It was a cold and gray winter morning in January 2013 when the Kansas City Chiefs’ chairman and CEO Clark Hunt boarded his private jet. He was headed to Philadelphia, where he planned to meet with former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid. He was hoping that he could hire Reid before the veteran coach could board a plane destined for Phoenix, where he would interview with the Arizona Cardinals.
You could say it went well.
“He and I had an interview that was originally scheduled for four hours — and it ended up going nine hours,” recalled Hunt on Monday evening, speaking with former Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel on NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access” show. “I think somewhere in the middle of that, both of us knew that it was a very good fit.”
Hunt wasn’t interested in a hot, up-and-coming candidate to take over the team his father had founded more than 50 years before. That approach had led to the hiring of general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley in 2009.
Instead, Hunt believed the Chiefs needed a leader who had been around the block a few times — someone who had seen enough football and worked with enough young men that they could provide the stable culture his team desperately needed.
“I could tell that he was the kind of mature, experienced leader that the Chiefs needed,” said Hunt, “coming off of a very difficult season in 2012.”
Difficult was putting it mildly.
Under head coach Romeo Crennel, Kansas City had finished the season 2-14. But it was more than that. A little over a month before, Chiefs’ linebacker Javon Belcher had taken his own life in the parking lot of the team’s training facility after murdering Kassandra Perkins — the mother of his child — earlier that day.
So Hunt wasn’t speaking about injuries or playing a series of tough games on the road with little rest. He was talking about a franchise that had gone off the rails — and needed a steady hand to get things back on track.
Reid was exactly the man for the job. In 2013, the team won its first nine games under its new head coach, making the playoffs after having the league’s worst record in the previous year. In the 11 years since Reid took over, the Chiefs have assembled the league’s best record and made 10 playoff appearances — while winning eight division titles, four conference titles and two Super Bowls.
“I think [it] just speaks volumes,” noted Hunt, “to the talent that Andy has as a head coach.”
Still, in an 18-week NFL schedule, there is always trouble along the way — and according to Hunt, Reid has shown his ability to work through it.
“We definitely had some adversity this year,” he acknowledged, “losing five of eight games late in the year.”
In those circumstances, many teams would have spiraled and floundered in the playoffs — but not the Chiefs. Inside the organization, the message — frequently repeated by coaches and players — remained the same: “Everything we want is still in front of us.”
“I really give the credit to Andy Reid and the job he and his coaching staff did of keeping the message consistent,” continued Hunt, “[and] keeping the guys positive. And as we got to the end of the season, they were able to turn the corner — and then in the playoffs, really turn it on.”
Still, for all the team’s success, everyone at 1 Arrowhead Drive understands how fleeting it can be.
“Each year is very special,” said Hunt. “We know how hard it is to get here. Having gone 50 years from Super Bowl IV to Super Bowl LIV — as a family and as an organization — we cherish each and every one of these opportunities. It’s great to be in Vegas tis weekend. The team is looking forward to the opportunity to bring home another Lombardi Trophy.”
But even if the team wins its fourth Super Bowl championship, it will be a bittersweet moment for Hunt. His mother Norma Hunt died last summer at the age of 85. This will be the first Super Bowl that she has not attended.
“It’s definitely going to be tough being here without her,” said Hunt, “but I know both she and my dad are looking down — and will be cheering on the Chiefs this coming Sunday.”
They, too, have received the message: “Everything we want is still in front of us.”