Monday, October 20, 2008

Ultimate Peterson Apologism

The Kansas City Chiefs fell to 1-5 yesterday, losing at home to the still-unbeaten Tennessee Titans. They narrowly avoided being shutout in consecutive games for the first time in 48 years, and they narrowly avoided being outscored 68-0 in those games, tallying a meaningless touchdown and field goal in the final three minutes of play. This team is past trouble. This team is beyond terrible, and (most of) the members in this organization can no longer even smell the waning whiffs of determination that once fragranced the feasts of Kansas City Chiefs football. There are many reasons why this is so, and a number of things that must happen in order to make things bad. Yes, bad. Bad would be an improvement for a team that goes from first and goal at the two, to second and goal at the six, to third and goal from the 10 late in a game in which they're about to get blanked. Bad would be a Godsend for a team that has to settle for a field goal on that play, after missing two earlier attempts that the other 31 NFL kickers would almost certainly have made.

The hub of all of this is Chiefs General Manager/President/CEO Carl Peterson, and the perspective of it must be an historical one. The factors that descend from both include championships, win-loss records, coaches, personnel, and the business side of NFL franchises, too.

Championships

This is the easy part. Though the franchise had much success in the formative years, and saw a lot of winning seasons and AFL championships in the early and mid 60s, that's not really what we want to focus on. The team has made two Super Bowl appearances, gone .500 in those contests, and not been back to one since. After their Super Bowl-winning season, the Chiefs posted three consecutive winning seasons, followed by six losing, and one .500 campaigns. That only brings us to 1981. For the eight subsequent years, they would post two (barely) winning seasons until Peterson's arrival in 1989. After his hiring, Kansas City posted nine consecutive winning seasons, the 10th being (former) Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer's last. Since his departure, the team has produced four winning seasons of eight.

Win-Loss Records

In 48 seasons, this franchise has posted 26 winning seasons. Carl Peterson has been around for 18 complete campaigns; 13 of those have been above .500. That translates to 72 percent of his tenure producing winning seasons.

Coaches

The Schottenheimer hire was clearly a home run. Or maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was a ground-rule double, since no championship was won. Since leaving Kansas City, Marty's post-season woes have followed him, so perhaps the best that can be said was that Peterson's first head-coach hire was at least successful in restoring the franchise to winning ways. Promoting Gunther Cunningham from defensive coordinator to head coach was a gamble. Schottenheimer believed in the defense-wins-championships mantra, and Cunningham no doubt is part of that same fabric. He had large successes as DC, and perhaps it was thought that his fieriness could transcend the defensive unit to the entire squad, and produce something special. He wasn't given much of a shot though, going 16-16 in two seasons, relieved of his duties via the GoreTubes, when Peterson finally coaxed the man he wanted over Schottenheimer (in '89) out of retirment.

It would be unfair to say that the Vermeil era was an improvement over Cunningham's, as he was given three extra seasons to produce, and left of his own accord. Vermeil's Chiefs put together the most explosive offense in franchise history, and perhaps the worst defense to go along with it. And it as at the end of this regime where things get fuzzy. Herm Edwards played for Dick Vermeil's Eagles. Carl Peterson also knew Vermeil from days in Philly, and California prior to that. Vermeil made no secret of his fondness of Edwards, and hey, he happens to be from California as well. Fuzzy, in this instance, is synonymous with good-ol'-boy. Peterson made the decision to hire Edwards as Vermeil's successor, and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if Vermeil suggested to Peterson that Edwards be his man. Hell, Edwards already had a previous stint with Kansas City during the Schottenheimer era. Either way, the five-year Vermeil era is where the Peterson wheels officially loosened.

It would be absurd to say that Peterson should've left when Schottenheimer did. You don't produce as much success as he did in a decade, and call it done after one head coach. Peterson rolled the dice with Cunningham, and ran him out to put Vermeil in place. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe Cunningham needed that token third year to get things rolling, even though he was clearly going insane under pressure and a a self-imposed need to be an all-out dictator. Putting together the lush compensation package that Peterson did for Vermeil seems odd in retrospect. The guy had to be pleaded with to come out of retirement to coach this team that clearly lacked direction since Schottenheimer's departure. Vermeil went all out, loading the team with veteran free agents, and ultimately, not drafting all that well. Forever attached with the Vermeil regime is the proverbial window of opportunity associated with the aged roster, the slim moment of time in which to get it done, and get it done they did not.

Vermeil retires, Edwards comes in and guts the roster of its age, re-stocking it with new, the polar opposite of what Vermeil attempted. And it looks worse than ever. This is not to say that the effort won't be successful, but its impossible to see any shred of potential success right now, making the entire organization look inept.

The Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock continues to devote his column space to calling for Peterson' ousting. This tired topic is something he's been doing for several consecutive years, and has, in recent weeks, said that he will not stop until it's happened. He's even admitted to begging his sports-writing peers in other networks, other mediums, to do the same. I suggest that 10 out of every 10 Chiefs fan asked would say he/she agrees with Whitlock.

During halftime of yesterday's CBS broadcast, Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe, and James Brown had many a chuckle at the expense of the Chiefs. They were awed by Tennessee's first-half production, but quick to asterisk it with lines like, "but look who they're playing: the worst team in football, without a doubt." These guys have no problem saying that about these Chiefs, even with Seattle looking as bad as it does, the Rams not looking much better, and the Lions still without a win. Steve Tasker and Gus Johnson, the in-game commentators, went out of their way to make the point that you don't change head coaches at this juncture; that typically results in two steps back instead of the desired step forward. They added that a change at head coach might generate a win or two, but ultimately things will regress to beyond bad again.

Personnel

It's impossible to see that there is talent on this team. The offensive line cannot protect any quarterback, and almost never open up running holes for the ground game. Larry Johnson continues to perpetuate the locker-room-cancer syndrome, and has again gotten himself in trouble in his personal life, which only adds to the problems created by his de-activation for yesterday's game. Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles will never see success running behind an inept line, and without a running game, there's no passing game, which means it's pointless to examine the wide receiver position.

The defense, Herm Edwards' bread and butter, is atrocious. The front four generate zero pressure on opposing quarterbacks, all but giving other teams the green light at a balanced run-pass attack. The linebacking crew constantly misses on tackles, making them just as responsible as the secondary for giving up big plays and getting dominated in every aspect of the game.

The special teams offers things that no team desires. The kicking game is ridiculous, but no team wants a good kicking game anyway when touchdowns are the goal. The return game is better than average, but that's pointless when the offense can't move the chains, leaving a great punter as the highlight, and the last thing any team wants to do is punt.

The Business Side

I'll defer to this tidbit from Arrowhead Pride. Essentially, it states that the net value of the Kansas City Chiefs franchise has risen in recent years, regardless of the fact that the team has gone from middle of the road to beyond bad. It also suggests something greater: When Peterson signed a contract extension a couple of years ago, he told Clark Hunt -- and Hunt told the media -- that he intends to retire at the end of it. Now, everyone wants to make a big deal out of Hunt's recent interview with the Star's Adam Teicher. In that interview, Hunt did what any owner or president would do in the middle of a current season, and that is to ruffle no feathers, and shake no aspect of a locker-room foundation.

I'm certain that Hunt is aware of falling attendance -- the Kansas City market narrowly avoided a televised blackout of yesterday's game -- and the growing frustration among the Chiefs' fan base. I'm also certain that he will address any and all problems with the club at season's end. If there's any truth to that Arrowhead Pride link, then Peterson will likely shorten his role of GM/President/CEO to two titles instead of three, and make Vice President of Player Personnel Bill Kuharich or Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Denny Thum the new GM, and Peterson will be kept on as president, CEO, or both. Ultimately, that means Peterson will still have his hand in things in a way that most KC fans will not appreciate.

The X-Factors

Peterson made a massive mistake when he was hired in 1989 by telling the press of his infamous five-year plan to take this team to the Super Bowl, and it will never be forgotten. What is seldom remembered however, is that in that fifth year, KC was past halfway to to nine consecutive winning seasons, and one game removed from the Super Bowl in that post-season. His era also restored the winning ways of the franchise, and brushed away the sentiment summarized by NFL Films Steve Sabol, who has said that, when filming games in the early 80s, his crews were asked to not tape high passes so as to avoid revealing how empty the stadium consistenly was in those days.

With not even two complete coaching regimes under his belt, Peterson brought in the guy he wanted in 1989, and it is no secret that Vermeil went about certain things the wrong way by heavily favoring offense, and constantly battling the quickly closing window of time he had with an aged roster. In his defense, he was trying to put together a Super Bowl run for his longtime friend and partner in Peterson, who went out of his way to coax Vermeil out of retirement with a huge compensation package. When Vermeil realized he wasn't going to get it done, it's possible that he suggested Edwards as his successor, the same Edwards that played for Vermeil's Super Bowl Eagles. Vermeil and Peterson knew each other from those times, and prior in California, the state from which Edwards also hailed. All of that adds up to the good-ol'-boys network associated with this franchise.

In the mix of the Vermeil-to-Edwards transition, the team's founder/owner, Lamar Hunt was fighting a quick-and-losing battle with cancer. His son Clark stepped in, and cautiously, perhaps intelligently made no efforts to shake up what his late father was obviously proud of: Peterson's success at managing the business side and putting winning teams on the field. Clark Hunt has not yet been in charge of this franchise for two full calendar years, and it's possible that the changes he must eventually make will not be drastic ones.

Edwards' approach to re-shaping this franchise is the right one, and that's about the only thing that's right with this team in its current state. Perhaps Peterson should've retired with the end of the Vermeil era, and perhaps the two should've retired prior to Vermeil's last extension, but it didn't happen and things have gotten ugly.

It's easy for fans to suggest Schottenheimer for GM/Bill Cowher for head coach, or some similar combination because those two have affiliations and experience with this franchise. That would only make it good ol' boyer. It's easy for the media (Editor's Note: In this instance, "media" means Whitlock.) to continue calling for Peterson's firing because what's on the plate now is not even appetizing to vermin. The truth of the matter, though, is that Edwards isn't going anywhere soon, and when Peterson's near-20-year stretch at the helm ends, it will only continue in some other form.

It's true that Kansas City has never drafted and developed a quarterback in Peterson's era. They've addressed the role of quarterback in the various phases of this team's history, which has seen some successes and some failures. Steve de Berg did some decent things with what he had to work with. Joe Montana took KC to the AFC Championship game. Steve Bono, among many other acquisitions did very little. Trent Green set many Chiefs' passing records and was responsible for a large part of many of the wins in the Vermeil era. It's now certain that drafting Croyle was "a bit off the mark" as my colleague said here, and the Chiefs likely didn't draft any quarterbacks since taking Croyle in the third round of '06 so as to instill confidence in him and his development. Though the position is much more important, the same decisions were made with the place kicker. Lawrence Tynes got traded, Justin Medlock was drafted, and Edwards didn't bring anybody in to compete with him. He proved to be unfit at the professional level; Tynes went on to win a Super Bowl. And now the decision to not bring in another quarterback has proved more costly than most anything a fan could finger in recent Chief years.

It's also true that Kansas City hasn't won a playoff game in 15 years, and it's also true that there are worse stretches than that around the league.

Finally, it's true that the state of the Kansas City Chiefs right now looks hopeless and irreparable. The answers as to how they climb out of this mess seem galaxies away, and if recent ownership trends continue, there will be very little that's different in the front office in the years to come.

Clark Hunt is in charge of this franchise and it would seem that he will keep Carl Peterson around in some fashion, and there's nothing the fans can do about it, so why fight it. With all of the aforelisted categories considered, he gets not only a passing grade, but a likely better-than-average mark as well, especially considering the business side. His father Lamar told an interviewer late in his life that it was absurd that a (then) growing sentiment suggested that it was more important to sell tickets and make money than to win games, and ultimately championships. I don't doubt the sincerity of that statement, given all of the fondess of games/hunger for competitiveness forced upon us in remembrance of Lamar.

I can't forget that this business of owning an NFL franchise is just that, though: a business, and businesses want one thing, and that thing is profit. Carl Peterson has delivered an admirable mix of generating profit and at very least looking like winning football games is important to the franchise and its ownership.

The truth of the matter is that from the winning side of that mix, things have never looked so glum, so hopeless, so terrible. There are so many areas of this football team that need fixting, and it all rests in the hands of Clark Hunt, who like his father, probably appreciates the good job that Peterson has done being profitable and overseeing winning seasons. If this form of atrocious football continues through the end of the season and into the next, and nothing is done with the position of head coach, then nothing ever will be until the franchise is owned by a different family.

Herman Edwards is responsible for the current demise of this club, and Carl Peterson is responsible for Herman Edwards. This team finds itself in a pickle because firing him now would help very little. This family has Peterson in place for a reason, and he's met their expectations. For my money, he should've stepped down one Vermeil extension sooner. Had that happened, Kansas City would not be without a kicker, a quarterback, an identity. They would not be dealing with veteran Pro Bowlers that want out, and a fan base that's dying by the hundreds, by the minute.

2 comments:

Dylan said...

When I saw old King Carl in his finest "mourning" attire in the story's pic... I thought, here it is: King Carl's anticipated HOG funeral.

Boy was I wrong.

Spring is sure effin' eternal around here.

There are clearly some good points about the recent Chiefs history wrapped up in the piece, but fer-chrissakes, what happened to owning what you do? How many more times does someone have to point toward gate receipts in defense of old KC?(King Carl)

Right next to the Lombardi trophy, sits the "Bankyaward". The BA is given to the NFL team that draws the most fans, sells the most big foam hands and instills a warm/happy feeling in all of its game day attendees. All of this happening at a profitability level that they "tell" us is the best in the NFL. The Chiefs have won this award from 1989-present.

But seriously folks, not one of you out there(including the author), would employ this man in their field with his performance and tenure.

Give him high fives for having nine plus nine professional lives, but geesh.. even Johnny Carson called it quits.

DKC

PS For a lasting KC thought on Carl... remember about four years ago when Carl was cheering on his "pick" LJ. He sure proved everyone wrong at Arrowhead. LJ was KC's MJ. Go pink!

Oh how times have changed.

The Lone Reader said...

Well,

Some good points indeed ... a little slanted, but well developed.

It is not a mistake to declare objectives and timelines. It becomes a mistake when you don't achieve those objectives ... repeatedly. The 5-year plan is not a bad idea in the NFL, but you have to make good decisions. The longest tenured GM without a Superbowl appearance, Carl, just can't and won't do it right.

He has had some good fortune, but too much time. I'm growing tired of the aging argument that Carl filled the seats. I don't think we can keep giving Carl all the credit for the commitment of KC fans. It's certainly not a reason to keep him around. Absence (that is, of another GM) is not evidence, Banky. Who’s to say another GM wouldn’t have done better?

He has failed. It really is that simple ... that black and white. For every positive you mention, we can also track down a missed draft pick (Oline – T. Jenkins), a poorly evaluated resource (M. Solari, H. Edwards, B. Croyle, etc.), a missed trade (LJ and TG), a bad hire … the list goes on.

Yes, business is about profit. A good business doesn’t settle for repeated failure and missed objectives. A good business would have fired Carl 5-8 years ago. This isn’t a damn government job, man. He’s not a tenured faculty member, dude.

Carl, were he of any real ire, would have stepped-down long ago. When a man with strength fails, he has the courage to resign. Carl is not that kind of person and ONLY that kind of person should run an NFL team.

Keep in mind, Carl will be just fine. We don’t wanna throw him on the streets, Banky. The argument may be growing old to you, or seem too “easy.” That’s not our fault, Banky. Carl made this easy long ago.

Finally, to answer your question …

“Clark Hunt is in charge of this franchise and it would seem that he will keep Carl Peterson around in some fashion, and there's nothing the fans can do about it, so why fight it.”

Because we can, Banky. Because we should. When The Man keeps pressin’ on you, brother, don’t turn your back. Stand up and fight. Don’t buy tickets, don’t buy apparel, don’t shop with the sponsors. You are not powerless, sir.

When we start to believe we are meaningless, that is what we become.

Fight the power. Go Whitlock.

-- TLR