In the history of the Kansas City Chiefs, there have been 11 different head coaches dating all the way back to the AFL. The success of these Chiefs head coaches has been few and far between for the most part.
The Chiefs started out their history as winners and a key reason for the success of the AFL and the eventual NFL merger. Then there were five different coaches during a 14-year span that could not compile a winning record.
There have been several head coaches who have looked like they had no idea what was going on, a few who have raised the expectations of Chiefs fans and one great coach that changed the game forever.
In this article, I will countdown the five greatest head coaches in Chiefs history.
Marv Levy is a Hall of Fame head coach, but not for the work that he did with the Kansas City Chiefs. After five very successful years coaching in the CFL, Levy returned to the NFL in December 1977 to coach the Chiefs.
When Levy joined the Chiefs, the team was at a low point, coming off a disastrous 2-12 season. With Levy’s leadership as head coach, the Chiefs improved year after year, posting a 4-12 record in 1978, followed by a 7-9 season in 1979, 8-8 in 1980 and 9-7 in 1981.
The 9-7 record in 1981 was the Chiefs' best finish since the 1973 season. In just four seasons, Levy had the slumping Chiefs franchise back in the playoff hunt.
Then the strike-shortened season of 1982 hit.
The Chiefs team that had been showing promise to turn around seemed to collapse. The 1982 season was ripped apart with player dissent and labor unrest. The season was shorted to nine games and the Chiefs finished with a disappointing 3-6 record which would lead to Levy being fired.
Gunther Cunningham has a long up-and-down history with the Kansas City Chiefs. Cunningham was the Chiefs defensive coordinator from 1995 to 1998. With Cunningham and players such as Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith and Dale Carter, the Chiefs defense flourished.
During Cunningham's three years as defensive coordinator, the Chiefs allowed the lowest number of points in the NFL, were consistently at the top of the league in scoring defense and even set a team record in 1997 by only allowing 232 points.
The Chiefs missed making the playoffs in 1998, which lead to then-head coach Marty Schottenheimer’s resignation. Cunningham was promptly promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach.
Cunningham's skills as a defensive coordinator did not translate to him being a successful head coach for the Chiefs. Cunningham went on to have two average seasons as the head coach, finishing with a .500 record.
Dick Vermeil might be one of the most emotionally invested head coaches of all time. The number of times that Vermeil teared up during his five seasons with the Chiefs is unknown, due to the fact that one would lose track trying to count.
Vermeil is one of the few people to have coached multiple NFL teams and never be fired. With the Eagles in 1982, the Rams in 1999 and the Chiefs in 2005, Vermeil was able to retire from each of his jobs. Every team Vermeil coached for had losing records when he arrived. Vermeil was able to take every one of those teams to at least one 10-win season and a playoff appearance.
With Vermeil as the head coach, the Chiefs offense flourished. For three-straight seasons from 2002-2004, the Chiefs had statistically the best offense in the NFL. In 2003, the Chiefs started the season 9–0 and finished with a 13–3 record, making the playoffs and winning the AFC West. Vermeil was named the Maxwell Football Club NFL Coach of the Year for his team’s performance that season.
Marty Schottenheimer and his elite defenses of the 90s helped bring football success back to the Kansas City Chiefs. Schottenheimer spent 10 seasons as head coach of the Chiefs from 1989 to 1998.
The term that will forever define Schottenheimer is “Marty Ball.” Schottenheimer is considered to be a very conservative coach with most of his focus on defense. Schottenheimer’s offensive philosophy was very simple: run the ball, pass only to further the run and then run the ball some more.
While with the Chiefs, Schottenheimer had a regular-season record of 101-58-1, giving him the highest winning percentage of any Chiefs coach in the history of the franchise. Although his playoff winning percentage was a miserable 30 percent, Schottenheimer led the Chiefs to three division titles, seven playoff appearances and a trip to the AFC championship game in 1993.
Hank Stram’s success as the Kansas City Chiefs head coach makes it hard to even consider anyone else for the title of greatest coach in franchise history. Stram had amazing success in both the AFL and the NFL, and is the only Chiefs coach to have a winning playoff record.
During the AFL’s 10-year history, Stram led the Texans/Chiefs to more wins and championships than any other AFL team. Stram was the only coach in AFL history to take his team to two Super Bowls, losing to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I and defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
Stram was the innovator of the two tight-end offense, the stack defense and the moving pocket. Stram was the first to wear a microphone on the sidelines. Stram was also one of the first coaches to recognize the importance of television to the NFL, frequently playing to the cameras.
During his time with the Texans/Chiefs, Stram became known as one of the best evaluators of talent and innovators of the game. Stram left the Chiefs after the 1971 season with two Coach of the Year honors, six AFL championships, and the one and only Super Bowl championship in franchise history.