Orlin Wagner - AP
Watershed, historic, memorable. All these words fittingly describe December 15, 2008, the day Carl Peterson's exit from the positions of President, CEO, and General Manager of the Kansas City Chiefs was announced and the Earth stood still, at least the earth beneath Chiefs Kingdom, anyway.
The date of December 15, 2008 deserves a giant asterisk, arrowhead, or bullet point along the timeline of Chiefs' franchise history.
From 1989 to the waning days leading up to 2009, Peterson led the regime at One Arrowhead Drive. His reign will come to an end as New Year's Eve becomes New Year's Day. At the instant people in cities all over the central time zone like Milwaukee, Chicago, Memphis, and New Orleans are raising a glass of champagne to toast the burgeoning of a new year, people in Kansas City, Springfield, Wichita, Des Moines, and Omaha will have another reason for celebration - Peterson is gone.
Team owner Clark Hunt made it clear when talking to the media Monday that the decision to end Peterson's employment with the Chiefs was a mutual one.
“It goes back to a conversation (Peterson) and I have been having throughout the year about his future with the organization,” said Hunt. “In 2009 he was going to be entering that last year of his contract, and our coaching staff was in a similar position, and over the last couple of weeks we just both agreed that it made sense to go ahead and make the change at the end of this season, and that it was in the best interest of the club to announce it this week so that I could get started on the search for the new GM right away.”
So, did the emptying seats at Arrowhead Stadium have anything to do with this “mutual” decision? Many onlookers speculated it was Peterson's ability to fill Arrowhead's orange, red, and gold seats week after week for the better part of two decades that allowed him to keep his job throughout the years.
“Really not,” said Hunt. “I think, unlike a head coach or unlike a well-known veteran football player, GMs really don't sell tickets one way or another. So I'm not expecting that the change in GM will really have an impact on our fan base.”
The reaction from fans on internet message boards and sports talk radio shows would suggest otherwise, but much will be learned about the true feelings of Chiefs fans when the Miami Dolphins come to town Sunday. A packed Arrowhead Stadium would stamp that seal of approval on the decision to end Peterson's reign.
As big a difference as fans make on third downs, through the turnstiles, and on the various open forums through which they voice their opinions, did their undeniable contempt for Peterson have any influence on this decision?
“While I respect the passion and enthusiasm of our fans, it really didn't factor into the decision,” said Hunt. “This was a change that was going to occur at some point in the next 12 months, and after Carl and I spent enough time talking about it, we both concluded that really now was the right time.”
Was Sunday's collapse against the Chargers the final straw that broke the camel's back, or rather Carl's back?
“Regardless of where the team finished this year, we were still going to be entering the last year with Carl from a contract standpoint, still going be entering the last year with Herm from a contract standpoint, and really it just makes the most sense to go ahead and get the new GM on board so that we can make some very important decisions about both the football team and the coaching staff going forward.”
So now, with Peterson out of the picture effective January 1, 2009, some of our attention turns to who will fill Peterson's shoes, and there are two answers to that question. Peterson's role as GM will be filled by one person, and his role as team president/CEO will be filled by another.
As Hunt addressed several different waves of media members Monday, he answered their questions in a uniform way, giving the same answer to each reporter almost verbatim. His answer to the question about whether he'll be looking to fill the GM job internally or externally, pretty much always came back in a variation of this:
“My plan is to seek the new GM externally,” said Hunt. “I think very highly of Bill (Kuharich, Vice President of Player Personnel). I think he's done a great job with our drafts the last three years. I hope he's somebody who'll be with us for many years to come, but I think it also makes sense to take advantage of this opportunity to get somebody from the outside who'll bring a fresh perspective to the organization, and can maybe give us some constructive criticism in how we're going about rebuilding the team.”
Hunt’s answer to the question of whether it was likely he would look internally for KC's next team president uniformly came back in a variation of this:
“(It's) very likely that it would,” he said. “We have some outstanding people on the business side of the operation, and I'll be evaluating them over the next several months, and I would say it's likely that that might be an internal hire.”
Hunt's answers were carefully calculated, and he came into today's media briefings with a certain message he wanted to get across. What that message is, no one really knows. There is no precedent set by Hunt for situations like this. This is our first glimpse into what kind of owner Hunt will be.
Is he hinting that he'll primarily be looking outside the organization for his next general manager because he wants to throw people off the track of thought that the job is Kuharich's? Perhaps. Is he telling the stone cold truth? Perhaps.
If indeed Hunt is being honest about the next general manager coming from outside the organization, there are endless possibilities as to who Peterson's successor will be, but Hunt isn't prepared to release his short list just yet.
“There's going to be a lot of speculation about the candidates, and I think for the integrity of the process, I'm going to refrain from mentioning who may or may not be on the short list when I get to the short list,” said Hunt. “I have at this point a very comprehensive list, and over the next few weeks I'll be paring it down to the short list of individuals that I would like to interview.”
There will also undoubtedly be a lot of speculation about what implications this decision has on head coach Herm Edwards. Hunt indicated that Peterson's exit isn't necessarily going to affect Edwards.
“It is a separate evaluation,” said Hunt. “I met with Herm earlier today to let him know about Carl, and told him that I was very supportive of his approach that he's taken in rebuilding the franchise and rebuilding the football team. The new GM will have a significant input into his future and we'll wait to tackle that until we have the new GM on board.”
So as Peterson's days in Kansas City are finally numbered, many questions still linger. Who will be his replacement? Is Edwards on his way out?
To these questions I have no answer, but I do have one request. Before you angry and bloodthirsty fans stop feeding on Peterson's corpse and turn your attention to Edwards,’ please take the time to enjoy this. Don't let your desire for a full house cleaning cloud your sense of presence. After all, many of you have waited for this day for a long time, a lot longer time than Edwards' tenure in Kansas City.