Chiefs face off-season of discontent

On the NFL

December 29, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

A year ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were in the catbird seat.

They took the NFL's best record (13-3) into the playoffs and had a home-field ticket to the Super Bowl.

It all fell apart when they were stunned by the Indianapolis Colts, 10-7, in their divisional playoff game. That started a free fall that left the Chiefs on the outside looking in for the playoffs this year: They went from 13-3 to 9-7 and now appear to be in turmoil.

It starts at the top, where general manager Carl Peterson has yet get a new contract to replace the one that expires at the end of next month. It's uncertain if Peterson simply wants more money or a change of scenery.

Quarterback Steve Bono, who appears to be on his way out, even though he has a year left on his contract, met with Peterson last week and said: "Carl needs to get his situation resolved. Everything will filter down from there."

Peterson said, "I want to stay."

Coach Marty Schottenheimer has a year left on his contract and there's much speculation that he could be interested in one of the NFL's many open jobs.

Schottenheimer said he'll be back. "I'm under contract to the Kansas City Chiefs. I expect to be here in 1997," he said.

It remains to be seen whether he actually will be.

Meanwhile, Schottenheimer said some of the veterans were lulled into complacency by the 13-3 season.

"I was not able to get some of these players to want to learn," he said. "What gave me the greatest difficulty was there were some players who said: 'I got it. I know what we're doing.' That troubles me. I'm unaccustomed to losing.

"But if I'm going down, I want to go down with every guy beside me and behind me with the same commitment to what we're trying to do. In the absence of that, nobody's sacred in my view."

Schottenheimer did not absolve himself of blame.

"We never became a true team," he said. "I failed, and that's what's disappointing to me. My effort was as good as it's ever been. But I don't get paid on effort. I get paid on results."

Then there's the quarterback problem. Bono was infuriated when he was benched for Rich Gannon. When Gannon was injured, they had to go back to Bono in Buffalo. Bono flopped, throwing two interceptions and fumbling.

"I don't know if I can come back, just because of the negativity that has surrounded me," Bono said.

That comment was unusual for him because he's usually quiet, but he said: "It's one of the few times in my life where I've needed to talk about things. I felt like I had to talk about it because it hurt too bad to keep inside."

He did say, however, "I'd be the first to say I didn't play well enough to take us to a championship."

But he said there were extenuating circumstances, including injuries to his receivers.

In any case, the Chiefs have to find a new quarterback. The best available is Jeff George, but he comes with a lot of baggage and is always a gamble.

The Chiefs may believe it's time to gamble.

Reeves may get his wish

After chafing the past four years with the New York Giants because he didn't have control of the organization, Dan Reeves may be on the verge of getting the job that will give him that power.

Now that Florida coach Steve Spurrier has pulled out of the running for the Atlanta Falcons' opening, Reeves seems to have a good shot at the job.

Taylor Smith, son of owner Rankin Smith, said, "I would like to see somebody come in here who is a strong, football-oriented guy -- whether he be a coach or whatever -- and have him be able to make the decisions to make us a football team."

Taylor wants to step back because his family has gotten so much flak for the Falcons' struggles the past three decades. Attendance averaged below 42,000.

Reeves is eager to get control.

"At this point in my life and career, I want a situation where I don't have to point fingers at somebody else if I don't get the job done," he said.

Smith may hire former San Francisco 49ers executive John McVay to run the front office so he can stay in the background, but the coach will be in charge.

The only problem is that it's uncertain whether Reeves is a good enough personnel man to get the job done. In Denver, he rode John Elway's arm to three Super Bowls but never got him a running game or a defense. His top draft picks included such busts as Ted Gregory and Tommy Maddox.

But Reeves may be a good fit in Atlanta because he's a Georgia native who could help sell tickets.

Sun Belt not fan belt

Remember when the NFL was zapping Baltimore in the expansion derby and saying the league already had enough teams in the northeast corridor.

Well, it turns out the five teams in the northeast corridor -- the Giants, Jets, Eagles, Ravens and Redskins -- played 40 home games and sold out 39 (the only nonsellout was the Eagles' final home game against the Cardinals, and that drew 63,658).

Meanwhile, in the southeast, where the NFL said it needed more teams, the Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had trouble selling tickets.

Time to cut the cards

The NFL just can't leave well enough alone.

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