Opening the Toxic Lid … Monday Cup O’Chiefs

Several thoughts on the Kansas City Star finally catching up to the fact that employment with the Kansas City Chiefs these days is working in a toxic environment. The newspaper did so in a front page story in Sunday’s edition, headlined Arrowhead Anxiety. In case you missed it, here’s the link where you can read what they had to say.

First, it’s a good story that shined light on a dark corner of the operations that those that control the Chiefs would rather have been kept quiet. Second, although it’s a lengthy story it only scratched the surface of how dysfunctional the organization is these days. Third, the person most responsible for the atmosphere of fear and anxiety around the organization took the fewest number of verbal arrows – team chairman Clark Hunt.

This story has been under construction for several weeks; maybe a month and the Chiefs were well aware of the details. But in the typical fashion of the way the organization is run these days, they attempted to strong arm the Star, demanding the names of the anonymous sources in the story and threatening a law suit. Not once, but twice the Chiefs took this tact with the local fish wrap in the last few weeks.

Having spent a dozen years getting ink on my hands, including nine of those with the Star, I can tell you what happens when a business, politician or sports team threatens a newspaper. The folks in charge suddenly realize they have a story that’s even bigger than they thought. The reaction of Hunt’s minions simply increased the visibility that the story was going to receive. It showed his people in charge of public relations have no idea how to deal with the media.

I’m willing to bet that the story was originally destined for the front page of the sports section. But once the Arrowhead crowd tried to play tough guy with the editors, the story moved to the front page of the entire Sunday paper, with two full inside pages to continue the narrative.

Yet, I’m also willing to wager that the guy least upset by the final version of this story is Hunt. Although GM Scott Pioli gets blamed for a lot of the fear and anxiety that permeates the organization, this is what Clark Hunt wanted; this is his management style. This is the culture he wanted for his team.

When he first became the man in charge after the death of his father and started putting his imprint on the organization, Hunt told one of his executives: “I want my employees to wake up every morning afraid that it would be their last day on the job.” Hunt believed this approach of fear is what would motivate his people to great success.

All of which would be funny if it were not so sad because Hunt has never had to wake up worried about his job or financial status in his entire life.

So if Hunt hears his place of business is filled with people that are distrustful, think they are being spied on and are afraid to do anything out of the ordinary, then it’s come together exactly as he hoped it would. Everyone is scared about everything.

I’ve written about the toxic environment around the Chiefs for the better part of the last two years and I know from comments from readers and subscribers that they thought I was making things up, held a grudge for some reason or was making too much of the situation. I only have to say I told you so. Listen, I spent 20 years working in radio, and there isn’t a more toxic day-to-day environment than the radio business, especially how it has operated in the last 10 years of mergers and cost cutting. I know toxic when I see toxic.

The Chiefs were once one of the NFL’s model franchises, both on the field and off the field. Today, the rest of the league looks and shakes its head and wonders “what could they possibly be thinking.” The growing number of lawsuits against the Chiefs has drawn the attention of the league office that worries about the Chiefs internal dysfunction setting precedents in the courtroom for the rest of the league’s teams.

The most on-point comment in the story is “It’s not Lamar Hunt’s organization anymore.” That’s for sure; it’s Clark Hunt’s organization with the culture he wanted and all credit and blame should be pointed in his direction.


After reviewing the story, here are some thoughts on some of the key Chiefs figures in the narrative and how the whole story makes them look.

Chairman Clark Hunt – appears uninvolved and unaware of what the “little people” in the organization think. That should come as no surprise given the fact that his information about the building is all second-hand, coming from executives like GM Scott Pioli and President Mark Donovan. Sadly, Hunt appears to believe that since he’s paying them the most money, so they are telling him the truth. It’s the worst part of absentee ownership.

GM Scott Pioli – would not speak to the newspaper about this story. What isn’t detailed is whether he simply refused, or whether the organization decided he shouldn’t speak. Either way, it was a wrong decision and one that makes Pioli look chicken. It’s hard to imagine anyone supposedly leading an organization’s football operations who can’t stand up and speak for himself when his methods are called into question. It’s become more and more apparent in Pioli’s three years with the Chiefs that his insecurities run very deep. It matches what his father-in-law Bill Parcells told a few people with the organization when Pioli was hired: his son-in-law didn’t like having people around who didn’t agree with him. Maybe that’s why Parcells hasn’t come to work for the Chiefs. It just gives credibility to the picture of Pioli spending time going over phone records, watching security camera video tape and dissecting e-mail messages from within the building rather than devoting 100 percent of his energy to finding talent for his team.

President Mark Donovan – he comes across as someone who has no idea how to lead people or handle employees. His attitude is best represented by continued use of the term “2 and 14″ to describe why people were fired or pushed out of jobs. That was in reference to the team’s record in 2008. The fact that phrase was and is being used three years after the major changes in the organization began tells us that the new regime has none of their own accomplishments to build on. So they blame their problems on an organization and people that haven’t been around for the past three years. That tells us what we need to know about the great ideas and programs that Donovan has generated with this team.

Head coach Todd Haley – if anyone thought the problems between Haley and Pioli were a media creation, the fact the head coach thought his office was bugged should be evidence enough about how broken that link was. Haley didn’t just make up that notion out of thin air; there were incidents that made him very aware that others were listening. Pioli and Hunt did many things over the last two years to devalue the experience of being the head coach of the Chiefs. Remember back to the summer when the Chiefs were so involved with the post-tornado activities in Joplin? There was one face missing from that organized effort – Haley. He was purposely kept out of the loop on the Chiefs work down there. In fact the Chiefs discouraged him from getting involved in any local charity efforts; if he was involved it was something he and his wife Chrissy went out and did on their own. Considering the type of atmosphere he was working in, the fact that Haley was 15-15 over the last two years is nothing short of remarkable.

Former employees fired and those pushed out the door – it’s hard, especially in the current economic climate to be out of work. But being away from the toxic atmosphere of the current Chiefs organization will extend your life.

Current employees, or the “little people” – I feel for you.

34 Responses to “Opening the Toxic Lid … Monday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • January 16, 2012  - James says:

    I am and always will be a Chief’s fan. But with these clowns running the team it’s getting harder. Wonder if this wasn’t the reason they fired Haley, they feared him talking to the press. Time for new ownership.

  • January 16, 2012  - Milkman says:

    If indeed these are all true facts, it is a depressing day to be a Chiefs fan. We will never have a consistent winner on the field without stability at the top. No matter who anybody wants to blame, it all boils to the very top- Clark Hunt. And if he is in-ept, it doesn’t matter because nobody is gonna fire him. You can not have good ideas coming from a room full of fear. And you will never get good creative people to come work in an invironment like that. And I’m guessing the NFL is just like any other tight fraternity- word gets around fast. If this article is all true, the best we can hope is that the people in charge now have ALL the answers. I don’t think any of us are ready to say that’s true.

  • January 16, 2012  - Tenand6 says:

    All I can say is “Thanks, Bob.” Thank you for writing this. I say that as a 50 year Chiefs fan. We need to know.

  • January 16, 2012  - RW says:

    Not one to beat a dead horse as I’ve stated my views on Jr. Hunt & Pioli way too often already in this space. The story sadly confirms what seemed to be going on within the inner structure of the team and finally getting that confirmation from the Star story does little to assauge my feelings on the matter.

    What to do from here as a fan? What does the future hold in store? Key questions for all who visit and contribute to this site. I’m thinking about those dark days from about 1975-1988 for the Chiefs until CP and Marty turned things around for a time. The current days look far darker, at least to me.

  • January 16, 2012  - Tim says:

    I think we all have a trained eye on Clark & rightfully so. Bob, could you do a profile on Clark…something that will tell us what he’s done professionally besides being around his father. I’m certainly no expert on the Hunt family, but I don’t ever recall reading anything about Clark’s professional career. If he’s never really run anything, its no wonder he thinks that way.

  • January 16, 2012  - Chuck says:

    I could have told you that Pioli was an arrogant ass when he first got hired. At the time I was a season ticket holder in the Arrowhead Club. I had 4 seats in section 245 first row. Paid dearly for them= $10,800 per season. I wrote Pioli a letter when he was first hired and tried to point out a couple of glaring weaknesses on the team. Naturally he never answered the letter. I then tried to call him but his “personal assistant” wouldn’t put the call thru. I then asked if I could email him and she said NO. Also I had a personal friend who worked in the accounting dept. for well over 20 years and I know he did a great job. He was let go for no reason one day. Anyway when I read a story like this one I think of “Nazi”, Gestapo, and Control Freak” all at the same time. Certainly not a fun place to work. Bugging people’s phones???? Ridiculous.

  • January 16, 2012  - Petey says:

    After reading the comments of other fans on other sites (KCStar, Warpaint, etc), there will probably be more than a few people that say they really don’t care what’s going on, just win games. On some level, I don’t disagree with that premise, however, if this hasn’t already, it will soon enough impact our chances of winning. Whether or not Babb’s article and Bob’s rumblings about it over the last 3 years are real or perceived, it’s out there and this will impact the kind of people we get in the front office, coaching and free agents. If there is even a hint of truth to this, why would highly demanded people want to work in this environment? There will be a lot of people quick to dismiss this because quite a bit of the information came from former employees and being bitter. As someone who has worked in this type of environment before the only time you truly feel safe is after you have been let go, and then they still have their claws in you with a severance contract. The fact that Bob has reported that the Chiefs tried to squash this thru lawsuits tells me all I need to know. I really, really wish I could quit this team…it’s become an embarrassment.

  • January 16, 2012  - 3PlayoffWinsSinceSBIV says:

    Clark Hunt and Scott Pioli are showing their true stripes. They are not true leaders.

    They demand secrecy and instill fear. Not because those are necessary to success, but rather because they are insecure men.

    They are desperately afraid that the public will learn that they can’t hold a candle to those who are responsible for their current positions–Lamar Hunt and Bill Belichick.

    As most insecure men do, they tried to bully the Star to shut down this story. Fortunately, that didn’t work.

    Well, the veil of secrecy has been lifted. And we’re seeing a very ugly picture of the leaders at One Arrowhead Drive.

  • January 16, 2012  - TDKC says:

    It was Marcus Allen that made me a Chiefs fan. It was Lamar Hunt that kept me one. Don’t run me off Clark.

  • January 16, 2012  - Chuck says:

    WOW, 3PlayoffWinsSinceSBIV You could not have said it any better!!!!!!!!!!! The truth always hurts the most. Its truly a shame. Owner in absenteeism and GM is a Ego Maniac. What a combo.

  • January 16, 2012  - johnfromfairfax says:

    If you read the article you’ll realize that it’s not Bob or the Star making stuff up. The people from within the organization who were made available confirmed many of the things reported. I too have been a fan nearly a half century and am truly saddened by what’s become of my team. There will be those who will state the case for doing this to run an efficient machine, etc. and say they don’t care what the organization does to the employees as long as they win on the field. That’s fine if that’s how you feel. I said before that how you treat others, particularly those below you in an organization, says a lot about you as a person. There’s nothing wrong with demanding productivity from your employees but doing it through intimidation and abuse is a lousy way to go about it. A pro football franchise is a different organization than other business enterprises. It represents the community it is a part of and as such is the face of the fans and city in which it resides. Is this really how you want your city and community represented? It reminds me of what has happened to the Redskins since Dan Snyder took over. Neither he nor Junior are self made men and were handed their lofty status. The last time I checked neither of them have won anything either. I wonder how either would have responded to the methods they employ? If this is such a good business model for a pro football franchise why haven’t other teams employed the same approach? The last time I checked we’re the only team that’s been or is being discussed for these reasons. It’s a sad commentary if this is what the owner of the team feels is necessary to produce a winning product on the football field. It’s also a model for dysfunction. Ask Robert Kraft what he thinks of this approach. It’s certainly not what I want to see from my team. All I can say is they better be successful on the field because if they aren’t all they will be left with are the *#%holes running it into the ground and those who could care less. Sad, truly sad.

  • January 16, 2012  - COCHIEF says:

    I have been a Chief’s fan from the time they first came to Kansas City. Even in the down years, I felt good about the team in large part due to Lamar Hunt, a true gentleman who appeared to be an honest, caring person who stood up for what was right. If all that has been said is true, and I assume that for the most part it is, then the whole character of the chiefs has changed. Apparently, management is now channeling Al Davis instead of honoring the legacy of Lamar Hunt. If so, Clark Hunt should be ashamed.

  • January 16, 2012  - Morten says:

    It’s really a sad thing being a fan of this!!!! I have always measured companies, friends, family, everybody on how they treat other people… That Hunt has stated that he wants employees to wake up every day being afraid that it could be the last day within the organization is nothing but sad…. You will never get the most out of people that way…. And we will never get to SB that way; that’s for sure…. I guess fans including myself have to take that into consideration next time you buy merchandise and tickets…. That’s the only way you can get a fool like Hunt to understand that!!!
    A sad day to be a Chiefs fan, thats for sure! But nothing compared to the feeling the employees must have each and every day!!!

  • January 16, 2012  - Tenand6 says:

    I saw somewhere that Peter King is demanding answers from Haley as if he made a direct accusation of wire tapping. I read the story as Haley being concerned. That’s a very different thing. Beyond that, why isn’t King asking questions of Hunt/Pioli? There’s a lot to Babb’s story and Bob’s column….why not focus on the Chiefs organization? I also hear WHB in KC minimizing the story. What a surprise….

  • January 16, 2012  - jim says:

    Organizational management skills vary, come and go, and even change from time to time. Based on this latest article, with the credability it brings, I can assure you that Junior didn’t learn these skill from Mr. Hunt, Sr.

    He who controls the gold controls the kingdom, but he will have no one to help him fight for his kindgom. Someomne said once, (paraphrase) “What you do to the least of you, you do to me.”

    As an owner, I assure you I would be asking of my top personnel what I could do to make their job easier, more productive, and asking for their input. Sure, some people will go, but building a job environment that says ownership/management doesn’t trust you is now way to attract quality people to build your business. He will be stuck with “yes” men, scared to do any creative, out of the box thinking, and the rest of the league/ownership will quickly pass Junior by, laughing all the while.

    What a sad state of affairs Junior has created for himself. I’m sure his daddy is proud………….

    All that, and not one word about winning or loosing football games. Sad isn’t it?

    I wouldn’t let Junior Hunt run my granddaughter’s lemonade stand. He’d screw it up before lunch.

  • January 16, 2012  - Johnfromwichita says:

    That wasn’t TWO earthquakes you just felt; that was Lamar turning over TWICE. Lamar, get back down here and kick your little kid’s ass.

  • January 16, 2012  - rufus says:

    boom. texas corporate practices need to be revealed. from Enron to W. to “Goldman Sachs Managing Human Skills Graduate” Clark Hunt, this evil corporatist tyranny practice needs attn. thx for writing this Bob.

  • January 16, 2012  - RW says:

    From what I’ve read and seen there seem to be two camps emerging from this story. In one camp they care little about methods, only results so the story is marginalized to a great degree.
    The other camp is in line with many of the comments here, that character matters, treating people the right way reflects on your organization and comments of that ilk.

    Still too early to tell if the story rocks the foundation or just drifts away after a few days with a return to business as usual. Regardless of the fallout or outcome, the story along with my own feelings and thoughts in watching this inept bunch operate are driving a wedge deep into my loyalty as a Chief’s fan.

    There are some actions made by the ownership and management that can’t be fobbed off on the tough business position. I do recognize and admit that being in the NFL is not for the laid back or passive types. Nor is national politics but when a Watergate type story surfaces in either arena, someone or someones have to answer for distardly deeds. If the story proves true as I believe it to be, then consequences are going to be realized by Jr. Hunt as a lot of fans will be making a choice between staying the loyalty course with the Chiefs or having had enough and walking away.

    Those well outside the KC area like myself will find it a little easier to choose the latter option. It’s becoming a tough task to remain a Chief’s fan and that’s not the way it should be.

  • January 16, 2012  - Johnfromwichita says:

    RW, don’t give up so soon. This too shall pass. People have ways of changing. Now, I’m not really sure that rich people can, but it’s possible. Besides, it’s fun to bitch; all fans have something to bitch about. As for the 43% of fans who thought that God favored the Broncos because of Tebow should of known He is a soccer fan. Holy crap, Clark also owns a soccer team too.

  • January 16, 2012  - Bryon says:

    Haley may or may not have been the answer as the Chiefs’ Head Coach. We’ll never know because he wasn’t given a legitimate chance to succeed. Was it Hunt’s doing or Pioli’s that the Chiefs were a cumulative $100 million under the salary cap over the last 3 yrs? It is obvious that they had horrible depth this past season, and were in no position to withstand injuries. It is difficult to tell whether it’s Hunt, Pioli, or Hunt-Pioli running this corporate, profit driven enterprise. I’m guessing Hunt-Pioli which would explain why Pioli got the job in the first place. In an economy tanked by Wall Street sorts, the Chiefs are evidently owned by one, and managed by another. I have been a Chiefs fan my entire life, but until now it has never been difficult for me to feel good about my favorite team in all of sports. Now it is. I have no problem rooting for the players and coaches, but feel genuine antipathy towards the team’s ruthless, greedy, dysfunctional owner and (evidently) general manager.

  • January 16, 2012  - Johnfromwichita says:

    Byron,since 1964 I”ve thrown many soft (like pillows} objects against my TV screen in protest of Chiefs actions,or not actions. Did you know games used to be broadcast in black and white? I bleed red and gold. I travel to KC for games. Three hours(seems like only one) I drive home if we lose it’s like four hours. I, like you, forget many times that it’s a “profit driven enterprise”. All NFL teams are. Some disguise it better than the Chiefs are doing right now. Take a deep breath and scream “Go Ciefs”!!! Let me know if it works.

  • January 16, 2012  - txchief says:

    Another episode of the soap opera. One of innumerable articles designed to allow us (and the author) to wallow in a paranoid conspriacy theory world of the Chiefs franchise. All the intrigue and innuendo one could possibly imagine.

    How about a little football coverage?

  • January 16, 2012  - johnfromfairfax says:

    “Just win, baby! Just win!”

  • January 16, 2012  - Petey says:

    Better yet tx, go start your own website and you can write what you want.

  • January 16, 2012  - cychief24 says:

    Bob- I read the Chiefs hating KC Star article. I didn’t need you to read it to me again.
    The Star has always hated the Chiefs since I can remember.
    This all smacks of bitterness from lack of access.
    There are 2 sides to every story. Deep in the Star story it states that employees were upset with King Carl’s changes.

  • January 16, 2012  - cychief24 says:

    I want to read about who may be our OC. Who will be our Sp Teams coach…etc.
    50/50 that I will subscribe your site.

  • January 16, 2012  - Petey says:

    Why would Bob have information on that cy? It certainly isn’t because he’s getting any from One Arrowhead Dr….maybe Scott’s too busy picking up candy wrappers…..

    You’re right, there are always two sides to every story and the Chiefs and Pioli refused to grant an interview…not to mention as Bob said, they attempted two lawsuits to squash the story…

  • January 16, 2012  - Jonathan Fortune says:

    Bob usually I criticize you for carrying on a gripe against the Chiefs but until the Chiefs hierarchy comes out with their side of the story (which I doubt they will), I owe you an apology. If this is this case about the Chiefs organization then it will be hard to attract free agents or coaches to come here because of the environment.

    I have gone back and forth over the story the last two days and have come up with two conclusions. One, the candy wrapper incident can be looked at is if you don’t pay attention to the little things how are you going to pay attention to bigger things. Focusing on detail from the top on down must be in an organization’s culture if they are going to reach the top and ultimately stay there. The Chiefs are attempting to go in this direction.

    The second thing is you can make a mountain out of a molehill and let little things get in the way and cause problems. All Pioli had to do was to pick up the candy wrapper and put it in the garbage can. Case closed. It seems if he and Hunt don’t change their way of thinking then the little things will get in the way of the Chiefs of reaching the top and competing for championships.

    Hopefully by this story coming out it will make Hunt, Pioli, and Donovan change their methods because the future of the franchise hangs in the balance. I wouldn’t be surprised if Goodell has a copy of the story.

  • January 17, 2012  - Blake says:

    Here are some quotes taken from the book “War Room” by Michael Holley. It has quotes from Scott Pioli in the book. I recommend the book to anyone. Pioli has been trashed by the media and I would like to show the other side of Scott Pioli. If Pioli is bugging his employees then that is not right but there is no proof, also Bill Willamson says that many teams around the league have been accused of bugging employees. Reading this book puts more light onto the former employees that became too relaxed in their jobs and became lazy.
    -Ron and Diane Pioli did the best they could with what they had, with Ron working at the local phone company and, at times, driving a cab and working as a plumber. It’s probably the reason Pioli had no tolerance for slackers or complainers in the NFL. They wouldn’t last long around him, whether they were just-getting by scouts or underachieving players. He had seen too much achievement from people who didn’t have the resources or support network that someone working the in the NFL does.
    -Pioli to Hunt during interview on all organizations but later it said how the Chiefs personified this: “There’s this living, breathing dysfunction with football organizations and it pits lifetime employees vs. temporary employees. It’s insane. You need the help of all these people to do the job well. It’s not just the players. It’s the equipment people, the grounds crew, community relations, marketing…”
    -Said the first week in the office he saw this as copies were printed out in all color for no reason costing the organization minimum $10,000 per year for no reason.
    -Also saw it when scouts were messing around and surfing the internet during tape review.
    -Clark Hunt, “One thing I would say about Scott that has been a complete surprise, because I don’t think this is the kind of thing you can get in an interview, but I’ve never had an employee who is more attuned to looking after me and my family’s interest than Scott is,” Hunt says. “If Scott had a hundred decisions to make, none of which I would ever know about, that could either benefit him or benefit the organization, I’m confident that one hundred out of one hundred, he would make the decision that benefits the organization. And that’s a special quality.”
    -Here is a quote that I love directly from Scott Pioli, for people like Bob and others who act like Pioli doesn’t see the holes in the roster. “We’re just not good enough,” he says. “At the end of the year, at the end of this season, when we couldn’t sneak up on teams and we played good teams, we felt it. What do we need? There aren’t many positions we can look at and say we don’t need the help there. We’ve got holes today, but we also have holes that are a year away (which would be right now). I’ve seen a great roster. We are so far away from a great roster. So far away.”

  • January 17, 2012  - Michael says:

    This is a quote from Bill Williamson, who reports on the AFC West for ESPN:

    By Bill Williamson
    “Bugged cell phones in Kansas City?

    The Kansas City Star reports that former Chiefs’ coach Todd Haley was so paranoid about his situation in Kansas City he thought his personal cell phone was tampered with.

    In an investigative report, the paper looks at many aspects of the front office and writes about the scared culture in Kansas City. What does it all mean?

    Maybe nothing. But it is fascinating to read. Still, stories bugged phones and rampant paranoia is nothing new in the NFL. I’ve heard that stuff before in other buildings. It doesn’t mean it happened.

    The truth is, Haley and Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli didn’t work well together. That’s the bottom line regardless of any juicy tales of turmoil and espionage.”

    Just another perspective I saw.

  • January 17, 2012  - Steve says:

    Bob – many thanks for this article and your other writing on what is going on with the new breed in charge at Arrowhead. Also, kudos to Kent Babb, the KC Star reporter who wrote the article.

    Lamar Hunt’s bio on Wikipedia begins with a sentence that describes him as a “sportsman”. That is the difference between father and son. Lamar Hunt founded a league (the AFL) and multiple professional sports teams and made a very good living from something he loved. Clark Hunt seems to have found his identity at Goldman Sachs where he learned the primary goal in life is to make money and developed (or refined) an attitude that “the little people” are pawns for the deal makers to move around or sacrifice.

  • January 17, 2012  - cychief24 says:

    KC Star hates the Chiefs. Why? Carl Peterson shut them out of all info and fed inside info to one BOB GRETZ. I knew when Bob said something it was from the moutfull speed towards warpainth Of Carl.
    Bob has been shut out by Pioli just like the KC Star was by Carl. Bob is reacting like the Star did and is.
    The crash and burn that Bob is currently doing has me 30/70 not renewing this disconnected blog.
    This site is heading full speed towards Warpaint which is the most negative Chief site ever.

  • January 18, 2012  - Petey says:

    Why stay then cy? If you are that fed up with how Bob runs HIS site then why spend your hard earned money? Quite complaining (over and over and over)and maybe invest a in a pro-Chiefs, fluffy rainbow and puppy, all is right in the world website. If you stay, you know what you are getting, nice thing is you have a choice.

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