model for success. Thanks to Hunt — and Reid, Dorsey, Veach and Mahomes — the Chiefs have become the model.