Kansas City, Mo. Shortly after his father died three years ago, Clark Hunt realized he wasn’t fully prepared to be an NFL owner.
He thought he would be. He and the late Lamar Hunt, the founder of the Kansas City Chiefs and an iconic figure in professional sports, had planned carefully for the day.
But in an interview Wednesday with the Associated Press, Hunt said he quickly realized he was not quite ready for the demands of the media and the obligations to the public. Quiet and decidedly non-flamboyant by nature, he had always preferred working in the background.
But suddenly, he was thrust onto center stage. Cameras and microphones were thrust into his face. Fans were clamoring to know how he intended to get the team to the Super Bowl.
“The first year after my father passed away was a challenge for me because I was just not used to it,” said Hunt, at 44 the youngest owner in the NFL. “There’s both the media side as well as public speaking engagements. There’s a fair amount of both. That’s just part and parcel of the job responsibility.”
Now, finally, he’s feeling much more comfortable — and enjoying his ownership like never before.
“I like to think I’ve gotten a little more comfortable, which comes with the experience,” he said.
He also figures that knowing the trouble he had adjusting to the demands of ownership has given him an appreciation for what his first-year management team of GM Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley are experiencing.
The three of them are practically the same age. And like their owner, Pioli and Haley had little experience dealing with the media and public.
“This is a natural reaction for someone who’s a first-time coach in the National Football League, a first-time general manager in the National Football League, and I could even say a first-time owner in the National Football League,” Hunt said.
“The transition from the background to the media spotlight is one that’s awfully, awfully hard. It’s hard to make that leap, particularly when it’s not something that you’ve done a lot and you don’t have that kind of personality.”
The business side of the team still commands most of Hunt’s time. In the next 12 months, more than $300 million in renovations to Arrowhead Stadium and the grounds will be completed, and he is active overseeing it all. But Hunt is also frequently on the phone with Pioli discussing player moves and possible transactions.
“In terms of leading the organization, I have a much clearer vision of things that I need to be doing to help us,” Hunt said. “I’m enjoying the entire responsibility more than I expected. In a lot of ways, I’m much more involved in the football operation than I was before Scott came. But at the end of the day, Scott’s still the guy who makes the decisions. He’s very, very deep in his thought process.”
The boss of the Chiefs will never be the sort of owner who dashes from news conference to news conference.
“It may be different from Dan Snyder or Jerry Jones, but something that’s been a pleasant surprise for me is how Scott Pioli likes to keep me in the loop on all of his roster moves,” Hunt said. “He’ll call and ask what I think. I’m enjoying working with Scott and Todd, trying to help them and give them the resources they need to get the franchise turned around and back to where we want to be.”
Toward that end, there is much ground to cover. Last week’s victory over the Washington Redskins was just the third in 31 games for the Chiefs and made Pioli and Haley 1-5 in Kansas City. But the schedule figures to soften a bit in the second half, and Hunt is optimistic the Chiefs are doing things right.
Unless the program simply blows up in his face, Haley can count on several years to construct a winner.
“When you bring in a new coach you have to give him three or four years to build his program. And we’ve gone through a double change of coach and general manager,” Hunt said. “I don’t think that extends the time, but it may make the transition more difficult. I believe that continuity is incredibly important to being successful in any professional sport, especially the NFL. The last thing we want to get into is a cycle like some teams do where they’re changing coaches every couple of years.”