As exhilarating as the Chiefs’ 4-0 start has been in the wake of the excruciating 2012 season that punctuated a truly dark phase in their history, it’s still too early to know just where year one of the reclamation project will go.
But it’s hardly premature to declare a seismic change in trajectory, mood, and even mental health surrounding and within the Chiefs.
And maybe nobody states it with more eloquence, intimate knowledge and conviction than Mitch Holthus, in his 20th season as the radio voice of the Chiefs.
“It’s been like an infusion of adrenaline to have this happen,” Holthus said. “You feel like this is red iron going up; this isn’t a house of cards.”
Holthus is by nature upbeat and optimistic, so maybe it’s no surprise that he sees the new regime this way.
But perhaps it’s his points of contrast that are most telling, starting with how he views the rejuvenated crowds at Arrowhead Stadium.
Being there a year ago, he said, “felt like going back to your old home, and it had all gone up to weeds, and termites were eating it. That’s the analogy I would give. And now you’re going back, and ‘Extreme Makeover’s’ been there. That’s what it feels like.”
That was just the most obvious manifestation of the depths of the distress and rot, which Holthus struggled to cope with.
By the end of last season, he said, he was grappling with a sense of “despair and discouragement and hopelessness.”
Think about what it means that the circumstances could permeate Holthus, thevoice
of the Chiefs and arguably their most direct conduit to the public.
That reflected something more profound than the Chiefs’ 2-14 record, something beyond wins and losses altogether, something bordering on traumatic within the organization.
Part of that surely stemmed from the unspeakable Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, which he noted concluded at “the front door” of the Chiefs complex, but it also was about what was bubbling within that door.
“ ‘Where is there hope?’ ” he remembered thinking. “There were employees of this organization who were in utter despair; they didn’t know what to do. I was seeking people who could help me personally, and I was trying to help others through it. I know people who went to counseling.
“When you’re just pushed down and pushed down and pushed down and pushed down, and you think there’s little hope or ‘where is the hope?’ then it becomes personal When it means that much to you, you don’t just hit the delete button.”
On the way home from the season-ending 38-3 loss at Denver, Holthus realized his own personal reservoir was “past ‘E’ ” and spent the flight reflecting on his career and “trying to just figure out to what to do.”
The next day, Chiefs CEO and chairman Clark Hunt fired coach Romeo Crennel, a move that Holthus called “a pebble in the pond” that precipitated the ripples of broader change.
Days later, general manager Scott Pioli was let go, replaced almost immediately by Andy Reid as coach and John Dorsey as GM and a new structure of communication to Hunt that meant Reid, Dorsey and president Mark Donovan all reporting directly to him.
The history, harmony and chemistry between Reid and Dorsey has been well-chronicled, and it’s notable that Donovan and Reid had worked together in Philadelphia, too.
All of that obviously already has paid dividends on the field. But that dynamic also has drizzled down into a desperately needed change of tone and direction within the organization from the controlling influence of Pioli.
“It was immediate, first of all, with Andy Reid, his security in who he was and his openness and yet discipline with parameters,” said Holthus, adding without naming names, “a secure leader versus an insecure leader. There are people who are made to lead, but I also see people who are put in leadership positions, whether it’s coaches or administration, that don’t have the acumen to lead.”
His buoyancy restored, Holthus believes that respectful leadership is reflected on the field, where Reid is in his 15th season as a head coach.
“This is not a mistake: I’ve never seen in my 20 years 100 percent of the players bought in,” he said. “Offense helps defense. Defensive coaches help offensive coaches. Special teams. That’s not always the case. Football is so easily fractured. In so many ways.”
Vividly the last few years here.
And wherever the Chiefs go from there this season, hope floats and flows again throughout the area.
That’s something Holthus is attuned to through, among other ways, his Monday night Chiefs Kingdom Radio Show, which he says drew about fans from all over the region this week.
“They’ve been starved for this and they believe in what’s going on; they don’t see this as fool’s gold,” he said. “They see the depth of it So they’re buying in, and it’s awesome to see it.”
Not to mention for a substantial voice of the organization to feel it again.