Hunt expects Chiefs to challenge for playoffs in 2008
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In his first public comments since the Kansas City Chiefs lost their last nine games and finished 4-12, owner Clark Hunt seemed to be putting his embattled front office on notice.
"The 2008 season is going to be a very important year for our football team," Hunt said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. "I expect us to at least compete for a playoff spot."
At the same time, Hunt conceded that third-year coach Herm Edwards faces a major retooling of a team that finished near the bottom in many offensive statistics while struggling through a losing streak that set a record for the franchise his father founded more than 40 years ago.
"I'm realistic and patient to some degree. But I also know that in the NFL you can quickly turn things around," he said. "I think you can look at a franchise like Green Bay who three years ago was in the same spot we're in. They were 4-12."
Sitting in the large, tastefully appointed office in Arrowhead Stadium that his father had long occupied, Hunt discussed his plans while drinking sweet-smelling imported coffee out of a plastic foam cup.
"I'm not saying this football team's got to win 10 or 11 games next year. But I expect us to be competitive for a playoff spot," he said. "Certainly, if we're 4-12 again that would be a failure, or anywhere close to 4-12. It's not unrealistic for us to have a team that's in the mix fighting for a playoff spot late in the year next year."
The 43-year-old Hunt became the youngest owner in the NFL when Lamar Hunt died 14 months ago and willed most of his vast estate to his four children. Clark Hunt also has been one of the least visible and least involved owners, until now devoting most of his time to the family's other interests.
But signaling an increased presence, Hunt spent Thursday meeting individually with various print and electronic reporters who regularly cover the Chiefs. Since granting an interview to the AP last summer, he had spoken with the media only in passing.
"The Chiefs are going to receive the majority of my time," Hunt said. "That's been a big shift over the last 18 months. It's been an outgrowth of my father's passing away and me getting very involved with the Arrowhead Stadium renovation.
"Now I'm tuned into it closely," he said. "The Chiefs are by far my No. 1 priority."
Hunt disappointed a great many fans last month when he decided to retain Carl Peterson, the president and general manager since 1989. Against a backdrop of dwindling attendance and declining local television ratings of Chiefs games, fans had become increasingly displeased with a CEO whose team has not won a playoff game since the 1993 season.
The criticism reached a crescendo in Herm Edwards' second season, when the team finished with its worst record in 30 years.
"First of all, I share their disappointment," Hunt said. "Our performance this year was not satisfactory in any regard."
He said an evaluation of the football operation convinced him that Peterson had made the right adjustments two years ago when he hired Edwards to replace the retired Dick Vermeil and promoted Bill Kuharich to vice president of player personnel.
"Carl obviously has a very good long-term record. He's shown that he can turn a bad football team into a good football team in several different places, including here. At the end of the day, I concluded that continuity in our front office really gave Herm and the football team the best chance of being successful in 2008."
He seemed to lay most of the problems the Chiefs are now encountering at Vermeil's door.
"The earlier part of this decade, we built the team primarily with veteran players through free agency. That was the type of player Coach Vermeil liked," he said.
"But fast forward to 2007, those [young] players who would now be in the prime we don't have on the roster. I think to Carl's credit, he recognized that when Coach Vermeil left we needed to make a change in the evaluation process and how we were drafting players. I've had a chance to watch Bill and Herm work together the last two years and I think they've done a very good job drafting players and I expect them to do well again in 2008."
Hunt said he expected the Chiefs to rebuild primarily through the draft and not sign any veteran free agents who would not spend their prime years in Kansas City.
But he's also expecting immediate results.
"We've got to rebound from the year we just had. I'm going to look for two or three different things," he said.
"First of all, the win-loss record. I understand that we're in a rebuilding phase and it's difficult to go from 4-12 to 12-4. But we should at least be able to compete for a playoff spot.
"I also expect that we will be greatly improved on the offensive side of the ball.
"Third, as the season goes along I'd like to see us playing better than we did at the beginning of the season. We're going to have a young football team, a young quarterback and a new coordinator. You would expect over the course of the year they'd get better. You can contrast that to 2007 where we probably played worse as the season went along. I expect to see the opposite next year."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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