KANSAS CITY, Mo. — By the end of the season, Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt was equal parts embarrassed and miserable during what he had hoped would be a celebratory 50th year of professional football in Kansas City.
So just hours after the end of a 2-14 season, which matched the worst record in franchise history, Hunt took bold moves Monday morning by firing head coach Romeo Crennel and changing the structure of the organization.
While Hunt said no determination has been made on general manager Scott Pioli’s future, the team’s organizational chart will have the new coach answering to Hunt, not the general manager.
“I’m going to hire the head coach, and he’s going to report to me,” Hunt told The Star at the Chiefs’ practice facility on Monday afternoon. “Historically, the head coach has reported to the general manager, maybe all the way back to day one of the franchise.
“We’re going to make that change … we’ve not been having a lot of success here recently outside of 2010, and I feel it gives us the best chance to hire the most outstanding coach.”
Indeed, the firing of Crennel, 65, marked the second failure by a head coach hired by Pioli in his first four years as general manager. Todd Haley, hired in 2009, was dismissed in December 2011. Crennel replaced Haley on an interim basis and, after going 2-1, was elevated this season to head coach by Pioli, with Hunt’s blessing.
Hunt’s revision to the chain of command appears to be an indication he wants to hire a high-powered head coach who would not want to be subordinate to Pioli, under whom the Chiefs have gone 23-41 in four seasons.
“It will be a different responsibility, having the head coach report directly to me,” Hunt said.
The structure is not unique around the league. Several franchises, including New England (Bill Belichick), New Orleans (Sean Peyton), Washington (Mike Shanahan), Seattle (Pete Carroll) and St. Louis (Jeff Fisher), have powerful head coaches who work with general managers but report to the owner.
“You have the structures where the coach answers to the owner, and the general manager answers to the coach,” Hunt said. “You have the structure we’ve had, where the general manager answers to the owner, and the coach to the general manager.
“And there are a number of teams that do it as we’re going to do it, as a dual, with the coach answering to me and the general manager answering to me …”
But the restructuring could create some uncertainty about Pioli’s future.
When announcing the dismissal of Crennel — who had two years left on his contract — Hunt said the entire football operation will be reviewed, and “there may be additional changes to come.”
He said he wants to resolve Pioli’s status within the month.
“I don’t have a timeline laid out per se,” Hunt said. “Obviously beginning in February there are a lot of important events related to the upcoming draft, and the combine, and so forth, and we’ll want to be solidified in that regard before that.”
By finding the right coach, Hunt hopes to rekindle the relationship general manager Carl Peterson and coach Marty Schottenheimer had in the 1990s when the Chiefs went to the playoffs seven times in eight years. The Chiefs last made the playoffs in 2010 and haven’t won a playoff game since the 1993 season.
“The G.M. and the coach will not always have the same perspective,” Hunt said. “Marty and Carl frequently had different perspective on things, but they found a way to get to common ground and make decisions, and that will be my role, is finding the right path for the Chiefs and helping guys make decisions together.”
Hunt said he and Pioli have had a number of conversations regarding the new setup and Pioli “is open to it, yes.” But Pioli may not have much say in the selection of the new coach. Hunt has enlisted trusted but unnamed confidants to help guide him on his coaching search.
“I’m not going to go into the dynamics of the search process,” Hunt said. “I will say I have the appropriate resources available to help me. We’re very well organized. We want to be thorough, but we also want to be efficient as well.”
Among those whose could be candidates for the job are former Super Bowl-winning head coaches Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and Bill Cowher, as well as Super Bowl runner-up coach Andy Reid of Philadelphia, who was one of seven head coaches fired on Monday.
College head coaches who are said to be interested in NFL jobs include Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Oregon’s Chip Kelly, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, and possibly Alabama’s Nick Saban, who coached the Miami Dolphins. Two NFL assistants — Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong are reportedly scheduled to interview with the Chiefs this week while their team has a bye in the playoffs.
Other NFL assistants who could be candidates are Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy; Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer; Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians; Indianapolis quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen; New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels; and Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Despite the turmoil in the organization for the past four years, Hunt said the Chiefs’ coaching job is a desirable one, and he’s fielded multiple inquiries. The club will have the first overall pick in the 2013 draft and plenty of room under the salary cap to acquire veteran talent.
“Overall the job is still attractive,” Hunt said. “Clearly we need to get better at the quarterback position. That’s no secret. But the franchise remains very well respected around the league. I’ve had a number of conversations already … just talking to people … there is a key interest in at least wanting to see what the opportunity is.
“I’m not going to go into discussing who we’re talking to. We do have a list of candidates who are a priority …”
Crennel, who was 24-40 in four years as head coach at Cleveland during 2005-08, became the first coach in Chiefs history to last just one full season.
“You always want to give a head coach as long as you can to build a program,” Hunt said. “I just felt we were not heading in the right direction. I kept looking for the team to improve, to show signs we were turning the corner, and we just never got there.
“It has been by far the hardest year I’ve ever had as a professional … I was miserable throughout the season in terms of what I was seeing. It was so hard on me, because I want the team to succeed, not only for everybody in this building, but most importantly for our fans.
“It just killed me that we weren’t competitive, and I hated it.”
By the end of the Chiefs’ 38-3 loss at Denver on Sunday afternoon, Hunt was convinced a change was in order.
“Based on the way we finished the season on Sunday and how we finished the season, I thought it was the right move for the franchise both for 2013 and the long term. I don’t want to say my mind was made up this week or that week. It was the accumulate impact of the season. Sunday was emblematic of the way we played at times.”
Indeed, the Chiefs were hardly competitive all season, losing nine games by 15 points or more and another by 10. Crennel was unable to stem a tide of mistakes, particularly turnovers, that undermined the season from the start. The Chiefs committed 37 turnovers, tied with the New York Jets and Philadelphia for the most in the NFL, which opponents turned into 123 points.
Consequently, the Chiefs seemed to always be playing from behind, and the club did not hold a lead in regulation of any game through the first eight games of the season, a stretch of futility unseen since the 1929 Buffalo Bisons.
“Obviously I’m very disappointed in the way our season went,” Crennel said in a statement. “At the end of the day, the NFL is a performance-based league, and we weren’t able to win. I want to thank the Hunt family for the opportunity as well as our players, coaches and fans for their support during my time in Kansas City.
“As for my future, I’m planning to take some time to reflect on this season, evaluate everything, and make a decision based on what’s right for myself and my family.”
Crennel told players of his dismissal at the final team meeting of the season before Hunt said a few words.
“Romeo has been around the league for a long time, and he has had lots of success,” defensive back Travis Daniels. “He has like (five) Super Bowl rings … he has had a great career in the NFL, and I wouldn’t allow this one year to define who he is as a coach.”
But the Super Bowl rings Crennel earned as an assistant coach with the New York Giants and New England Patriots couldn’t help him win as a head coach.
“The record is what the record is, and that’s what we’re evaluated on at the end of the day,” long snapper Thomas Gafford said. “Coaches are evaluated just like players are.”