Schottenheimer for the Defense

The head coach's guiding philosophy

In a period of time where so much of the Chiefs' success has been attributed to offense, it is perhaps difficult to recall when defense ruled the day for the franchise.

The Kansas City Chiefs' coaches who followed Hank Stram were destined to repeat, with fervid embellishments, the bitter struggles of their predecessors but Marty Schottenheimer did not. His hiring as head coach in 1989 was blessed by built-in advantages of a solid staff already on board, and he could avoid the curse of high-expectations since fans at that time had adopted a wait-and-see attitude after so many years of disappointment.

Schottenheimer espoused a philosophy that in time became known as "Marty-ball," a pound-it-out ground game that was set to punish opponents especially in the cold days of late fall and winter in Kansas City.

Quarterback play continued to concern fans and improved ever so slightly during the 1990s, but it did not hold back the Chiefs' growth or keep them from winning as it had in the past.

Kansas City's defense was the reason.

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Schottenheimer's defensive units in Kansas City were among the best in his career as a head coach. He had from the start one of the emerging defensive coordinators of the period in Bill Cowher, who would one day be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but make no mistake, the head coach sat in on strategy sessions that were conducted on Tuesdays as the team prepared for the next week's opponent. He had say and together with Cowher, later with Dave Adolph and with Gunther Cunningham, the defense had common characteristics that emerged as early as 1989, his first year in Kansas City.

Kansas City was stout against the run while retaining its reputation as one of the better defensive backfields.

The Chiefs led the AFC in 1989 and were second in the entire NFL in total defense, the franchise's best mark since 1969. Only three teams gained over 300 total yards and only one quarterback threw for more than 300 yards that first season.

Toughness was more than talk to Schottenheimer. It was the byproduct of the customs and routines he cultivated in building his team. He had heard the rumors that had circulated around the AFC West for some time: the Chiefs were "soft", you could push them around.

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One play comes to mind that best encapsulates the changing face of the Chiefs' defense, one that was perfectly legal and that brought agreeable nods from assistant coaches sitting high in the press box one afternoon in San Diego in 1990.

Percy Snow, the team's number one pick that year, put a hit on a Chargers' ball carrier driving him into the ground — and eventually off the field — signaling that going forward this Chiefs' defense was different, a force to be reckoned with not only in the division but in the entire NFL.

Schottenheimer's defenses were adept at taking the ball away through sacks interceptions, recovered fumbles, blocked kicks — any of the ways possible. By 1990, his defense led the league in sacks (60), fumbles recovered (25) and takeaways (45). It set franchise records that year in both sacks and fumble recoveries.

In just two seasons, the Chiefs were back as a contending force in the National Football League and it would continue to enjoy that reputation for more than a decade.

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