Voice of the Kingdom - Part II

Today we look at Mitch Holthus' role in Chiefs Insider, the organization's weekly TV show, and his side gig - motivational speaking.

THURSDAY

This is probably the biggest day of the workweek for Holthus outside of Sunday. He records his weekly TV show, Chiefs Insider, a program that appears on various markets around the Midwest. He's perfected it to an art form.

Holthus is so comfortable doing the show he doesn't require multiple takes. As he stares into the camera he has a teleprompter, but it's there for backup purposes only. He knows the Chiefs so well, and he's such a pro at delivering his dialogue, that he makes it look effortless. Every line is so matter of fact that it's not only informative to the average fan, but also reaches even the most ardent.

To pull this off, Holthus employs a crew that's as engaging and passionate about the work as he is. Producer Tom Stephens has worked on Chiefs Insider for seven years.

"Mitch is a legend in my mind," said Stephens. "He's one of the best guys I've ever worked with. He's the glue that holds it together. He has so much information in his head it astounds me. He's always pulling something out of his head. I call them Mitch-isms."

"He really does care about the team and Kansas City, because this is his life. We bring people information every week and we can't sugar coat it. They want to feel connected."

That's what Holthus does best. His easy style really shines though in the interview process.

Today, his guest was defensive end Jared Allen. Anyone who has spent time with Kansas City's former sack-happy pass rusher knows that at any moment, something can come out of his mouth that might change the course of the interview, so Holthus had to be prepared for anything.

But he had a game plan, and as the conversation evolved, Holthus allowed Allen to dictate the direction of the interview instead of the other way around, as most in the profession do.

Holthus hadn't planned to talk about Allen's off-the-field issues because he doesn't feel that a player's personal life is really all that pertinent to the interview, unless it's a destructive influence to the team. But Allen was candid and it made for an interesting six minutes, as Holthus just let it evolve.

"I have a template that I go in with what I want to ask them," he said. "The best interviewers are those who follow the lead of the person you're interviewing. They take you places that you didn't think you'd go or you knew about. The good interviewers listen."

Next up was Herm Edwards, who entered with a fresh haircut from the staff barber.

As Edwards sat down, he remarked that the makeshift TV studio the Chiefs Insider crew works in formerly served as his office, when he was a scout with the team in the 90s.

It was clear Holthus and Edwards have an excellent relationship - you can't be the voice of any team without knowing the head coach well. But Holthus still maintains a professional demeanor on camera.

"Herm is the expert," said Holthus. "I've watched the tapes and I've prepared for the interview. Does the fan come out in me? Yes, but it's not the time or place. When it does come out in me is when I have a private conversation. I do that not to get something out of him, but to get validation of something I've seen in my week of preparation."

"In the context of the show, Herm needs to say it. I call this the ‘spectrum of journalism.' On one end of the spectrum is the beat writer, the neutral observer. Yes, I'm a neutral observer, and I hate to be called the homer. I'm not a homer, but I'm the Voice of the Chiefs. So my job is to phrase a question in a manner that allows, in this instance, Herm to have the license to answer it in any way he sees fit. But it has to be from the Chiefs perspective."

The show tapes on Thursday but isn't seen in most markets until Sunday morning. That's never lost on Holthus, or his guests – it takes some foresight on their part to make sure that viewers who take in Chiefs Insider before Sunday's game are treated to 30 minutes of timely insight.

"You have got to be as pertinent and accurate as you can be," said Holthus, "But there can be a lot of changes between Thursday and Sunday,"

After he's done taping the show, Holthus calls in to several radio stations that require his expert analysis. He appears on dozens per week, and on this occasion minutes after he had completed his duties with the TV show. He picks up a red phone in the control room and answers the exact same questions he'd answered all week, but does so as if he's being asked these questions for the first time.

Thursday was action-packed, but Friday morning, everything I thought I knew about Mitch Holthus changed.

FRIDAY

There was no stop at Arrowhead Stadium today. At roughly 7:00 AM, I met Holthus at Blue Valley Northwest High School. This is the side of Holthus few people who listen to him on the radio know about – he's a motivational speaker.

On this day Holthus talked with the people behind the scenes in the Blue Valley School Districts. For 60 minutes, he met with a wide variety of employees, from office personnel, janitors, cafeteria personnel and maintenance crews.

Not an easy task, especially so early in the morning, but Holthus' easy style held their attention. He drew them in first by discussing the area's three major universities - Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State. First, he polled the audience to identify the best target for mockery, and then attacked.

This introduction gets the audience loose, so they can relax, but the mood soon turned serious, and the audience saw a different side of Holthus, one of tremendous passion and depth.

He began by talking about the Civil War and John Tuxhorn, his great, great, great grandfather, who fought alongside both blacks and whites with the Second Kansas Cavalry.

Tuxhorn eventually was captured and was a prisoner of war in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He was later exchanged as an injured prisoner, leading to his freedom at a time when most, if not all, of the black soldiers he had fought with were being hunted down and executed.

To give the story a visual, he played a clip from the movie Glory.

After his release, Tuxhorn went back to southeast Nebraska to try his hand at farming (he had failed in an attempt prior to the war). He succeeded but that wasn't enough for Tuxhorn, who along with six other families, built a brownstone church in the middle of nowhere between Auburn and Humboldt, Nebraska.

It now serves as a place of sanctuary for Holthus and his family. He takes them there whenever he can because he wants this generation - and those yet to come - to understand the sacrifices made for them others during the Civil War.

Holthus further explained to the audience with pride the point was that no matter the task, working together side-by-side with each other was imperative. The message was heartwarming, but he could not lose his audience, so he went back to his bread and butter – the Chiefs.

Holthus played an NFL Films clip featuring Kansas City's struggles to get to Super Bowl IV, focusing mainly on a goal-line stand against the Jets in an AFL Divisional playoff game, where the Chiefs stopped New York's offense at the 1-yard line.

Holthus referred to it as ‘36 inches that would define these men.' The theme was vertical accountability - no matter the job, no matter what you do for a living or what team you play for, you have certain accountability to those you work with side by side.

For Holthus to hit that common cord with his audience, he had to bring his own life experiences to the table. He struggled to find his way as an NFL broadcaster after 13 seasons at Kansas State, where he was something of a local hero and celebrity. He was the voice of the Wildcat Nation during a time when they were evolving much like the Chiefs are today.

He wanted an NFL job, but knew only 32 were available. Undaunted, in his first attempt to land such a job he interviewed with the Chicago Bears who were in the midst of a search to replace veteran broadcaster Wayne Larrivee. Once word got out, over 300 people applied for the play-by-play job. When the final decision came down two weeks later, Holthus was in the top two.

Chicago told Holthus it was looking good until, at the last minute, Larrivee decided to continue his broadcast duties with the Bears. Holthus was devastated, but pushed onward with a recommendation for the job with the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, he got the same result, and was passed over in favor of Dan Rowe. The same thing happened in Atlanta, where Dan Durham won out.

At that point, Holthus had to wonder if he'd ever get another shot, but in 1983 the Kansas City Royals had an opening in their TV broadcasts. It all looked good again, and his lack of baseball experience wasn't a major issue. But yet again, he lost out - this time to Dave Armstrong. Even worse, Holthus learned he had been beaten out for the job by reading about it in the Kansas City Star.

Finally, one last door opened. With Kevin Harlan ending his reign as the Chiefs' play-by-play man, the team went on a mission to find his replacement. Holthus had filled in for Harlan for one game in 1991, so he interviewed, but went on with his business as a baseball broadcaster that spring.

"Kevin auditioned for television and he gets the job, so I decided to apply thinking ‘I know I've had my heart ripped out several times, but I'm the only guy other than Harlan who has broadcasted a Chiefs game since 1984," said Holthus. "Heck yeah, I'm going to go for it. I was disappointed because I was getting inklings that Carl Peterson didn't necessarily want me, but enough people convinced him to give me a shot."

The search narrowed and Peterson finally made the decision. It was then that Holthus finally got the call he been dreaming about his entire life.

"I was doing a baseball game at K-State, but I had given the Chiefs the press box phone," he said. "I remember the phone rang and they said ‘you've got it.' I had left the game before it was over because I told the guy ‘you're finishing this game,' because I was not going to let it rest. I stayed right on it and said ‘hey, where do I sign?' I was not going to let it drift away in a 24-hour period because I had had that burn before."

"It's the best job of all those. If you had said hey, pick your job and you listed all of those including the Royals job, it would have been the Chiefs job. It's the team I grew up with. Sunday afternoons when I was a kid after church I couldn't wait for the NBC game with Charlie Jones. I'd have my little uniform on and I'd go out and play the game myself. I even had the #16 jersey I wore. I think of that when I make my drive to the stadium. I think about those Sunday afternoons playing the AFL game out in my mind."

As the morning moved on at Blue Valley North High School, there were two more sessions featuring smaller, more intimate crowds. During the second, Holthus showed another side of his life, that of a parent.

He pointed out that we live in an age where we try and deal with our children as if the only weapon we have is our personal laptops. His message was that you can't take shortcuts in raising children.

"We think all of our kids will get straight A's, be the homecoming queen, a star athlete and make the game winning shot in a basketball game," said Holthus. "It's unrealistic and it's the worst thing we can do for our kids."

"The best thing we can do is love them and tell them how special they are and then build them an environment based on discipline, give them some self-esteem and love and let them go. Let them experience the experience."

This was particularly true in the case of Holthus' own son, Brian, who entered a high-school football game as a 110-pound freshman quarterback, only to fumble on consecutive snaps. It was a learning experience, to say the least, but Brian would overcome that and eventually became an All-State passer by his senior season.

The same thing happened to the younger Holthus again in college, as a starting point guard at Southwest College. As a freshman, Brian's team won only three games, and he felt like quitting. At his father's urging, however, he gave it another year – only to be voted out as the starting point guard during the winter break.

But finally, in his junior and senior seasons, Brian's team found success, winning 32 games in two years. Brian was voted team captain, and his coach expressed the sentiment on Senior Night that he hoped his soon-to-be-born child would someday grow up to be exactly like Brian.

It was a proud moment for the elder Holthus for sure, and at that moment he understood his son had gone through the process. He didn't skip any steps

"There were no shortcuts and it wasn't easy for this kid," said Holthus. "He made it all the way though and I'll never forget the moment. He taught me that there is pride in the process and you can embrace it and there is value in doing it."

As the session ended and the audience moved out of the auditorium, three women came forward to thank Holthus for his words. What was amazing, however, was how each began to share personal stories of their own struggles. It showed the true impact of these motivational sessions.

"It happens all the time," said Holthus. "There's a sense of satisfaction, because you feel like you're having a bigger impact than just broadcasting NFL football games. There's a bigger role in being the Voice of the Chiefs than just broadcasting games. If it allows you a conduit to help people out, to affect their life in a positive way, then that's what I feel like I'm commissioned to do."

"It's like players that do it too, there's a much bigger picture to all of this than just broadcasting a game. And so, when people email me, they call me, they come up and say we appreciate what you said, and how you approach this talk, or this time, and you had a positive impact on my life, I now have the courage or feeling that I want to change something and make it better, then I understand that there's some satisfaction in that maybe I am holding up my end of the bargain, because I am in a way living a dream."

At this moment, it was apparent Holthus might truly have another calling, one that could have an even more profound impact on the lives of many people outside the Chiefs Kingdom.

"There's a scripture that says to whom has been given, much is required," said Holthus. "I think because of the fact that God's allowed me to have a ‘dream job,' so to speak, there's a responsibility and a requirement to help others."

The morning was draining, to say the least, but Holthus had one more seminar that afternoon at St. Joseph Hospital in Kansas City. The response was similar, the results the same and the crowd was pleased.

Friday: Mitch Holthus – Voice of the Kingdom – Part I

Tomorrow: Part III Saturday and Gameday with Mitch Holthus

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