During the past 22 years, thousands of players have passed through the locker room at Arrowhead. Some have since headed for Canton, while others were only here for a workout or tryout. While some people have trouble remembering each name, Mike Davidson can recall them all.
The longest-tenured member of the Chiefs football staff announced his retirement this week. Equipment manager Mike Davidson personally worked with every member of Kansas City’s football operations since 1989.
Sleds, cones, footballs and bags - they were always in place long before any coach reached the practice field. When players arrived before sunrise for an early workout, their gear was clean and waiting in the same exact place.
Davidson was behind moving the team’s entire headquarters, including the weight room, 500 miles north to River Falls, Wisconsin for 19 straight summers. He transported the Chiefs locker room to and from all road games – 230 in total, including road trips to Berlin, Tokyo and Mexico.
He was also a student of the game – always working to stay informed of the rapid advances in technology, and updated safety equipment for players accordingly.
Marty Schottenheimer first brought Davidson to Kansas City from Cleveland, where the two had worked together within the Browns organization. An Ohio native, Davidson served as an assistant equipment manager for five seasons for his hometown team before Schottenheimer offered Davidson a chance to run the show in Kansas City.
That was the beginning of a bond that has never wavered.
Just last month, when Schottenheimer was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame, he made sure that Davidson had a space reserved at the VIP induction dinner. But it wasn’t only Schottenheimer that appreciated Davidson.
Davidson has an effective way of serving that hasn’t failed to impress a single head coach in Kansas City. In the football operations business, 22 years in one place represents an incredible tenure. Most just don’t last that long in one place.
But Davidson is a different breed. Those who know him aren’t surprised that five different head coaches opted to retain his services when they arrived in Kansas City. Word travels quickly in NFL circles and Davidson is among the league’s most respected at his craft.
Managing equipment is often times a thankless job, but serving others was Davidson’s calling. While he may have preferred that his contributions stay behind the scenes, Davidson did things in a way that people couldn’t help but admire.
He’s just that type of person. Words like loyalty, integrity and honesty come to mind when peers aim to describe Davidson. So does consistency.
“He can tell me what I did nine years ago to the day,” said long-time assistant Allen Wright (pictured with Davidson above). “He can even tell me how many hours I worked that day. He charts everything. We still have size charts for every player and coach from Mike’s first season.”
Mike’s consistency carried over into the team operations. When the team travels, coaches’ and players’ lockers are in the same order as they are back in Kansas City. Davidson wants everything to feel familiar. Allowing coaches and players to prepare comfortably, and without distraction, was a priority he established.
It’s no coincidence that the Chiefs new training camp headquarters in St. Joseph, Missouri boasts replica version of the Chiefs everyday locker room. Davidson wanted it that way. The road had to feel like home.
Regardless of the head coach with whom he served, the goal was always the same. He wanted his staff to make the day-to-day operations of the football team run seamlessly. Everything was to look the same every day, almost as if Davidson’s staff never left.
In some cases, they didn’t.
West coast road trips often called for 4:00 AM exits. Davidson and the equipment team would return to the Chiefs Training Facility before players and coaches arrived the next morning. It was a detailed approach that formed mutual respect.
“In all my time here, I’ve never seen Mike get into a confrontation,” said Wright, who has been with Davidson throughout his tenure. “That’s saying a lot. You’re talking about 80 different personalities every year for over 20 years. It’s just the way he treated people. He’s the most loyal person I’ve ever met.”
When Davidson decided to retire, an important page turned in Chiefs history. Incredibly selfless, Davidson preferred an exit that included a handful of almost invisible goodbyes, followed by turning in his keys and walking out the door.
That kind of exit would not suit 22 years of late nights and early mornings.
On Thursday afternoon, Clark Hunt called together an all-staff meeting. Every member of the organization was on hand to hear from Hunt, GM Scott Pioli and President Mark Donovan. At the end of the meeting, Hunt said that he had something bittersweet to announce.
Mike Davidson was retiring.
“Our family and the Chiefs organization have been blessed over the last 22 seasons to work with the best equipment manager in the National Football League, and one of the finest employees in the history of the Chiefs,” Hunt said. “Mike is a man of tremendous character, diligence and humility, and he will be sincerely missed. We wish him all the best in his retirement.”
Davidson took the podium, spoke from the heart and brought tears to the eyes of fellow employees. He thanked the Hunt Family, spoke of the respect he had for Pioli and talked about the bright future that was ahead for the organization. Davidson also told stories about his staff and remembered Lamar Hunt as one of the most incredible men he’d ever encountered.
The meeting ended with every member of the Chiefs organization sending Davidson off with a standing ovation. Hunt also presented Davidson with a watch with a personal engraving on behalf of the Chiefs organization.
“Mike represents everything that we want our organization to be and everything that I envision about a championship culture,” Pioli said. “He is a gentleman and professional in every way. Beyond his professionalism, beyond his commitment and love for the Kansas City Chiefs – on a personal level for all who had the pleasure of working with him over the years – Mike will be dearly missed.”
There’s no questioning Davidson’s loyalty to the Chiefs. In many ways, he represented the very principles upon which Lamar Hunt founded the team.
“I just hope that I served the Hunt family well,” Davidson said.
What’s next for Davidson? He’s not quite sure. As shown by the crucifix that hangs from his necklace, Davidson is a man of faith. He said the he felt pulled by the Lord in his decision to retire - a choice that “has the Lord’s hands all over it.”
Davidson isn’t sure what he’ll do next. He just knows that he wants to help people.
That doesn’t come as any surprise.
Reflections: Five Head Coaches on Mike Davidson
Todd Haley (2009-present): “Mike is one of the most unique and special human beings that I’ve ever met. While I only had the opportunity to work with him for a short time, I am truly indebted to him for his many contributions to our football team. Mike was really one of the unsung heroes of our organization. He did a tough job, and did it with little fanfare, but was always genuinely grateful for the opportunity to help. Guys like Mike are hard to find. Mike was always about helping people, and that’s something I know won’t ever change.”
Herm Edwards (2006-08): “I can remember Mike when he first got there, I was in Kansas City, obviously he came from Cleveland with Marty (Schottenheimer), and you’re talking about a professional as far as handling that job with players, with coaches, doing the little things to make sure that when you walked on that field you represented that organization with a lot of pride. I know the Hunt family really appreciates what he’s done over his tenure there. He has a great tradition of training young guys who have moved on and have become head equipment guys with other organizations. That says a great deal about Mike and what he stands for. He was just a guy that will always be your friend. The players respected him, the way he handled the locker room was phenomenal and he was always a professional.”
Dick Vermeil (2001-05): “All I can say is, ‘thank you.’ Mike Davidson was one of our finest, most loyal employees in the Chiefs organization. No one gave more of himself for the good of the organization than Mike did. He is truly a special person.”
Gunther Cunningham (1999-00): “Mike is one of the finest people I’ve had the pleasure of working with during my many years in the NFL. He exemplifies everything Lamar Hunt stood for and everything the Chiefs stand for. To the Cunningham family, he will always be much more than an outstanding equipment manager. We will always be grateful to call him a dear friend.”
Marty Schottenheimer (1989-98): “I’ll tell you what, we go all the way back to Cleveland, Mike and I. He is in my view, the best of all the equipment guys that I had. I had a lot of great guys who worked in that role for us, but he was the best of all of them. He’s done the profession proud and I totally expect that whatever he moves on to, he’ll be very successful at that, as well.”