One on One: Carl Peterson- Part 2 of 5

WPI: When you got here there were about 39,000 season tickets paid and the organization was passionless. Apathy had set in and fans started wearing bags, but you have changed Arrowhead into an environment where everyone enjoys the experience. What was your timetable in changing the mindset not only in the organization, but also in the community?

Carl Peterson: "I credit the USFL for giving me that experience. In the NFL in my first seven years, I came in as an assistant coach and then got kicked upstairs in personnel and so forth, but I did not fully understand or appreciate the other aspects of the game. Marketing, tickets, promotions, sales, etc. I found out in the USFL that we are in the sports entertainment business. Let's be honest. With pro football in the spring we had to compete with Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL, so I learned a lot about trying to find out who your fans are and what they are, what they want and what they need. So, when I took this job, I know we pretty much hit bottom and that I needed to find some ways to get to them and I took some of the things that I did in the USFL."

"I did some demographic studies. I did some focus groups. I wanted to find out what those fans that were here with the Chiefs wanted and then I wanted to try to find out what the future fans would need and attract them."

"There were a lot of different questions, but one of them was, ‘Of the organization, who would you keep?' The answer was Bill Grigsby and Len Dawson. That's it. You can trash everything else. I am serious. It said, ‘What kind of season would satisfy you?' And they said, ‘if it would just be possible to get to .500, we would be ecstatic.' Of the 24,678 season ticket holders, the average age was about 60. I told Lamar that wasn't our future. We have to get to a younger demographic. How do we do it? Well, the second year, a guy walks into my office by the name of Bill Newman and says, ‘I know your radio rights are up. We would be interested.' And, I said, ‘who are we?' And he said, ‘KCFX – FM Classic Rock.' I said, ‘Well, tell me about your demographics.' Male age numbers, female age numbers, and so forth."

"At that time, I think only three NFL teams were on FM and, of course, the Chiefs had been on AM, I think it was 710 – KCMO, for years. And so it was a big decision to make a change. I hired some very creative, innovative people in marketing and sales and said, ‘we have got to come up with something new.' They said ‘for the past 12-14 seasons it seems like every two years they fire a head coach and they bring a new one in and there is a new slogan and there is a new promise.' So we did black-and-white television commercials with guys in the weight rooms lifting weights, sweating, and then it comes across – ‘No promises. No slogans. Just hard work.' "

"And, I hired a guy that had that ethic. We coached against each other. He was with the Giants and I was with the Eagles, and we butted heads two times a year – Marty Schottenheimer. I made the decision (to fire) Frank Gansz and I took the time to look at all the video and I told him ‘the entire blame for where we are right now can't lie just at your feet. There are players who aren't putting out. There are coaches, administration. It just needed to be changed.' And he understood. I am out interviewing George Seifert and I had interviewed a couple of other guys and I get a call from Marty and he says, ‘Carl - you might not believe this but I just got fired by Art Modell. I just want to tell you something: I want to stay in the NFL as a head coach. I love it. I can do a hell of a job and I know you are looking for a coach. I would love to interview with you.' And I said, ‘Meet me at the East-West Shrine game."

"So we met there for about three or four hours, and I liked it and I think he did, too. I said, ‘okay, I am going to Mobile next week. Meet me in Mobile.' He said, ‘I'll be there.' And he was also interviewing in San Diego. I had told him in Mobile and I said, ‘don't go all the way to Mobile, go to Atlanta. I will meet you at the Airport Marriott in Atlanta and we'll talk.' So I fly into Mobile and I check into the hotel in Mobile, I go up to the room and I go back down and go out the back door and I take a cab back to the airport and fly to Atlanta to meet Marty and did the deal. I said, ‘I don't need to go any farther.' And he said, ‘Look, I've got seven assistant coaches that will come with me. We will hit the ground running.' I said, ‘It makes all the sense in the world.' He had won two or three division championships, been to the AFC Championship game – lost, but I mean, this guy is a proven coach and I had coached against him."

"So, I get him out here for ‘the final interview,' but we had the thing pretty well done. I was putting him on the plane and he says, ‘Carl, I'm sorry, but I promised Alex Spanos that we would stop by one more time in San Diego.' I said, ‘hey, not a problem. You go find out.' I had an interview with Alex, and Alex scared the hell out of me. I mean, he wanted to control everything, so I figured he was going to blow Marty out of the water. But, these were the last words with him. He says, ‘Oh Carl, do you know how dreary and grey Cleveland has been for these last few years? And, the sun always shines in San Diego.' I said, ‘The sun shines here in Kansas City, too.' He called after he met with Alex and said, ‘it is not going to work. If you want me, I am there.' I said, ‘you're my man.' So that is how we started."

"The only people that I kept were the radio broadcast. I brought in Kevin Harlan, which was great, and kept Bill and Len Dawson. We go 8-7-1, we are better than .500, and now we are showing some effort on the field that people will sort of track. Tailgating. The Royals were downplaying tailgating, because they wanted people to come in and buy the concessions. We needed to get people in the stadium, so I am going to promote the heck out of it. If there is anything I know by scouting 150 colleges around this country, the Midwest people love to tailgate. So we promoted it. We had Lamar out there. And then we started having problems because people would keep their coals going until two minutes before kickoff. They would take them, throw them under the car and run into the stadium and at that time it was not that long of a wait, and we had seven car fires. So we put coal bins out in the parking lot and toilets because we want them still to tailgate."

"Anyway, what we tried to do, very frankly, was build a college environment, because I know the Midwest. It is Missouri and Kansas, but it is also Iowa and Oklahoma and Nebraska. By the second year, halfway through the Atlanta game, we were sold out. We have been sold out since. But I'm giving credit to the Phil Thomas's and Phil Yatzie's and Tim Connley's and all these guys who are in the league now – most of them have gone onto bigger and better jobs, which I am happy about. I am as proud of anybody in administration going into a bigger and better job as I am of Bill Cowher and Herm Edwards going on to be head coaches when they were here as assistant coaches. It is a team atmosphere.

"I administrate the same way I coached. You try to hire the most creative, innovative and talented people you can, give them a direction to go and a purpose and all the support you can, and then you get out of the way and let them do what they do best. Do they do everything right all the time? Of course not – who does? I have hired a lot of good people. Some are still here. But, it needed to change. It needed a complete wash. Bill Grigsby said, ‘Carl, I would go down to the Plaza on Saturday, put two Chiefs tickets on the windshield and I would come back and have four – somebody had given me two more."

"It has been a real pleasure, a real thrill to see the pride come back in this community for the Chiefs and frankly for the Hunt family. There is nobody more deserving of the Super Bowl Trophy than Lamar Hunt and his family, and we've got to get this done before I get out of here."

Tomorrow: Part 3

This article originally appeared in Warpaint Illustrated the Magazine. If you want more information about the only Magazine Dedicated to the Kansas City Chiefs, hit the banner below to learn how you can get 56 issues of Sports Illustrated when you order Warpaint Illustrated the magazine.

 

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