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Former Kansas City Chiefs Coach Marty Schottenheimer Dies

Head coach Marty Schottenheimer of the Kansas City Chiefs, is shown wearing a headset on the sidelines during the AFC Wildcard Playoff game against the Miami Dolphins in Miami, Fla., Jan. 5, 1991. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/AP
Head coach Marty Schottenheimer of the Kansas City Chiefs, is shown wearing a headset on the sidelines during the AFC Wildcard Playoff game against the Miami Dolphins in Miami, Fla., Jan. 5, 1991. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Marty Schottenheimer holds the NFL record for most games won without getting to the Super Bowl.

Former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer died today at the age of 77. With more than 100 wins in ten seasons (101-58-1) with the Chiefs, Schottenheimer is the team’s all-time leader in coaching victories. But there was constantly one question that hovered over his career: For all the success Marty Schottenheimer enjoyed during the regular season, what prevented him from taking any of the teams he coached to the Super Bowl?

To trace the fundamental answer, you need to go back to Schottenheimer’s professional playing career that started in 1965. He was a linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. Long-time Kansas City sportswriter writer Bob Gretz says that’s
where the philosophy known as “Marty Ball” began.

“Marty’s stamp as a coach will start with defense, but also you can’t forget the running game,” said Gretz. “He believed in old-school football. You go out and hit them and they hit you. Whoever hits them the hardest wins.”

Schottenheimer's playbook

One of Schottenheimer’s coaching principals was “one play at a time,” which dates back to a game he played in against the New York Jets. When Jets quarterback Joe Namath tried to run out of a pass formation, Schottenheimer
explained what happened, “As he (Namath) came toward me, my only objective was to try to knock his head off. As I went for him, Joe put a little move on me. I ended diving on the ground and missed the tackle.”

Schottenheimer said he felt embarrassed. So much so, it bothered him through the next several plays that resulted in a Jets drive for a touchdown.

He added, “I remember at the point thinking, ‘You can’t let those things happen to you.’ The one-play-at-a-time concept has been something borne of that.”

Schottenheimer retired as a player in 1971 and went into the real estate business until the mid-1970s when he bounced around as an assistant coach. His first head coaching job came in Cleveland in 1984, then he became the Chiefs head coach in 1989. Schottenheimer molded teams to fit his style, but he said it went beyond that.

“Work harder. Prepare better. You have to put yourself in a position to where you pay attention to all the details,” Schottenheimer said during one of his weekly news conferences with the Kansas City media. “If you do that, if in fact you’re not one of the one, two or three best teams in the league, you’re going to end up with an opportunity to achieve your ambition.”

Pro Football Hall of Famer Will Shields said Schottenheimer took it upon himself, instead of leaving it to his assistant coaches, to excel at motivating his players.

Shields said, “Very good at being an orator of what he we was trying to get said or conveyed. He would do it himself. He would basically go, ‘This is how we do it. This is how we win. This is where we go.’”

It appeared that the Chiefs were ready to achieve that ambition in 1995 when they finished the regular season with a 13-3 record. They had all the pieces.

Except for a good placekicker.

But the Chiefs lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 10-7, in the playoffs on a frigid afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. Two years later, the Chiefs were 13-3 with a playoff game at home. Again. Against the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs lost,
14-10. Again.

It happened in Cleveland and Kansas City—potential Super Bowl seasons coming to an untimely finish.

At that point with only five wins in 16 playoff games, even Marty Schottenheimer started questioning why his teams lacked success.

“One thing that was obvious is that in these games you better make some plays at the right time because, as I looked at those 16 games, seven of the 16 were decided by three points or less.,” he said.

Jeffrey Flanagan, who collaborated with Schottenheimer on his biography, said Schottenheimer felt in retrospect that there was too much blame on his teams that lost and not enough credit to the teams that beat his to go to the Super

“We all tend to look at sports and when something bad happens, ‘Oh, poor us.’ On the other side, someone’s having a great time because they won,” said Flanagan. “Through all this agony that’s how he was able to process it.”

On the eve of the 1998 season, Chiefs president and general manager Carl Peterson told Chiefs supporters he was standing by Schottenheimer. Peterson said at Kansas City’s annual downtown chamber luncheon for the Chiefs, “This
guy will keep knocking on the door and knocking on the door. That door is going to open pretty damn soon.”

With that, the banquet room broke out in applause. But that proverbial door never opened. After the ’98 season, his only losing season in Kansas City (7-9), Schottenheimer stepped down.

Sportswriter Bob Gretz says the Schottenheimer era in Kansas City should be revered. “He was part, along with Carl Peterson and many others, of completely changing the dynamic of the Kansas City Chiefs.”

After Kansas City, Schottenheimer coached the Washington Redskins for one season and San Diego Chargers for five. In the fall of 2016 the Schottenheimer family disclosed publicly that Marty Schottenheimer was going through an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease.


Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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