Finding Chiefs — Gunther’s Plan To Fix The KC D
GUNTHER’S 20-YEAR STUDY
“As the end of the season came around, and I sat down and started looking at our defense really carefully, I really went back 20 years, because for some reason I thought Carl started his tenure here 20 years ago and it was 1989 that he started.
I know what we did on defense, and I don’t think anybody else saw what we did on defense. One of the things I started out with was that we gave up 28 touchdowns. A year ago, we gave up 32. The year before that I believe it was 36. I went, boy, this is interesting. When you know and you’ve been around a long time, you understand giving up touchdowns is the most critical stat you have. That’s the only one that matters.
Then I really got into it. The more I got into the 20-year history, it was the third-fewest in 20 years. The 1997 and 1995 teams gave up 23, and I believe it was 90 they gave up 25 to 23, there was a real good defense here in 1990.
My whole thing has been to influence the organization and the players to turn back the clock. All I meant by that is to become that kind of defense again. When Herm came in, the lights started to rise back over Arrowhead. It got real clear what he wanted to do and I’m emotional even bringing that up, because he is a defensive coach and Herm’s idea was to play young guys. Get them, and play them.
It’s really interesting to me, because in the three years we’ve been here, we had six choices from round one through four. All six of those guys are here and all of them are playing. In those two years we had no fourths, so I did a comparative study between New England, Denver, San Diego, and us. In those years from 2001 to 2007, New England had 29 choices. Nine of those failed. That’s about 31 percent. Denver had 26 choices. Eight of those failed. San Diego had 29 choices. Seventeen percent failure. Those numbers start adding up.
But you go through these things, and now in one year we have 10 choices. Of those 10 choices, six of them are at the back end, five through seven, but we’ve got a fourth and we’ve got first second and third. So now if we continue on this path and keep being successful in those top rounds, the next step I took with all those teams was the rosters. How many Patriots, how many Broncos were original or college free agents?
I think I counted us as having 27 guys that haven’t touched anyone else other than us. Herm and I have re-philosophized. We sit around talking about these things. I said you know, what happens to college players — Derrick Johnson is the best example I can give you. He’s from the University of Texas. When we play a game away, on Saturday night if that Texas team is on, he’s watching. But that’s true for every guy that came from any school.
What happens when you get the UFA guys, the pro free agents, they come from say Texas. Then they stop at New England, maybe Denver, and then come here. Somewhere along that line, that loyalty factor they learned in college, they lose when they get to the second team in pro football. Then it becomes about money.”
WHAT THE STUDY MEANS TO THE CHIEFS
“Well, what Herm’s tried to do, is get Chiefs. If you go back through this 20-year thing I did, I color-coded the whole history of the Chiefs. The gray area hit after 1997. We brought in some guys that would push us to the Super Bowl. Questionable? You’ve written about it, you know who they are. From that point on there are some draft problems of acquiring some free agents. But that 10 year period from 87 to 97, is historical. That stadium is the Mecca of the NFL during those 10 years.
So as we looked all of this, between Herm and I and I gave him everything that I found. You know what happened? They had Chiefs. They had Chief football players on that team. There weren’t a whole bunch of free agents. Plan B was there. Plan B made you loyal because Plan B still had you pigeonholed. We got Hasty, Saleaumua, Joe Phillips, those guys. Well, half those guys still live in town. Even Shawn Barber lives a block away from me. He won’t move, he loves Kansas City. So those loyalty factors are what Herm’s trying to go back to.
Being 4–12, I will give you this on my life. I never once knew we were 4–8. I never knew. All year long, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. If one guy in my room said a word, I would be jumping across about ten rows to choke him. What our option was on defense, we had one: to get the young guys better and keep playing no matter what. If you stop playing, you were going to pay the fiddler. We were going to choke you.
The one thing that always comes up on a lot of teams when they’re not very good is a lot of finger pointing. It didn’t happen here, not one time during the whole year, with the exception of one player in a private conversation. After the Denver game I made a point. I put up 15 scores by other teams. The lead team was the Dallas Cowboys against the Patriots and the score is 48–27. Then I put up Jacksonville, who lost to New Orleans. Drew Brees threw for 475 yards. The point I was making, we lost to Denver and played bad. We didn’t play well at all. But I was not going to allow what happened in 05 and 06, to have two bad games.
So this was the way to get through it. One player after the meeting said, Gun, can I talk to you. He said you know, the scores you put up there — this guy’s real smart, he plays for us on defense, he’s a defensive back, he’s brilliant — he said all those offenses scored a lot of points in those games, the ones that lost. That’s the only time I’ve ever heard a cross reference to we’re not scoring, therefore how do you expect us to do this? I will tell you his name, his name was Jarrad Page.
I said Jarrad, come here, and I grabbed him by the neck. I said under no condition do you breath one word of what you just said. I’m not stupid, I know what the scores are, I know what happened in those games. He said, I just wanted you to know if we had scored, we might have had a chance in that game. That tells you about the character in the room of the defensive players. There are very few free agents left on that defense and there are going to very few left after March 1st.
So what Herm’s trying to do is do that with the whole team. This is what I talked to him about. I said Herm, you need to get the message out that what you’re trying to do is start it on defense, which takes you into the special teams deal. Since I’ve been here we could not cover a punt or a kickoff. This year, we covered punts and we covered kickoffs. Now there were some breakouts, the Chicago game, there were a couple of returns for 20 yards on punts, but for the most part you saw defensive players on those teams going down, which means the back end of the defense got stronger. Those new players we brought in got stronger.”
YOUNG CHIEFS WITH LOYALTY — Part 1 Turk and Tank
“Coaches and personnel people are exactly like you all are and my wife is and my son is and every fan in town. You draft a guy in the second round he’s supposed to get 10 sacks or he’s not very good — Turk McBride. The next guy you draft in the third round, well he didn’t get 10 sacks, so he’s not very good. The way I personally try to do it on defense, you give people room to grow.
There’s an owner in the NFL that taught me a lot. I will definitely not mention his name because I really have some hard feelings, but he always said Gun, it takes three years. OK, Mr. Davis. I told you I wouldn’t mention his name, but he was right. It takes time to learn to play this game. We were really lucky on defense. We found Alfonso Boone and Ron Edwards. That didn’t up-tempo getting the young players on the field.
If you ever want to watch a game on Turk McBride, watch the Detroit game. He and Jimmy Wilkerson rushed the passer inside and I went damn, this is what we’re looking for. The future. That’s why I kept pushing the young guys and one of the coaches, I was worried he was about this close to hanging me up on a flagpole upside down, and that was the line coach. I just kept pushing and pushing, keep coaching them, get them better. Don’t care about what happens, just keep getting your guys better.
So in the Detroit game, the night before, I ride up the elevator with Turk McBride, and I looked at him and said Turk, you’re figuring this thing out. He turned around and said Gun, it’s a process. Herm and I use that word all the time. Process. He said and I said, he’s getting it.
Tank Tyler, after yesterday, we’re dissecting the defense, ripping ourselves, everything, we’re breaking it down. After yesterday’s meeting I said, Tamba Hali, Jarrad, either way — the third best guy I saw today was Tank Tyler. I said it’s no contest, he’s the best run defender on first and second down. They all looked at me and I said let’s watch the tape again. When he plays in there he’s just devastating. That guard has no chance. He’s just killing him. Where he needs to make a step is in his pass rush.
But that all being said, we have had the ability this year, in certain spots, to let the young guys grow. In the past, it was always put Tamba Hali out there. Tamba Hali missed five sacks, clean. He has the guy wrapped and somehow he misses him. He has 8.5 sacks, he gets those five, then what do people say? The other thing is, he plays on the left side. 85 percent of the time the tight end with a right handed quarterback is on your left, offense’s right. To rush the passer from a head up position is really, really hard. He had 8.5 sacks this year.
The two defensive linemen. The point I was trying to make about those guys, it’s the first time since I’ve been back here to let them go, keep the pressure off them. As they started playing more and more at the end of the year, you saw the growth. We’ve got a shot now. They’re going to be OK. They had a chance to really get into this to learn the nuances of the game.
I remember one game here (Tennessee), I looked down at Tank Tyler and I thought OMG he knows. He knows he’s stronger than anybody they’ve got. I just felt so good for him. That body language tells you a lot of things about where the guy is. He doesn’t have to say anything, you can just feel it.
With the Turk comment, going up the elevator, he said Gun — no, he never would call me Gun, he’s scared to death. He always says coach — it’s a process. When he said that, it was a hit. In the Jets game, seven players asked for personal meetings in the offseason.
With Turk and Tank, they started off a little slower, but as the season went on, and we’re looking at the cutups now, damn. Turk had some mechanical problems. The other issue that hurt him is we had to prepare him as a defensive end. We knew Jimmy could go out there because he can play about anything, including real well on special teams. So we’re playing him out there and we try to get him inside to help us on the rush as a tackle, so that kind of set him back because we had to use him in two spots early.
Later on in the year he became the third-down, inside rusher. We believe he can carry about 280. If he can, then he really plays well fundamentally inside against the run on first and second down.”
YOUNG CHIEFS WITH LOYALTY — Part 2 Pollard and Page
“One of the other things that came up, people said Bernard Pollard did this and this guy did this. We made a decision last offseason, and this is the process we’re going through now. We talked about Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page. I said it was ten years ago, exactly, this same discussion came up with Jerome Woods and Reggie Tongue. I said screw it, we’re playing them. I don’t care. We’re going to live with their mistakes but we’re talking about down the road.
What’s going to happen if we go through this. What’s going to happen if Bernard Pollard plays and Page plays and year three hits. Where are we going to be, or are we going to sit them on the bench? I talked to Herm about it, he gave me his blessings and I said we’re going to live with the mistakes and we’re going to go. Well, Bernard made some mistakes and Jarrad really played 15 darn good games. He had a tough game against Tennessee because he pulled his hamstring the first half and didn’t tell anybody. So he gives up a couple touchdowns. When you give up a touchdown everyone in the world knows because you’re the only one there. The closest guy gets all the blame.
But I still think we made the right decision. No, I know we made the right decision. I am very excited to see those guys a year from now, when they know how to fit. Bernard is different from Jarrad, who was an outstanding baseball player. Some of the instincts you see him playing centerfield with, he has that feel for the fly ball. Football is the same, the only thing is the quarterback throws it instead of using the bat.
Bernard came out as a junior. Nobody talks about that. Emotionally he’s not there. The maturity level is not there. These guys grow at different levels. I always kid him when he makes a mistake and I go, well I learned that about two years ago. He looks at me like I’m crazy and I say it takes time to grow up. It just took me longer than most guys.
He’s a very physical, strong-bodied player and he can run. Sometimes when you make a mistake you look a little slower, and that’s a lack of anticipation about the defense and how to fit. Those are the things we’re going through, but I could go through all kinds of things statistically this year. I always talk about turning the clock back.
First of all I’m not God. I can’t put my hands on someone and fix them. I’m a ditchdigger. I take a shovel and I dig and I put it in the wheelbarrow and empty it and start all over. So when I saw the condition of this defense, I knew what had to happen and it was going to be a process.
So, when 2004 ended, I knew what had to be done. There was no foundation. Donnie Edwards said Gun, when he coaches us, he gives us a plan, then the material to build the house right. What the process has been on this defense is to turn back to those ten years in the 80s and through the 90s. What that team had is Chiefs. They were Kansas City guys, they played for this football team with all the passion in the world and all those fans stood up every time we took the field. That’ll be the happiest day of my life when I see that.
The whole deal was — Chiefs. Pros. Get the young guys better. That was the thrust at the end of the year. When those seven guys walked up to me prior to the Jets game and asked for help, I went, damn. They’ve got it.
The progress we’re trying to make is that. To build a team, to build a defense and not have it be a one year deal.”