KANSAS CITY, Mo. — True story: When his Kansas City Chiefs don’t play well, Clark Hunt changes from mild-mannered Bruce Banner into The Incredible Hulk. Within moments, he’s kicking chairs and banging on tables in sheer, unadulterated rage.
Within moments, he’s rampaging his way through skybox after skybox at Arrowhead Stadium in a fit of fury, ripping some very expensive suits in the process. Within moments, the dude’s throwing tanks through the air and smashing super-villains, all while being pursued by the vast military-industrial complex.
OK, we’re kidding.
Well, except for the kicking chairs and banging-on-tables part. That’s legit.
“This guy wants to win more than anybody I’ve ever been around,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said of Hunt, the franchise’s CEO, after new coach Andy Reid was introduced to Kansas City Monday. “People just don’t see it.
“It’s an interesting experience when we have clients and sponsors and partners and fans in our box for games, and they see Clark kicking chairs and banging on the table. You don’t see that in public, but that’s really who he is. He wants nothing more than to win, and he wants nothing more than to bring a championship to Kansas City. And that’s what drives him.”
Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets. Four years ago, that was Scott Pioli, the favorite son of the New England Patriots’ dynasty, the hottest general-manager prospect on the market at the time. Fast forward to this week, and it’s Reid, who took the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs nine times in 14 seasons, arguably the best coach to be cut loose on Black Monday.
“With the Hunt family — I knew his father, Lamar, who was very good to me as a young head coach in this league,” Reid allowed, recounting small talk he’d had more than a decade ago with the Chiefs’ patriarch over, of all things, geology. “And Clark has followed that.”
He has his father’s eyes and his father’s dichotomy: Cool, measured demeanor on the outside, and a fire that could power a locomotive burning deep inside the man’s soul.
Lamar Hunt was the lifeblood of the old AFL, a quiet fella who helped create a monster so huge, the NFL was eventually capitulated into merging with it. Clark Hunt had Reid at, or certainly near, the top of his wish list before the miserable 2012 season ended, and was the first owner to reach out to Reid at his office last week.
Last Wednesday, during an interview process that was originally supposed to take roughly three hours, Hunt found a way to stretch the thing past seven hours. Then eight. Then nine.
At first, Reid canceled his previous engagements — to Arizona and San Diego, reportedly — out of courtesy. But the more Hunt spoke, and the more Chiefs staffers he introduced to Reid, the more intrigued the coach became.
“I knew that I wanted to be early in this process, so that we would have a shot at Andy Reid,” Hunt said. “I didn’t know for sure that Andy was going to be dismissed — I mean, we learned that on Monday — (but) that was the speculation. But that’s probably the most important thing, from a timing standpoint.”
The pair won their first press conference together Monday, as expected, an unlikely double act of humility, ambition and charm. And on paper, Reid seems like — well, if not a home run, at least a ringing double off the wall.
Alas, NFL championships aren’t won on paper, as the past four years on Arrowhead Drive have shown full well. Under Pioli’s stewardship, quarterback Matt Cassel plateaued, then regressed. The presence of the wrong quarterback, the wrong head coach, or a lackluster draft can set you back years in this league; a combination of all three is positively fatal from a competitive standpoint.
Throw in Pioli’s rumored personality clashes, real or imagined, and you have a once-proud fan base angrily staying home, folding its arms in disgust. The Patriots won with Pioli. Then they continued to win without him. The Chiefs got Pioli, took three steps forward — and then fell about four steps back.
Still, give Hunt credit for this much: He’s not afraid to fail, no matter how much he also despises the prospect. Nor is Hunt shy when it comes to getting his guy.
“It was a tough year for all of us — I saw it,” Donovan continued. “It was really a tough year on him. And when you’re driven to win, first and foremost — and people have this perception that your drive, your focus and priorities are on other things — that’s really frustrating.
“But he doesn’t show it. He just stays focused. At the end of the year, it was ‘OK, I want to see the list. I want to see who’s the best. Let’s figure out who’s the best for us, and let’s go get them.’ And I think this process is an example of that. I mean, it was nine hours in a room, and we weren’t letting (Reid) out. And that was led by Clark.”
If you’re the No. 1 target, Hunt’s going to do whatever takes, as long as it takes, to get you into the fold.
That’s our guy: Silent but deadly.
“Listen, he’s quiet,” Reid chuckled. “All right, so he’s quiet. I wouldn’t say he’s not intense.
“He’s very direct with his questioning. And he’s very intelligent. You’re not going to run out of gigabytes with him; he can handle the load. He’s a sharp guy.
“You know, he’s all about family, which I think is very important for the people of Kansas City — that’s how I perceive Kansas City. I had a chance to recruit here (as an assistant at the University of Missouri); I know they’re good-hearted people, man, they want to do the right thing and handle themselves the right way. I got it. I understand that, and I think he fits into that. I think that’s what he is. But I wouldn’t doubt his intensity one bit. I don’t think anybody wants to win or be more successful than what he wants to be.”
Men who spend nine hours in an interview don’t give up easy. The trick for Reid, moving forward, is convincing the Chiefs to put up the same kind of fight.