Will Romeo become next victim?

Will Romeo become next victim?

Published Jan. 10, 2012 11:14 p.m. ET

A funny thing happened on the way to celebrating the popular Romeo Crennel as the Chiefs' new head coach.

Apparently, a stunning number of the Kansas City area media – not to mention talkative members of the team's fan base – have decided that they need more action from team president Clark Hunt and general manager Scott Pioli than simply hiring the loveable Crennel as the Chiefs' third coach in four years.

Not only that, they want some answers.

Several influential newspaper and Web columnists, along with a squadron of talk radio hosts, almost unanimously have agreed that, sure, Crennel is a good guy and probably will be a good coach, but…

Why does everything else seem to be in chaos?

Why won't the Chiefs organization provide any concrete answers to critical long-term questions?

There is a strong sense around Kansas City that longtime Chiefs loyalists, willing to give the younger Hunt every chance to succeed in deference to his late father Lamar, have decided that five years of basically muddling along without any clear direction is more than enough.

Hunt didn't say much at the Crennel press conference, but he managed to blurt out a couple of statements – one that produced chuckling and another that has caused teeth-grinding frustration.

The funny line occurred when Hunt recalled interviewing Crennel for the job, and asking him: "Romeo, why do you want to be head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs?"

There were audible snickers when Hunt continued, repeating Crennel's reply.

"Because I want to win a Super Bowl as a head coach," Hunt quoted his new coach as saying.

It sounded somehow ridiculous, because Hunt seemed utterly naïve.

Did he expect a job applicant to say: "Mr. Hunt, I dream of going 8-8 and maybe stealing the crappy AFC West some year"?

That one was mildly humorous, but Hunt touched some raw nerves later when he was asked if the Chiefs had a plan to rise above the mediocrity fans have endured for quite a few years.

"When I became chairman of the club five or six years ago, what I mentioned at the time was I wanted us to be a team that drafted well, and developed the players that we drafted," Hunt said.

As the audience waited for further elaboration, Hunt fell silent.

Apparently that notion of drafting well and developing those players is the entire franchise plan.

Or at least as much of it as the Chiefs – an organization known for secrecy – intend to share with the club's supporters.

Despite all those warm feelings about Crennel's hiring, the lack of any more explanation of the team's future direction from Hunt or Pioli has created a blowback.

Several commentators around Kansas City have asked about what happens to players once they're drafted and developed – a particularly sore subject at the moment, because two of the Chiefs' most valuable athletes, receiver Dwayne Bowe and cornerback Brandon Carr, are free agents.

So what happens with these stars, now that they've been drafted and developed?

There is a suspicion in Kansas City that Clark Hunt intends to operate the Chiefs on a tight budget, and hired a GM who likewise is averse to taking risks.

Remember, Hunt and Pioli let Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters walk away for free prior to this season's training camp.

Worse, Waters went straight to New England, where he had another Pro Bowl year.

That move seemed particularly odd since the Chiefs were short-handed along the offensive line – and knew it.

In fact, despite the average to poor quarterback play of Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko and Kyle Orton, the most obvious reason the Chiefs finished the year with a string of nine games without scoring more than one touchdown is that the line was toothless.

Only left tackle Branden Albert could be considered a playoff-quality lineman, although the Chiefs still have hope for second-year right guard Jon Asamoah.

But center Casey Wiegmann is retiring now at age 38, left guard Ryan Lilja was beat up and ineffective as the season progressed, and right tackle Barry Richardson has been an ongoing liability.

In the midst of that circus along the offensive line, Hunt and Pioli let Waters walk away.

Was it money?

The Chiefs were well under the NFL salary cap this past year, and they'll lose some veteran salaries during the off season with the departures of Wiegmann, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and perhaps some other free agents.

Crennel's greatest value to the Chiefs at the moment might be that his almost universal popularity will distract fans and disgruntled media critics from questioning some of these bizarre personnel moves.

Bob Gretz, a columnist who is into his third decade covering the Chiefs – first for The Kansas City Star and now with his own Web site – has been considered an "in-house reporter" with close ties to the franchise.

Gretz has a reputation for honesty, but also for giving the Chiefs sympathy -- and more often than not, benefit of the doubt on shaky situations.

But now even Gretz has taken the gloves off.
"There's apparently a plan in place for the Chiefs," he wrote after the Crennel hiring. "No, really, it's true.

"It may be hard to believe, given the way the last year or so has gone around the franchise, but Hunt has a vision and reportedly his employees are working to make that happen.

"That's what makes it so far hard to figure out just what is involved in this plan."

Gretz went on to tee up Hunt for the "murkiness" of whatever vision the boss might have for the team, and also for his impatience with coaches.

Herm Edwards was canned in 2008, despite being given assurances that an emphasis on youth (and the losses it might bring) was OK with Hunt.

Todd Haley was shown the door less than a year after producing a 10-6 record and AFC West title.
The Star's lead columnist, Sam Mellinger, reacted to the Crennel news by turning on Pioli and suggesting that this would have to be the GM's final devotion to "The Patriot Way" – the mystic path to victory that Pioli presumably brought from New England.

Mellinger suggested that the main attribute the 64-year-old Crennel is bringing to this situation is his willingness to "hold Pioli accountable" on the personnel side of the business.

By definition, that means Hunt, too.

All of this craziness is happening at an odd time for the Chiefs.

As Crennel noted at his first press conference, the team has an exciting nucleus of talent (assuming Bowe and Carr are re-signed).

The defense is outstanding. It's potentially a championship group.

With the return of stars like Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki from injury, a rebuilding job along the offensive line and better quarterback play, the Chiefs could be on the verge of some thrilling January football.

At the same time, it all could turn to ashes -- and fans watching the front office falling over its own feet are skeptical enough that the notion of filling Arrowhead has once again become a matter of nervousness and urgency.

The Chiefs averaged 72,082 per game in 2011, which equates to 93.9 percent of capacity.
But don't forget that those numbers were built on the back of a 10-6, division-winning season. There were thousands of empty seats later in the year.

The organization now must hold its breath to see what the season-ticket renewal rate turns out to be after a season that was…chaotic, dysfunctional, crazy, you name it.

Chiefs supporters could be waiting, over the next year or two, to see if Hunt really DOES care about bringing a champion to Kansas City – or if he's content to sit home in Dallas and fiddle while his football team burns to the ground.

Crennel will buy Hunt and Pioli some goodwill.

But not that much.

And not for long.

Steve Cameron can be reached at stevecameron1000@gmail.com