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COMMENTARY

Chiefs Shouldn't Overreact to Underachievement

November 28, 1998|DAN POMPEI | THE SPORTING NEWS

Along the way to fulfilling The Sporting News' predictions of an AFC championship (ahem), it seems the Chiefs have encountered an unexpected bump or two in the road.

And a pothole or two. And a broken bottle or two. And a slick spot or two.

Simply put, they have careened out of control, losing six consecutive games. And they have lost their dignity, their composure, their strongside linebacker and their ability to move the football as well.

It's a mess, but the worst thing the Chiefs could do is panic. That's how confused bucks on the side of the road become hood ornaments. The Chiefs were a good team coming out of training camp, and they can be a good team again next year with patience, a revision or two, and better health (they have been without at least three starters because of injuries in every game).

Fire Marty Schottenheimer, you say? Helloooo... You don't improve a team by getting rid of a coach who hasn't had a losing record in 14 previous seasons. Of course, the Chiefs could hire a better coach -- good luck. Any suggestions? Proven, available coaches? Mike Holmgren? He's good, but what if they can't get him? Then what?

In most circumstances, not winning a Super Bowl doesn't mean the coach has failed. Some coaches in the league may have squeezed more juice out of a season than Schottenheimer, but only Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells, Mike Shanahan and Mike Ditka have what Schottenheimer doesn't -- a Super Bowl ring. It's probable that none of those men could have won a Super Bowl as coach of the Chiefs in the last decade. So many things have to fall just right for a team to go all the way, and a lot of it is beyond the control of the coach, the general manager, the quarterback or anyone else with less pull than The Almighty.

It also is folly to suggest that quarterback Elvis Grbac be jettisoned, though he is probably more responsible for the Chiefs' underachievement than anyone. As with Schottenheimer, the dilemma is the same: Who are you going to get who is better? Coming out of training camp, Chiefs coaches and personnel people were convinced Grbac was the best player on their roster. And Schottenheimer is convinced Grbac can recapture what he has lost.

Now, if the Chiefs find themselves in the unlikely position to draft a quarterback who they think can't miss, they should do it. But Grbac is only in his second year as a starter. After Brett Favre's second season as a starter, the Chicken Littles were saying the Packers should give up on him, too.

What the Chiefs need most is the same thing they needed in August: a running back. They were mistaken in thinking they could run the ball without a premium runner. It was a decision that sent ripples through the season.

Because the Chiefs couldn't run the ball effectively, they had to throw it, and figured they could with Grbac, the player they were so high on. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's new playbook was full of exciting ways to throw downfield.

But Grbac was injured in the first game of the season. As soon as he came back, he was expected to carry the team. In the four games he started after his return, the Chiefs threw an impossible 65 percent of the time. If the Chiefs could have run the ball effectively, they could have stayed with opponents and taken pressure off Grbac. Instead, they found themselves futilely chasing leads and committing turnover after turnover.

With each interception, Grbac's confidence waned. When he was throwing balls on the money, players like Tony Gonzalez and Derrick Alexander were letting them slip through their hands (they had 11 drops between them before Sunday). By the time Grbac was benched after a loss to the Seahawks on Nov. 8, he was clearly incapable of getting the ball downfield. And the offense was playing with no rhythm.

Grbac's slump ruined the Chiefs. Schottenheimer had expected Grbac and injured guard Dave Szott to fill the leadership void created by the retirement of Marcus Allen. Instead, the void was filled by the linebacker duo of Wayne Simmons and Derrick Thomas, they of the Monday night personal fouls.

Thomas, for all his sacks and charity work, is considered by some to be a me-first guy. A descending player at 31, he has not helped make the Chiefs better after the first game of the year. The Chiefs may have gotten more out of Thomas if they had signed free-agent defensive end Dan Williams, who is sitting at home in a salary dispute. Williams had a team-high 10 1/2 sacks last season. The Chiefs have not replaced Williams' quickness off the ball, and that is another mistake that needs rectifying.

Simmons, reputed to be a nocturnal sort, was a loud presence in the locker room but barely visible on the field. But he wasn't cut mostly because of performance. No player goes from being a starter to not good enough for a roster spot in one game.

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