An owner's dilemma
Oct 21, 2008, 8:38:24 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ
With the Chiefs’ latest lopsided loss, you can expect fans to resume their exasperation with chairman Clark Hunt for saying that coach Herm Edwards and president Carl Peterson are doing a good job rebuilding the team.
Fans want to hear Hunt tell them that he shares their pain and frustration, and no doubt would welcome an angry ultimatum to his entire football operation.
But that’s not how a good owner operates, and Hunt in a recent Kansas City Star interview said that he’s staying the course. Publicly chewing out his coach and front office might briefly give an owner a “Joe the Plumber” moment of popularity, but would serve mainly to demoralize and divide the very people he’s trying to help succeed.
Firing NFL coaches during a season is relatively rare and usually futile, the 2-0 start of the Rams’ Jim Haslett notwithstanding. Once a season starts, football teams are like concrete that’s been allowed to dry, and it’s too late to tear it all up.
An offense and defense are meticulously crafted and married to the available personnel. Once the season starts, a team is on a 16-game roller coaster ride, and good luck trying to get out of your car. An owner has to keep the faith that the decisions he signed off on were sound ones unless 16 games tell him otherwise.
In baseball, you can follow through on a managerial shakeup by calling up minor-league prospects and making a major trade or two. The NFL has no minor leagues and the relatively few important trades are made before the season. If you acquire draft picks, they can’t help you now.
It would be naïve to believe that Hunt doesn’t grasp what he’s been watching for six games. Having graduated first in his class at SMU, played soccer there and having watched the Chiefs most of his life, you can bet that he’s keenly aware of all their shortcomings.
But it’s unwise to evaluate a team at its peak or valley, and the Chiefs clearly have reached bottom. Their offense and defense are among the NFL’s worst.
The Brodie Croyle era has probably ended before it really started. Former Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson, with his irresponsible behavior, seems determined to fulfill his prophecy that the Chiefs are trying to phase him out.
Hunt could be excused if all this made him scream. It’s to his credit that he hasn’t.
The New York Yankees’ George Steinbrenner was once the poster child for the populist owner who rips his managers and players, to the delight of fans. But the record shows that his tirades bred instability and underachievement, and that his Yankees enjoyed their greatest success when he finally stuck with one manager, Joe Torre, and began respecting sound personnel advice.
Giving his people the benefit of the doubt, however, often leads an owner into the “vote of confidence” trap. If he fires somebody after giving a vote of confidence, he’s considered inept, indecisive or dishonest.
But if he withholds a vote of confidence – even by uttering a simple “no comment” — he’s seen as pulling the rug out from under his people. For the owner of a losing team, this is truly a no-win situation.
As poorly as the Chiefs played Sunday in a 34-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, no reasonable NFL owner pulls the plug on a rebuilding program after only six games. For Hunt to call for a restart at this point would make a tough situation worse.