AP Interview: Chiefs owner Clark Hunt planning hands-off approach

RIVER FALLS, Wis. (AP) -The youngest owner in the National Football League never draws up plays on cocktail napkins.

Clark Hunt, who quietly projects that same mild-mannered everyman quality that people admired so much in his late father, intends to make his presence felt in other ways.

"I don't plan to get involved in player personnel decisions," the 42-year-old son of the founder of the Kansas City Chiefs said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"But I am keenly interested in the strategy that we're using to build the football team over a three- and five-year period. I feel a responsibility to help us win the trophy that has my dad's name on it and get us to the Super Bowl."

Since the death of Lamar Hunt last December, Clark has been slowly - and in some ways reluctantly - stepping into a more visible role in the team's day-to-day operations. He, his sister and two brothers inherited equal shares of their father's vast estate, which includes real estate holdings, financial services and other sports properties. But as chairman of the board, Clark is the only one of Lamar's children taking an active role in running the family's most famous asset.

"Being the public face of the team, if you will, is a major change and something I'm adapting to," he said during a lunch break at the Chiefs' training camp.

Clark Hunt played football in high school but does not pretend to be an expert in the strategic nuances of the game. He said he will leave the coaching to Herm Edwards and the day-to-day operation of the front office to general manager Carl Peterson.

Still, Chiefs officials who have worked with him on various projects describe the son of the founder of the AFL as a quick study who rarely requires a second explanation. A two-time winner of Southern Methodist University's highest academic honor, he graduated in 1987 first in his class.

"Anyone who has ever known Clark Hunt will tell you this is a very, very bright guy," said Peterson. "The apple did not fall far from the tree."

After his father began taking him to owners meetings a few years ago, Hunt gained enough respect to be appointed to the small search committee that helped select Roger Goodell as commissioner.

Nevertheless, NFL ownership meetings can be daunting.

"The first time I was in that room by myself, it was a little bit scary," Hunt said with a grin. "I am the youngest owner by a few months. There's nothing that prepares you to walk into an NFL owners meeting and get up for the first time and speak. It's pretty intimidating."

Working behind the scenes back home, Hunt has been heavily involved in planning the $250 million renovation of Arrowhead Stadium. He also has been keeping an eye on the ongoing contract dispute with Pro Bowl running back and training camp holdout Larry Johnson, who is asking for guaranteed money in the $28 million range.

"I won't be involved at all in the negotiations," Hunt said. "Certainly, the financial parameters that will be involved in that negotiation from our side is something Carl will clear with me before making that commitment. But I leave the decisions on who to sign and when to sign up to Carl and (assistant general manager Denny Thum) and the coaching staff."

The management rules his father laid down, however, remain in place. For example, Peterson must consult with Clark before trading any first-round draft choice.

"We have exactly the same understanding with Carl that he had with my father," Hunt said.

As part of the passing of the torch, Hunt addressed the players when they arrived in camp.

"I wanted them to know that even though my father has passed, our family cares deeply about the organization and the team," he said. "I shared a few goals with them in terms of our community involvement, our goal for success on the field."

While being the son of a famous and fabulously wealthy father certainly has its high points, there are possible downsides for a young man seeking his own identity.

At his funeral last December, Goodell referred to Lamar Hunt as "one of the greatest leaders and innovators in the history of sports."

That's quite a legacy for any son to live up to.

"I was thinking about that today," Hunt said. "I think probably every son thinks that he's different than his father, right? But I keep having people tell me, `You're so much like your dad.'

"I don't know if I necessarily believe it. But I'm glad people have that perception because what better role model could you have? He was the best."

"The best advice I ever got was be your own man. I'm not real worried about measuring up to him because I don't think it's possible in many ways."

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