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Which route will Hunt pick as he looks for a Chiefs revival? A veteran? A college coach? A rising star? A retread? Hunt’s search can take several paths.

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, at 11:14 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, at 10:58 a.m.

Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt has never hired a head football coach.

His current general manager, Scott Pioli, swung and missed with Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel, which is why Hunt is taking charge of the search for the successor to Crennel, who was fired earlier this week.

Hunt can go in several different directions. He can try to hire one of the head coaches who was fired this week, such as the man he interviewed Wednesday, former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid. Or there’s former Chicago coach Lovie Smith — who, like Reid, had a winning career record and a Super Bowl appearance — or former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, who took the Cardinals to a Super Bowl.

Or he can hire a former head coach who has been out of the game for a while, like television analyst Jon Gruden, or a top assistant coach from another NFL staff. And there’s always the college ranks, though the Chiefs have not hired a former college coach since John Mackovic, the Wake Forest head coach during 1978-80 who was plucked off the Dallas Cowboys’ staff in 1983.

If recent Chiefs history is any indicator, hiring someone with a proven track record as a head coach in the NFL is the way to go.

Carl Peterson hired four head coaches in his 20 years as Chiefs’ president/general manager. Three of them — Marty Schottenheimer, Dick Vermeil and Herm Edwards — had been NFL head coaches, and all three guided the Chiefs to postseason appearances.

The only head coach who failed to take the Chiefs to the playoffs from 1990 to 2006 was Gunther Cunningham, whose teams went 16-16 in 1999-2000 after he was promoted from defensive coordinator to replace Schottenheimer.

The advantage in hiring Schottenheimer in 1989 was that he was able to bring his staff intact from Cleveland, where he had gone 44-27 in 4½ regular seasons with two heartbreaking losses to Denver in AFC championship games.

In Kansas City, Schottenheimer installed a system that had worked in Cleveland, and his staff hit the ground running, so he didn’t have to coach the coaches. That staff included offensive coordinator Joe Pendry, line coach Howard Mudd and running-backs coach Bruce Arians, who installed a power running game centered on Christian Okoye, much as they had had in Cleveland with Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner.

Schottenheimer’s defensive staff back then included a young coordinator named Bill Cowher and a secondary coach named Tony Dungy. And the Chiefs, with the fourth pick in the draft, selected linebacker Derrick Thomas, who would go on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career and lead the team to the postseason seven times in eight years from 1990 to 1997.

A coach like Reid could bring along some of his Philadelphia staff, including longtime offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, to install the West Coast offense. He might even persuade Hunt to acquire quarterback Michael Vick to help make the transition easier.

When Schottenheimer stepped down after the 1998 season, Peterson promoted Cunningham as a way of maintaining continuity for a veteran team. Though Cunningham had never been a head coach at any level, he inherited most of Schottenheimer’s staff, and the Chiefs went 9-7 in 1999, missing the playoffs only when they blew a 17-0 lead and fell to Oakland in overtime in the final game of the season.

Thomas, the cornerstone of the team, died in February 2000 from injuries suffered in an auto accident, and the Chiefs stumbled to a 7-9 record that year, costing Cunningham his job.

That’s when Peterson turned to Vermeil, who was actually Peterson’s first choice in 1989 before Schottenheimer became available. Vermeil, who had led Philadelphia to a Super Bowl appearance after the 1980 season, resigned after the 1982 season, citing “burnout,” and went into broadcasting.

But after 14 years in the broadcast booth, Vermeil took over in St. Louis in 1997 and led the Rams to a Super Bowl championship in 1999 only to step down again a day after the victory parade in St. Louis.

After Peterson dismissed Cunningham following the 2000 season, he flew to Vermeil’s home in Philadelphia and would not take no for an answer from the coach he had worked for at UCLA and with the Eagles. Vermeil brought former Chiefs wide-receivers coach Al Saunders back to Kansas City, and after two difficult seasons, their high-flying offense produced an AFC-best 13-3 record in 2003. Vermeil stepped down at age 69 after leading the franchise to a 10-6 record in 2005.

The parallels between Vermeil and Gruden are striking. Gruden, like Vermeil, won a Super Bowl in 2002 with Tampa Bay, his second job as a head coach in the NFL.

Though he has not coached since the Buccaneers fired him after the 2008 season, Gruden has stayed in touch with the game through his work as an analyst on “Monday Night Football” for ESPN.

Edwards, a former player under Vermeil with the Eagles — and former scout and assistant coach with the Chiefs under Schottenheimer — replaced Vermeil in 2006 after enjoying success as the head coach of the New York Jets from 2001 to 2005, where he became famous for coining the expression, “You play to win the game.”

Edwards led the Jets to playoff appearances in 2001, 2002 and 2004, going 2-3 in the postseason. He inherited Vermeil’s aging team and coaxed a 9-7 record and wild-card appearance out of the Chiefs in 2006 before the club embarked on a youth movement that resulted in 4-12 and 2-14 seasons. That prompted another coaching change, as well as an overhaul of the front office, after the 2008 season.

Soon after Pioli replaced Peterson, he tapped Haley, a hot young assistant from the Arizona Cardinals. The Chiefs won the AFC West a year later with a 10-6 record.

But Haley soon fell from favor, and Pioli, like Peterson, turned to a former NFL head coach in Crennel as Haley’s replacement.

But Crennel’s resume as a head coach was deficient. Crennel was just 24-40 in four years at Cleveland, and his performance in Kansas City — 4-15, including three games last year — forced the franchise’s third coaching search in four years.

If Hunt doesn’t get it right in his first opportunity, the Chiefs could be set back for another four years or more.

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/randycovitz.

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