Former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer died last Monday at the age of 77 — just before John Dixon was scheduled for a brief vacation. Upon his return, he shares some thoughts about Marty’s legacy.
In those days, it was a lot harder.
Nowadays, you can quickly download any statistics you want, getting the answer you need with a few keystrokes. But back in 1993, if you thought you had noticed a trend, you had to pore through the statistics printed in a team’s media guide to confirm it.
So in order to prepare for a midweek press conference with the Chiefs’ head coach, I had done just that. I walked into Arrowhead Stadium’s basement auditorium armed with a question about how the team had run the ball during the final games of the previous three seasons.
It was a tough question. But when I found the moment to ask it, I didn’t phrase it well. The coach asked me for a clarification. Caught off-guard, I stammered through a response — and Marty ended up sidestepping my question altogether.
Despite my poor presentation, one of the other reporters had figured out where my query had been headed. Afterwards, he stopped me in the hallway. “You had him on the mat,” he said. “Why’d you let him up?”
I don’t remember what I said in response. But whatever it was, I don’t think it reflected the truth: Marty was simply larger than life. He was a pretty intimidating figure to a young reporter who was just learning his way around the team.
That’s exactly what the Chiefs had needed when Schottenheimer arrived in 1989. Coming off back-to-back 4-11 seasons, the team hadn’t won a playoff game since the glorious 1969 campaign in which they had won Super Bowl IV. Over the next four years, Marty had turned the team into a contender that had made the playoffs three times with an aggressive, opportunistic defense and ball-control offense that fans had dubbed “Martyball.”
But as much as they loved the team’s newfound success, Chiefs fans adored Marty himself. Born and raised in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania — just southwest of Pittsburgh — Marty’s steel town sensibility was a perfect match for his new Midwestern home. His old-school “three yards and a cloud of dust” approach to the game fit right in with fans who longed for the franchise’s to return to respectability.
And even better: he hated the Raiders as much as we did.
There’s plenty of evidence that Schottenheimer already carried a healthy dislike for the team’s AFC West rival when he arrived in Kansas City — but as head coach of the Chiefs, he took it to another level. Each week of preparation before a game against the silver and black was dubbed “Raider Week.” Signs appeared all over the facility — and Schottenheimer never failed to mention it in his press briefings.
I remember being on the sidelines for a Raider Week scrimmage. The players were chippy — and why wouldn’t they be? Marty was prowling the defensive backfield, bellowing, “It’s Raider Week, men!” at every opportunity. After one rep, a fight broke out among the opposing linemen. Schottenheimer pushed in to break it up. “Save it for the game!” he shouted. “If I see that again, I’ll put every one of your asses on the bench this week!”
Over his ten-year career in Kansas City, Schottenheimer was 18-3 against the Raiders — including the team’s first playoff victory since 1969.
But Marty didn’t save his ire just for the players. I remember one game where an official had obviously blown a call — and he was furious. Television cameras had caught him dropping an obvious F-bomb during a sideline tirade against the offending party. After the game, reporters asked about the incident. Marty just grinned. “I was looking for the official named Fred,” he joked.
That was the thing about Schottenheimer. One minute, he could breathe fire. In the next, he could make you laugh — or even kiss you. The inspirational speeches he made to his players were famous throughout the league.
Marty always gave what reporters like to call “good copy.” Eventually I learned that after a loss — or even a victory — it was always worth asking him about the penalties the Chiefs had committed during the game. “That will stop,” he would growl. But he was always effusive with praise for his young players, too — sometimes to a fault. I think it finally took a couple of seasons for the press to let him off the hook for once referring to running back Greg Hill as “the real deal.”
And in contrast to many current coaches, Marty was forthcoming about what was going on with the team. His final press conference for each season was not to be missed. The public relations staff would push all the tables together in the fourth-floor press club. With the pressures of the season behind him, Schottenheimer would spend at least an hour with us, answering questions in great detail. In these sessions, he was always unguarded and informative about the challenges that lay ahead.
At one of them — while he was musing about the relationship between size, speed and tackling ability — I pointed out that according to my high school physics teacher, momentum was equal to mass multiplied by velocity. He looked at me and nodded. “There’s your answer,” he said. “Science.”
Schottenheimer made his farewell on January 2, 2011 — the day he was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame during halftime of 2010’s regular season finale against the Raiders. Unfortunately, Todd Haley’s Chiefs were unable to appropriately honor Marty with a victory over his hated rivals, losing 31-10 before falling to the Baltimore Ravens 10-7 in the playoffs.
It probably didn’t trouble Schottenheimer all that much. “The other guy’s on scholarship, too,” he would often say.
But as the team was preparing to sign head coach Andy Reid two years later, we heard from him once more. Marty had said that Chiefs owner Clark Hunt had sought his advice on the hire.
“I definitely didn’t have anything to do with the decision,” Schottenheimer told USA Today. “But I gave my opinions.”
Still, Marty definitely approved of the call Hunt had made.
“I think it’s a spectacular choice,” he said. “I honestly think it’s important to get a guy who’s done it, who’s been there. He’s got the DNA for putting together successful teams, and he was able to sustain success over a long period of time.”
There’s your answer. Science. Along with the one thing that Marty had always been denied: a young franchise quarterback.
Schottenheimer is one of only eight NFL coaches with 200 regular-season victories. All of the rest — with the exception of Reid and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick — have already been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Without a league championship to his name, Marty might never receive that honor.
But to a whole generation of fans, Marty Schottenheimer was the Kansas City Chiefs. So rest well, Marty. Here on the plains of the Midwest, you will never be forgotten.