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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."