Hunt calls Edwards’ firing 'not an easy decision'

Herm Edwards passed the days in his office, trying to find ways to stay busy. Each time the phone rang, he knew the conclusion of his Chiefs coaching career could be on the other end of the line.

That call from chairman Clark Hunt and general manager Scott Pioli finally arrived Friday afternoon, more than a month after Hunt put Edwards on notice and 10 days after Pioli was hired.

Edwards was fired after three seasons as Chiefs head coach. Hunt and Pioli didn’t answer questions, so some matters remain unanswered.

But they apparently realized what was obvious to everyone else. Between Edwards’ recent lousy record — he lost 23 of their last 25 games — and the lengthy delay as the Chiefs decided what to do with him, it was going to be difficult if not impossible for Edwards to return.

“Had he been kept, it wouldn’t have been the best environment for him, the best working conditions for him,” Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters said. “Everybody would have been looking over their shoulders or been concerned. He’s just like everybody else. He wanted to work in the best environment, and that probably wouldn’t have been the best environment.”

Hunt was once a strong Edwards supporter, saying before last season he believed Edwards was the right coach to lead the Chiefs through their rebuilding phase.

That support began to erode as the Chiefs at times bumbled their way to last season’s 2-14 record, the worst in franchise history. Hunt opened the possibility of firing Edwards last month when he announced that Carl Peterson was out as president and general manager.

Hunt last week said he would keep an open mind about retaining Edwards.

“This was not an easy decision,” Hunt said in a statement released by the Chiefs. “Herm is an outstanding football coach and a man of integrity. We appreciate his leadership over the past three seasons, and we wish him all the best in the future.”

Pioli appeared cool to Edwards from his start with the Chiefs. In last week’s question-and-answer session, his only one since arriving, Pioli was asked directly whether Edwards’ teams were well-prepared.

He said only that it was obvious that the Chiefs tried hard and that Edwards was passionate about his job.

“Since my arrival last week, Herm and I have had several conversations as part of my overall evaluation of the football operation,” Pioli said in the statement. “After careful consideration, Clark and I felt that it was best to make a change.

“He respects the game and the league, and he is passionate about his players and his craft.”

Edwards didn’t return phone messages. He issued a statement through the Chiefs thanking the Hunt family and Peterson for the opportunity to coach in Kansas City and the players and assistant coaches for their effort.

“This is going to be a very good football team,” Edwards said. “The support of Chiefs fans across the country has been tremendous. They are truly passionate about their football team. Chiefs fans will be proud to cheer for this team for many years to come. With the tremendous nucleus of young talent on this roster, I sincerely believe that this team is poised to do great things. I respect the tough decision that was made to move in a new direction. I wish the players and the organization the very best as they move forward.”

Edwards replaced Dick Vermeil in 2006, inheriting a team that had finished 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs a year before. The Chiefs finished 9-7 and earned a wild-card playoff spot, but they lost in the first game to eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis.

Soon afterward, years of lousy drafting came back to bite the Chiefs. Advancing age caught up to many of their best players, and the Chiefs had few capable young prospects ready to step in.

The Chiefs were 4-3 and in first place in the AFC West at one point in 2007. That’s when the collapse started. The Chiefs lost their final nine games of the season.

They embarked on an ambitious rebuilding project, releasing several players and trading star defensive end Jared Allen. They were replaced mostly by rookies, and without many veterans to stabilize the situation, the Chiefs staggered to their 2-14 record.

Through it all, Edwards managed to keep his spirit. He steadfastly believed the Chiefs would eventually reap the benefits of their rebuilding.

Those close to him said the bigger toll on Edwards came as he was left wondering while Hunt and Pioli decided how to proceed. Quarterback Tyler Thigpen said Edwards looked drained when he stopped by the coach’s office early in the week.

“He was just like everybody else, waiting to see what was going to happen,” Thigpen said. “His situation was kind of like a rookie going to training camp. He was on the chopping block and didn’t know whether he was going to make it or not. He was ready to know whether he was going to be there or whether he wasn’t, so I know it was hard for him.”

Edwards, a former NFL cornerback, was known as a player’s coach. Many enjoyed playing for him because of his light practice schedule and reliance on players to do some of their preparation on their own.

Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez said this might have contributed to Edwards’ demise.

“I think Herm was my favorite head coach I ever played for,” Gonzalez said. “He had a history. He played the game. He knew how to treat his players. That may have been his downfall this year. Not all of these young guys understood what it took to be pros at times.

“The way he treated us as players, sometimes if you give a young guy that much room, he might take advantage. I don’t want to say take advantage, but maybe I do. Young guys just don’t know how it is to be a pro yet when you deal with this many young guys on a team. You can’t treat everybody like a veteran because they don’t all know what to do.

“I loved that about Herm. He put it in our laps to get ready for a game, to be a professional, to act right. But some guys took that for granted.”