KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A day after the Chiefs organization's most successful day in years, the team announced that its president was stepping down.
Denny Thum began his long career with the Chiefs in 1974, and it ended Tuesday evening, when the team issued a vague statement that stated neither the reason for Thum's departure nor an explanation for the move's unusual timing. Only that he was leaving the organization — immediately.
Kansas City defeated San Diego on national television Monday night, capping a night of celebration as the Chiefs officially opened a revamped Arrowhead Stadium, gleaming with $375 million in renovations. Monday night was marketed as a turning point for the Chiefs, and Thum was seen in the stadium's new press box showing off the view and its amenities to visitors.
Thum oversaw much of the stadium renovations and other large-scale projects, including bringing the team's training camp to the campus of Missouri Western in St. Joseph after two decades in River Falls, Wis.
"He was the go-to guy," said Dave Williams, the athletic director at Missouri Western. "He was the ultimate gentleman, and by the same token, he was a very tough negotiator."
The team's release stated that chairman Clark Hunt would become CEO and that there were no immediate plans to fill the president position. But the release indicated that, when the job is filled, it's likely to be from within the organization.
Chief operating officer Mark Donovan, hired last year, has been handling many of the team's day-to-day business-side operations.
"Denny has been an integral part of the Chiefs family and this community for nearly four decades, and we thank him for his dedication and commitment to our organization," Hunt said in the release.
Thum's job changed often during his 36 years with the Chiefs, and it changed further in May 2009, when he was promoted as longtime president Carl Peterson's successor. Thum, whose first positions with the Chiefs were in their accounting department, was the team's principal contract negotiator in recent years. But upon his promotion, Thum relinquished negotiating duties; general manager Scott Pioli now handles most player contracts.
Thum started with the Chiefs as a staff accountant, working his way up and becoming the assistant general manager when Peterson arrived in 1989. Thum also spent time as an executive vice president and COO.
He started with an organization that was five years removed from a Super Bowl, and Thum's time spanned decades that were either depressing, hopeful or occasionally both. He told The Star in a 2008 interview that there wasn't much optimism during the 1970s and early to mid-1980s, when the Chiefs reached the playoffs twice in two decades. He said that although Kansas City struggled recently — before Monday night's 21-14 win, the Chiefs had won a combined 10 games in their previous three seasons — he knew that there was reason to believe better days were ahead.
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel compared to before," he said then, "when it didn't look like anything was going to change the face of our organization."
Thum said in Tuesday's team-issued release that he appreciated his years with the organization.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working for the best franchise in the NFL," he said. "I appreciate every opportunity the Hunt family has afforded me and my family, and I wish the Kansas City Chiefs all the success they deserve in the future."
Williams, the AD at Missouri Western, said he spoke two or three times per week with Thum as the Chiefs and the university finalized details this past summer of a sprawling indoor practice facility and two new practice fields. Thum also visited St. Joseph for weekly meetings, Williams said, to gauge the project's progress before camp began in late July.
Williams said he had no idea why Thum stepped down or why it came at such a peculiar time. He said that, as often as they talked, Thum never mentioned plans to leave the Chiefs.
Instead, Williams said, they discussed business. Williams said that was Thum's way.
"This project was a win-win for everybody involved," Williams said. "The Chiefs got a great camp and satisfied their goal of bringing camp back to their fans. Missouri Western got great facilities. The state of Missouri and the town of St. Joe had a huge economic impact.
"If that was Denny's final hurrah, he should be very proud."