I tend to take a ho-hum approach to training camp. Sure, there’s a little bit of drama if starting positions are on the line, but other than that, the only real surprises come from the one or two undrafted free agents who end up making the team. This year’s camp, however, seems destined to become one of the most important in team history.
The last time the Chiefs were in a situation where the team had to be totally overhauled was in 1975. For those who are too young (or too old and feeble-minded) to remember, allow me to dredge up some very unpleasant history.
After KC won the AFC West divisional title in 1971, the team started declining into mediocrity. By 1974, most of the great players who had carried the team to the NFL title in Super Bowl IV had either retired or had aged to the point where they needed to retire. When the 1974 team stumbled to a 5-9 record, Hank Stram was fired and the Chiefs hired Paul Wiggin to rebuild the team. That rebuilding project, which everyone assumed would take 2-3 years, ended up taking 15.
Virtually all of the blame can be laid on the front office for either hiring head coaches (Wiggin, Mackovic, Ganz) who couldn’t do the job, or by pulling the plug too quickly on the one who was getting the job done (Levy). The ship didn’t right itself until Lamar Hunt hired Carl Peterson to assume control of the front office. Peterson hired the right head coach (Schottenheimer) and the Chiefs quickly regained their status as one of the NFL’s elite teams. Peterson and Schottenheimer, however, did not have to start from scratch. For all their shortcomings as coaches, Mackovic and Ganz did a decent job of drafting some very talented players who became the backbone of the re-energized Chiefs. Dick Vermeil did not do the same for Herm Edwards.
Vermeil may have been an offensive genius but the defense was virtually ignored and young players weren’t given much of an opportunity to play. He also did less than a stellar job of drafting players.
It appears – so far anyway – that Edwards is a much better judge of collegiate talent than Vermeil was. He and Gunther Cunningham have noticeably improved the defense but there is still work to be done on the defensive line and age is a concern, especially at cornerback. It is certainly obvious that Edwards doesn’t have a hang-up about playing youngsters. The question that remains to be answered, however, is how many of those youngsters deserve playing time, let alone a roster spot. Add to the mix an offense that has declined sharply due to age, retirements, and holdouts. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Chiefs are at a crossroads. So, yeah, I’ll be watching this training camp closely. I’d be willing to bet that Clark Hunt will be too.