One of the perks of the Warpaint Illustrated gig, remains the fact I’ve been able to get to know some amazing people. One of them, Chairman Clark Hunt, I always found to be positive, upbeat and passionate about the team his father brought to life five decades ago.
On Saturday, with 5,000 fans filling the Chiefs summer practice home in St. Joe, Hunt sat down with the media and didn’t shy away from questions thrown his direction. That’s something, to his credit, he’s always dealt with head on – regardless of the topic.
Since Hunt cleaned house after the 2012 NFL season when he jettisoned Head Coach, Romeo Crennel and General Manager, Scott Pioli, Hunt has molded this franchise in his image. When he was looking for a new head coach to replace Crennel, he was determined not to be swayed from finding the man he felt was best to lead his football team on the field.
That’s a lesson he learned first-hand when Pioli insisted they fire then Head Coach, Herm Edwards and settled on an inexperience coach in Todd Haley even though Mike Shanahan, a man Hunt admired, showed brief interest in becoming the Chiefs next head coach. With that lesson in hand, Hunt hired the best candidate on the market, Andy Reid.
The Chiefs head coach has not disappointed his owner. In three seasons in Kansas City, the Chiefs appeared in two playoff games. On paper, as they head into the 2016 season, this appears to be a well-rounded athletic team with depth at nearly every position, that’s ready to compete for an AFC West Title.
“Well we're in a situation where we have high expectations for the team,” Clark Hunt said. “We're trying to build off of what we accomplished last year. I've jokingly said that I expect us to get off to a better start and I think that goes without saying. We do think we have a team that can compete for a championship.”
Hunt has never lost sight of that goal. In a moment we shared together at the Hall of Fame Induction of the late Derrick Thomas years ago, he told me he wanted nothing more than to do what his father did and bring a world championship back to the fans of Kansas City.
That goal for this season falls on the 53-man roster that Reid and General Manager, John Dorsey have constructed in 2016. In the eyes of the Chiefs Chairman, he certainly believes this roster of players can achieve greater success than a year ago.
“Yeah, I really do. And obviously a lot of that is based on the performance that we saw last year. The job that John [Dorsey] and his staff have continued to do in terms of bringing in young players and some veteran players who can fill in and make us stronger. I think this is the most complete team we've had since Andy [Reid] and John have been here,” he told the media on Saturday.
That optimism isn’t just felt within the Chiefs organization; many NFL pundits feel this team has more than enough to take the AFC West crown this season. Yet even with that optimism, Hunt was reminded the NFL is a business as reporters wanted to get his thoughts on the current holdout of All Pro Safety, Eric Berry.
“Well we were disappointed to not be able to reach a long-term contract with Eric,” he told the inquiring media. “He's somebody we think very highly of. He's been a great player on the field. He does so much in the community. He's a team leader. We certainly look forward to having him be a part of the team in 2016. And as soon as we have an opportunity next year, we'll sit down with his representatives and see if we can work out a scenario where he can finish his career here.”
Regardless if that’s the case or not in regards to securing a new deal with Berry in the future, Hunt is in full control of the Chiefs franchise.
The fact he has weathered multiple storms in his tenure atop the organization is a credit to his resolve and drive. During the period he’s been the decision maker for the Chiefs empire, he continues to live in the Hall of Fame shadows of his father, survived a 2012 season that ranked as the worst in franchise history but also witnessed his football team break that unfathomable string of playoff losses last January, giving him hope the best is yet to come.
Still, the role of Chairman is one Clark Hunt takes with great pride and compassion, but I believe in his heart of hearts, he’s no different than the rest of us – deep down he’s just a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs like you and me.