Former Players Lost In Team’s Transition

Today in the Kansas City Star, Kent Babb has a piece comparing the Chiefs current rebuilding process to the one spearheaded by Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer 20 years ago.  One of the most discussed aspects of the latest rebuild has to do with the handling of former and current longtime Chiefs.

Fan favorites were traded without apology.  Restrictions were tightened.  Sentimentality was not considered part of a winning equation, so it was downsized.  It was understood — as long as the Chiefs’ new approach translated to success.

When the Chiefs traded Gonzalez, one of the franchise’s all-time most popular players, protests were muffled by hope that the second-round pick the team received in exchange would secure the Chiefs’ future more than Gonzalez could.  When Pollard was released, his emergence with the Texans was downplayed because Pollard wasn’t the kind of locker-room influence the Chiefs wanted.  And when Chan Gailey was fired as offensive coordinator less than two weeks before the season, the timing and strategy were understood because there was no sense in prolonging a doomed marriage.  Those decisions, at least in part, made sense.

But this?  Deron Cherry is active with the Chiefs Ambassadors, a group of former players who want to stay involved with the organization and offer guidance to current players.  He says the group was told months ago that the tradition was changing.  Former players weren’t welcome at practices.  Cherry heard a familiar reason why.

“From a football standpoint,” he says, “what was our contribution that was allowing the team to win?”

Cherry says he understands.  But he also understands why many former players were offended by the decision.

“It’s just hard,” he says.  “Before, you could go to practice sometimes on certain days and just hang out.  It’s a little bit different now.”

It was the latest adjustment for an organization undergoing a complete overhaul.  Pioli says it’s as simple as philosophical differences.

“I can certainly understand it,” Pioli said.  “We have a different belief system on how we want to do things.”

But the restrictions also raised questions about the Chiefs’ priorities.

“Why waste so much time?” says Mark Collins, who is not a member of the Ambassadors.  “Don’t spend your time building a fortress around Arrowhead, trying to keep everyone out.

“I’d like to think we earned the right to be included, to watch a practice, to watch a game, to meet the players.  For that organization to turn their backs on the former players, it’s just not right.”

Tough years happen in the NFL.  So do losing seasons.  But when goodwill, history and solidarity are lost, there are fewer people willing to trumpet the good things that happened.  The only thing left to talk about is the losing.

Over the past year there have been many former Chiefs that have expressed their disappointment that they aren’t welcomed at Arrowhead the way they were in years past. But just like Charlie Weis’ “people skills” being calling into question at Notre Dame, it would be a non-issue if the team had won more games.

If we see an 8 or 9 win team next season, I can promise you that people like Mark Collins not being able to hang out at practice won’t be a topic of conversation.

Would I like to see former players embraced more than they are now?  Sure.  But you know what I’d rather have?  A shot at the playoffs every season.

There are a ton of great parallels that Babb draws between the the two rebuilding jobs, so make sure you head over to The Star and read the whole article.  It’s the perfect read for a Sunday morning as you get ready to watch playoff football.

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