The Chiefs have compiled a 43-21 record the last four years thanks to the work of coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey, all while publicly and privately painting a picture of internal harmony and teamwork.
They managed to stay unified and on message even during tough times, like the NFL’s tampering investigation into the free-agent signing of Jeremy Maclin that led to fines and the forfeiture of draft picks.
But behind the scenes, the Chiefs’ front office did not always run smoothly under Dorsey. Team chairman Clark Hunt’s decision to fire Dorsey was fueled, in part, by concerns about his internal communication and management styles, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation who spoke to The Star on condition of anonymity.
As one of the sources said while describing how Dorsey had removed two front-office executives without much explanation: “John does stuff and doesn’t tell people why.” Another source said Dorsey’s management style “could wear on people.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
A message left with Dorsey seeking comment for this story was not immediately returned.
Dorsey’s firing was announced Thursday, the same day Reid received a contract extension. Both men had a year left on their contracts and report separately, but directly to Hunt. That structure will remain when a new GM is hired.
While sources have consistently maintained that Reid and Dorsey worked well together — “You never got the impression they were sparring,” one source told The Star — the two also had different approaches to their jobs.
While Reid has a reputation for being structured and process-oriented, Dorsey was described by those who know both men as looser.
“He goes with the flow,” one source said of Dorsey.
That style didn’t always mesh in situations outside of Dorsey’s undeniable strengths, picking and evaluating players. The other areas Dorsey oversaw were contracts and salary cap management — and the Chiefs have been in cap trouble for a while — in addition to the general, day-to-day management of the team.
“He’s not a big disciplinarian or big on chain of command,” a source said, “so people did what they wanted.”
“It’s more about his management skills,” another source added.
For instance, the typically stable Chiefs also made waves this offseason when Dorsey released director of football administration Trip MacCracken and director of pro scouting Will Lewis. Each man had been with the team for at least four years, and not only were their dismissals surprising, there weren’t many answers to be found, even inside the organization.
“Those decisions were totally John’s,” a source said. “That’s the kind of stuff he does.”
Sources also critiqued Dorsey’s management style, noting that while he was often friendly and jovial, the same tongue-in-cheek manner he used to win over most people over eventually wore on others.
“It could rub people the wrong way at times,” a source said.
Dorsey still has fans inside the Chiefs organization. They cited his passion for the game, constant availability and eye for talent as respected strengths.
“Loved working for him,” one source said. “Great dude.”
“He was always great to us …,” another source added, “You hate to see something like this happen.”
Dorsey also has a number of supporters across the league, as an overwhelming amount of league sources who dealt with him on a regular basis — approaching a dozen — told The Star.
“He was always a guy that would listen, was a pro, good to work with,” one league source said.
“One of my favorite people in 20 years in the business,” another source said. “Honest and straightforward. Man of conviction. Was shocked and sad to see the news.”
Multiple sources also called Dorsey a friend on a personal level, noting that it was not unusual for him to call just to say “hello,” even when on vacation.
“A consummate pro’s pro in negotiations,” one league source said. “Always up front and straight, and a super talent and football evaluator.”
Other league sources agreed with that notion, adding that Dorsey’s standing as an evaluator of talent remains peerless.
“He is a dyed-in-the-wool scout, loves the element of watching college players, loves breaking down film,” said Andrew Brandt, who spent 10 years as a Green Bay Packers vice president alongside Dorsey and writes for TheMMQB.com. “That always seemed like that’s what he was most happy, and most comfortable, doing.”
It’s a trait that, communication and management issues aside, many league sources believe will be difficult for the Chiefs to replace, especially on the heels of the club losing Dorsey’s talented and respected right-hand man Chris Ballard to Indianapolis five months ago. Ballard is now the Colts’ GM.
“I loved him,” one league source said of Dorsey. “Blunt, honest and a great talent evaluator. Losing him and Ballard in one offseason is insane.”
Brandt said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Chiefs prioritized talent evaluation, along with leadership and communication, with their next hire. The Chiefs are already over the projected 2018 salary cap, but there’s a widely-held belief around the league that whatever cap issues they have can be rectified in a year or two.
“We have this traditional version of an NFL GM coming from a scouting background, like John — and that’s the most popular GM model,” Brandt said. “Then there are a few coming from more of my background, which is from the financial side, about business and cap contracts. The third model is one Andy had in Philly, which is coach/GM.
“To me, the real underappreciated trait you want from a GM is leadership and communication, because the GM will be coming from one of those backgrounds and will need to communicate seamlessly with what he’s not an expert at. Teams sometimes rush to sign an expert in one area while maybe not taking into account the necessity for communication in other areas.”