Sam Mellinger

Sam Mellinger: Chiefs owner Clark Hunt showing a ruthless side his silence often hides

Nine key moments in the John Dorsey-Andy Reid era for the Chiefs

A list of significant events in the Andy Reid-John Dorsey era with the Kansas City Chiefs, which ended Thursday after four-plus years following Dorsey’s departure as general manager.
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A list of significant events in the Andy Reid-John Dorsey era with the Kansas City Chiefs, which ended Thursday after four-plus years following Dorsey’s departure as general manager.

The image of Clark Hunt that’s easiest to the mind is an ultra-conservative, methodical, and smart man trying to move through the impossible legacy and expectations that come with being his father’s son.

There is truth in all of that, but it’s best seen through a specific lens, an angle that’s becoming more important as he continues to shape the Chiefs entering his 11th full season in charge of the family business.

Because Hunt is all of those things: conservative, deliberate, intelligent.

But he also carries other characteristics, equally as important to how he runs the team. These are traits he prefers to keep out of the public’s view: cold, calculated, his business decisions completely unencumbered by the burden of personal feelings.

Maybe some of this is easier to see now, after Hunt fired general manager John Dorsey in a move that shocked the football world and is seen as unprecedented in its timing and context.

He does not speak publicly often. When he does, he’s meticulous in both what he talks about and how he talks about it. He does not let people in easily. He has a virtual allergy to attention.

Kansas City Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt spoke on Friday about the team's decision to trade up 17 spots to draft Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes with the 10th pick in the first round.

His father was an everyman, with a touch of showman. Clark is relentlessly serious, and prefers running Kansas City’s most famous institution from the background.

He is short, usually quiet, and always tailored and austere in style. That’s part of why it’s easy, sometimes, to take him as passive. Indecisive. He keeps his permanent home in Dallas, a fact many have taken to label him as an absentee owner. And to be fair, there was a time he was less in touch.

But people who have worked for, with and around Hunt have described him consistently and similarly over the years. He listens more than he talks, doesn’t waste words, and when it’s his turn it’s usually worth listening to.

He is cautious, they say, with one former employee saying it reminded him of the first rule of medicine: first, do no harm. But he doesn’t forget, and doesn’t let much slip. He may be a tortoise getting to a decision, but once he’s there, he won’t waste a second.

We’ve seen this over and over, in action if not words. When Hunt took over after his father’s death in December 2006, he waited until two failed seasons with a total of just six wins before releasing GM/president Carl Peterson and head coach Herm Edwards.

He should’ve known it wasn’t going to work with Scott Pioli after 2011, but waited until after the epically disastrous 2012 season to take major action. He fired coach Romeo Crennel immediately after the season, then fired Pioli after hiring Andy Reid as coach.

Like any strategy, there are benefits and drawbacks. One benefit is more time to be certain. Hunt’s deliberate nature means he may come to a conclusion slower than others, but he is less likely to be wrong. He has shown himself willing to sacrifice short-term pain for long-term certainty.

Looking through that lens, the Dorsey firing actually fits Hunt’s nature and history in some ways.

Former Kansas City Chiefs broadcaster Bill Grigsby, who died in 2011, was honored with a statue in Parkville on Thursday and toasted by some former Chiefs, who were as surprised as anybody by the firing of general manager John Dorsey earlier in th

Because if he was going to make this move, it would’ve been best done immediately after the season. That would’ve allowed him to promote Chris Ballard before the Colts hired him away, maintaining stability and consistency through the draft.

You can even stretch your mind a little to see Hunt allowing Dorsey to run the draft, even if he wasn’t sure the GM would be around long-term. Teams sometimes don’t want to disrupt draft preparation. Executives being fired immediately after a draft is not uncommon, and Dorsey proved himself capable of running a good draft.

But waiting until seven weeks after the draft means Hunt had been deliberating about Dorsey’s future the entire time, not sharing the general outside assumption that contract negotiations were a mere formality.

From the outside, a convenient assumption is that Reid won a power struggle. But reporting by the excellent Terez Paylor has not found that. Hunt has shown himself to be occasionally callous and always business-first. It’s logical to think he might not have fired Dorsey if he believed Reid would have a major problem with it, but it’s completely within the bounds of Hunt’s style to fire Dorsey on his own without much care about how it would be taken publicly.

Hunt prefers the background while Reid is a famous football coach who speaks publicly more often than anyone else in the organization. So it can be easy to forget, but Hunt is in charge and has long proven himself capable of merciless decisions that go against public sentiment.

The most famous of these may have been ending Denny Thum’s 36 years with the Chiefs. Thum started as a staff accountant, and worked his way up to club president. He was widely seen as Lamar Hunt’s right hand man, and the biggest assignment of his life may have been the renovations and opening of “new Arrowhead” in 2010.

The opening, by all accounts, was spectacular. The next morning, with human resources in the room, Hunt handed Thum a quote to be used in a press release about his firing later that day. Thum sued Hunt for age discrimination, and the case settled out of court.

At least until or unless Hunt talks about what happened with Dorsey’s firing, any explanations are admittedly reverse engineered. Because nobody anticipated this.

Terez Paylor, the Star's Chiefs beat reporter, discussed the ouster of general manager John Dorsey and answered questions during a Facebook Live broadcast on Thursday, June 22, 2017.

But if we view Hunt by his actions rather than his words or the easy image of him, the move isn’t out of character. He’s long proven himself unaffected by nostalgia, most obviously by moving his father’s franchise away from long-time executives Peterson and Thum.

He is also hyper-sensitive about his franchise being known as “doing things the right way.” He is proud and protective of the Chiefs’ status as a so-called legacy franchise, and was said to be furious about how the team was seen, and in many cases run, leading up to Pioli’s firing.

The surprising thing, even now, is that Dorsey would’ve been doing something Hunt perceived as against the franchise’s best interests. But that did happen, or else we wouldn’t be talking about a firing. Maybe that came through a loose management style, a specific demand in contract negotiations, a perpetually tight salary cap or something else.

But, given something he took as provocation, it is not surprising that Hunt would’ve done this — taking short-term pain in exchange for what he sees as a better future.

We can be shocked at certain parts of this, particularly the timing. But Hunt has spent more than a decade showing us who he is through his actions.

This specific move may have involved the extremes of his nature, but it also may end up remembered as the single most instructive decision to better understand a quiet, deliberate and ruthless man.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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