Back before he knew how any of this would turn out, John Dorsey made a simple statement that explains so much about how the Chiefs would escape their darkest hour.
This was seven months ago, a lifetime in NFL terms. Before 9-0. Before all the sacks and touchdowns from the defense. Before the season started. Before the draft. Before Dorsey had even found a house in Kansas City.
This was early April, when Dorsey was just the new general manager of a once-proud franchise. Dorsey had no results here, nothing tangible, just ideas and energy and strong handshakes and a plan about how to transform the Chiefs into something Kansas City would be proud of again.
He would do it, largely, with those already in the building.
“There are good people here,” he said then. “We’re going to need them.”
Nine wins in, the football world is trying to make sense of what is already one of the biggest turnarounds in recent NFL history.Andy Reid might win coach of the year. Alex Smith is a critical upgrade at quarterback. Bob Sutton
has worked wonders with the defense.
All the while, the rebirth is being done with the same nucleus of players and many behind the scenes who were around for a miserable 29-67 run over the last six seasons.
The Chiefs’ resurgence, in other words, is being driven by many who were around for the fall — including those brought in by two previous and very different general managers who were pushed out.
Derrick Johnson and Dustin Colquitt have been here the longest. They came in the 2005 NFL Draft, Dick Vermeil’s last year as coach and Trent Green’s last year as quarterback. Johnson and Colquitt have been here together for five coaches, three general managers, two playoff appearances and two 2-14 seasons.
“We know where we’ve come from,” Johnson said recently. “So it’s easy to keep working hard now.”
Johnson’s first defensive coordinator was Gunther Cunningham. He and Colquitt played with a young Tony Gonzalez, an aging Priest Holmes, and an emerging Larry Johnson in 2005. Jared Allen was coming off his rookie year. Boomer Grigsby was a local curiosity.
Tamba Hali would be drafted the next year. Then Dwayne Bowe a year later, and that’s when Carl Peterson and player personnel director Bill Kuharich gave the present-day Chiefs their present-day foundation.
They traded Allen for picks and hit the mother lode in the 2008 draft: Branden Albert, Brandon Flowers, Jamaal Charles and Brandon Carr, among others. The Chiefs transitioned from one of the league’s oldest teams to one of the youngest.
Peterson and Kuharich would be fired in 2009. Even all these years later, players they drafted are accounting for half of this year’s yards on offense, and the top two tacklers and second-leading sacker on defense. Seven key players, with eight Pro Bowls between them.
Scott Pioli replaced Peterson and Kuharich in 2009. The four seasons that followed have become a bit like a death in the family for Chiefs fans — solemnly acknowledged, reluctantly discussed in detail — but the pain was not without gain.
Pioli signed Charles, Hali and Flowers to long-term contracts. Bowe matured into one of the game’s better receivers. Pioli drafted eight players who start today, including Tyson Jackson, Eric Berry, Justin Houston and Dontari Poe.
That’s a total of 15 starters on the depth chart (plus the kicker and punter) of these 9-0 Chiefs already on the roster when Dorsey and Reid took over. Seven of those players have made 10 Pro Bowls.
“There’s a lot of talent here,” Reid said when introduced. “We know that coming in. That’s good stuff.”
So the creation of the greatest turnaround in Chiefs history has the fingerprints of three distinct front offices. Peterson and Pioli not only see their players helping the Chiefs on this dream season, but they see friends in charge — Peterson, Vermeil and Reid are all in regular contact; Reid and Pioli have a longstanding friendship and actually have houses near each other in Kansas City.
With Kuharich doing the heavy lifting, Peterson left fertile seeds before leaving in 2009. For all the ugliness that marked his four years in charge, Pioli signed most of Kuharich’s stars to long-term contracts and added a few more.
There’s a reason many in football circles saw the Chiefs as a quick rebuilding project, in other words. Dorsey and Reid kept much of the same scouting and support staff, put the franchise tag on Albert, signed Bowe to a big contract and added a few key pieces — most notably Alex Smith and a remake of the secondary. Marcus Cooper, in particular, is proving to be a phenomenal find.
But the greatest accomplishment of Reid and Dorsey so far isn’t what they brought in from the outside. It’s what they’re creating from what was already here.