One on One: Clark Hunt

Chiefs Chairman of the Board Clark Hunt sat down Wednesday with Warpaint Illustrated Publisher Nick Athan for a one-on-one exclusive.

Warpaint Illustrated: Talk about the 2007 season. What were the positives?

Clark Hunt: It was disappointing for me and my entire family. Following the playoff appearance in 2006, we were optimistic that the 2007 season would be able to build on what we accomplished in 2006. We knew that we had a team that was in transition, but we thought we'd be able to take the young players that had been acquired in the last couple years and work them in with veterans that we had, and have a pretty good team.

Obviously that ended up not being the case. The by-product was over the last half of the season, we weren't competitive at all.

WPI: What are your first impressions of your new offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey?

Hunt: First of all, I'm extremely excited to be able to hire somebody of Chan's caliber. I really think he's the right person for the job. He brings a history of success in the NFL as both a head coach and an offensive coordinator. He's somebody that's shown an ability to be creative in his playcalling, somebody who has a very good feel for the game as it progresses. I think we'll see a big improvement on the offensive side in terms of our production next year. It's also important in that we have a young quarterback that we're trying to develop. Having a coordinator of Chan's credentials I think will really help Brodie Croyle out.

WPI: What's your stance on going after free agents this year? Does the fact that last year was disappointing change that philosophy?

Hunt: From a philosophical standpoint I'm a strong believer that you build your football team through the draft. We've done a pretty good job of that the last couple years. If you look at our shortcomings this year they can really be traced back to the early part of this decade, where we had a head coach, Dick Vermeil, who believed that you build teams through free agency with veteran players. He did a great job of that both here and in St. Louis, but unfortunately at the same time we weren't drafting well enough. The players we did draft, there wasn't a focus on developing them.

Fast forward to 2007, those same players who would have been in the prime of their careers, weren't here. Instead we had a bunch of aging veterans, many of whom had been wonderful players for us, Pro-Bowl players, but they were really at the practical limit of their career. Herm has not had enough time, i.e. drafts, to re-stock the cupboard if you will. 2008 is going to be very important for us in that regard. We have 10 picks. We're going to be drafting very high in each round. We should have an opportunity to get some great football players or maybe have an opportunity to trade down or trade up.

The draft is incredibly important, but I also believe that we need to focus on developing our own franchise quarterback. Clearly Herm has taken us in that direction. In our war room in 2006 there was a discussion about whether we should draft Brodie or go with another position, and it was Herm who stepped on the table and said "you know what, we're going to take the quarterback."

At the time, it didn't seem like we really needed a quarterback, because we had a great roster of quarterbacks including Trent Green, but clearly he had in the back of his mind that he wanted to develop a young quarterback and one in his first year. Brodie is someone who we all believe has the physical tools and we're hopeful that he's going to develop into the quarterback we think he can be.

WPI: If there's a big-name player in free agency that one of your coaches desires, even if he's had some issues, what are your feelings about going after such a player?

Hunt: I do believe that free agency has a place, notwithstanding my comments about the importance of the draft. Every team is going to need to use free agency to fill holes. Every NFL team including the New England Patriots has holes, and they're very successful in using free agency to fill those holes. The important thing is not to rely on it, and to stay away from guys who may upset the apple cart in the locker room. You have to be careful about the age of the guys you're bringing in through free agency.

A lot of times you can get a player who's 29, 30 years old, in the prime of their career, but it's the tail end of their prime. By the time the team becomes what we'd like it to be, those players can't contribute any more. It has a place, but you really have to focus on specific types of players – players with good character who fit in the system.

WPI: How important is re-signing Jared Allen this offseason?

Hunt: Jared and I have a very good relationship, and I know he knows that I want him to be a Chief for many years and hopefully retire a Chief. I'm very hopeful that we'll be able to work out a long-term contract for him this offseason because it is our intent for Jared to be here for many years.

WPI: How do you balance signing a player to a huge contract with building a complete football team?

Hunt: It's certainly true that the numbers across the board continue to grow tremendously. Obviously the elite players like Jared are going to be first in line in terms of getting their share of those dollars. The important thing for the management of a pro football team is how you allocate your dollars. You do want to have enough money so that when you have to do something in free agency, or you have an important player that you drafted, you're not having to gut your roster to create salary cap room.

We've done a pretty good job of that in recent years, making sure we're in a good salary cap position. It allowed us to sign Tony Gonzalez and Larry Johnson last year, and we're hopefully in a good position to work out a long-term contract with Jared this offseason.

WPI: Talk about the process with the Arrowhead Stadium renovations so far.

Hunt: It took us about two years to get through the design phase and really get seriously under construction. Since our last home game in December, the trucks have been out here and they have made an absolute mess. I think our fans, when they come back in August for preseason games, they're going to be stunned by how much has been done already. It is a long process, one that will take until August of 2010, but you're really going to be able to start to see what the new facility will be about this season. It's exciting.

WPI: Carl Peterson has been blamed for everything that's gone wrong. You really haven't come out and commented on his future. What kind of relationship do the two of you have?

Hunt: Carl and I have a very good relationship. It really goes back a number of years to my involvement with the franchise when my father was still with us. Having said that, I believe Carl is someone who's done a tremendous job over his tenure with the organization. Obviously anytime you have a 4-12 season, it requires you to step back and look at everything you're doing on the football side of the equation.

To Carl's credit, a couple of years ago he really changed the course of how the football team was being built. A big part of that was hiring Herm Edwards, a big part of that was promoting Bill Kuharich to Vice President of Player Personnel. Those two men really have a common vision for how a championship team should be built, and have been working hard at it.

Unfortunately, it's too early to see the by-product of that hard work. It's going to take another year, maybe two, until we've had enough drafts to bring in enough young Chiefs to replace many of those great players that coach Vermeil brought here. Then we'll have the kind of team I think our fans want to see.

WPI: What are your thoughts on Herm Edwards as he enters year three of his four-year contract?

Hunt: I think Herm Edwards is a tremendous head football coach in the NFL. If you look at his record over the seven years he's been a head coach, he's made the playoffs four times and shown he can win games in the playoffs. He's already shown he can develop a franchise quarterback, which he did in New York. I really think he's the right person for the job. He's someone who shares my philosophy in building a team through the draft. I think he has us headed in the right direction.

Like anybody, this season was tough on him. It was tough on all of us, but in his words, that's okay. He has a plan and knows where he's headed. Certainly 2008 is an important year for Herm, and really everybody in the Chiefs organization. We need to show significant improvement over 2007. Most importantly we need to show we're headed in a direction of building both an offensive and a defensive football team that's capable of winning.

WPI: How important is it to have this football team playing at a championship level when the stadium looks like new?

Hunt: I'm optimistic that those two things will be arriving about the same time. I'd like to think that the football team can get there before the stadium. It's really important for me any year that we have a championship-caliber football team. It just happens now that we have this rebuilding process that's going on with the stadium and the football team. Several people have pointed out the parallel to me, and it's true. I do expect that the football team is going to move a little bit faster than the stadium.

WPI: How hard is it for you to have patience in making a decision on a coach or general manager after a 4-12 season?

Hunt: One of the most difficult things about my role with the team is knowing when to show patience and when not to. Certainly from an emotional standpoint, as we were suffering through the losing streak, it was very hard to be objective. I wanted to be careful to make sure I took enough time after the season to really evaluate what took place here this year, why we had the kind of season we had, what kind of changes needed to be made and what kind of people like Chan Gailey needed to be brought into the organization to help us turn it around.

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