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QB Series Chapter 26: The Essence of Leadership Part II

Posted Dec 3, 2015

"He’s the real deal” - Len Dawson

This is another in a season-long series on the Kansas City Chiefs search for a franchise quarterback. It appears weekly on Thursdays throughout the 2015 season.

SEE ALL PAST CHAPTERS HERE




It had been 26 years between Len Dawson’s retirement in KC and Trent Green’s arrival there. Much had happened in the interim, particularly at the quarterback position and not all of it pleasant. 

While never reaching levels of idolatry that the public fostered on Derrick Thomas, Green enjoyed the benefit of directing the offense, the side of the ball that fans find more attractive, as studies have shown. 

While he fit the idea of a “manager” of Vermeil’s offense, he was far more confident, skilled and possessed qualities of leadership that separated him from others who were attained or retained to run an offense in Kansas City.

The media originally found Green a sympathetic figure, even though his qualifications for an NFL starting quarterback were meagre.  “He’s personable, funny, charming, a family guy,” wrote one columnist.  “He’s a Midwestern guy, a Missouri guy, a guy who won’t rip the restaurants or his teammates.”  To the homefolks, a good first step.

Green, pictured with fellow QB’s Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle, was a respected leader

But while his teammates had spoken well of previous quarterbacks, as we have seen when discussing Steve Bono’s, Elvis Grbac’s and Joe Montana’s time in Kansas City, it was nothing close to how they felt about Green.

Unlike some of his predecessors, he could never be accused of being a weak man masquerading as a strong one.

“He’s kind of a low-key guy, but when he steps in the huddle he has an authoritative way in that he knows what he wants to do and how to get it done,” observed Will Shields, an offensive lineman who had played with four of Green’s predecessors going back to 1993.

“He’s one of the guys you listen to,” said Eric Hicks, a defensive lineman.  “He automatically commands respect.”

“He was real patient,” believed Brian Waters, “he didn’t get frustrated with guys.”

“He’s an open, upbeat person,” noted Tony Gonzalez. “It carries over to the field.”

More importantly, Gonzalez said, “What Trent has is a quality of leadership that Elvis [Grbac] told you flat out was a role he didn’t want.”

Of course, no quarterback should accept the high responsibility to be his team’s leader unless he is willing to bear its burdens, and Green was.

“I’ve been around quarterbacks who have alienated themselves from the team,” Johnnie Morton, who had spent the bulk of his career in Detroit, remembered.  “Trent has good people skills, and that matters.  He’s easy to talk to.  If something goes wrong during a practice or a game, you can talk to him about it.” 

Green had “good people skills” and was “easy to talk to.”

From the day he arrived in Kansas City, Green recognized that it was the responsibility of the quarterback to mix with his teammates, all of them.

“I really enjoy the locker room dynamic,” he said.  “You get guys from all walks of life and the different age groups, [I like] everything about it.

“It wasn’t just offense/defense, it was everything,” recalled Tony Gonzalez on how Green approached his teammates.  “Things have always been kind of segregated around here in terms of offense and defense.” 

“There was something different about him,” Hicks recollected.  “As soon as he got here, he would come up to people and talk to them.” 

Waters identified that he “didn’t have a ‘me, me, me’ attitude. Sometimes the quarterbacks I’ve been around, they’re kind of stand-offish, kind of in their own world.  The pressure has kind of made them go off on their own.  Trent is not like that.”

Sentiments such as these only enhanced Green’s reputation. 

Green spent his off-seasons in Kansas City making himself accessible to his teammates, and the fan-base, too.  He was an early riser who came to the facility for conditioning and for video study.  He cheered the front office when they acquired needed defensive personnel.

How he would be accepted outside the offices was just as important, said Will Shields, who had blocked for Montana, Bono, Grbac, and Gannon and knew what any quarterback would face in Kansas City. “A lot depends not just on how he’s accepted internally,” he said.   

Green’s actions in front of the cameras and before the public were never exercises in manufactured celebrity.  They always sent the message that everyone was important in victories.

At the conclusion of the 2003 season at the city’s annual Banquet of 101, Green had occasion to speak on stage before a sold-out audience as he accepted the team’s MVP award, the first quarterback to receive that honor in 13 years. 

Standing on the dais, he took time to say that the team’s defense “didn’t have to shoulder the blame” for the Chiefs loss to the Colts in the playoff game just passed. Most people in the audience were surprised, this was an individual award after all.   

“The Chiefs lost to the Colts,” he said.  “That’s all of us,” he reiterated.   Of such gestures was Green’s leadership fashioned.  By them he endeared men to him.   

Perhaps the most important acknowledgement for who he was came from the man he would always be compared to:  Len Dawson.  Dawson, a man of few words off camera, said of Green, “He’s the real deal," no small acknowledgement from one who had seen so many of his successors fail.

That sentiment was echoed by Lamar Hunt, who sadly had seen so many quarterbacks come and go in Kansas City.

“Trent got us to a level of respectability,” Hunt said.  “We’ve had some draft picks that were extremely well thought of, but they didn’t pan out the way Trent did.” 




Next time: The transition

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