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Al Saunders is a snake


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Saunders a legend in the media’s mind


Breaking news: Al Saunders did not invent the game of football.

This news, I’m sure, will shock many of my media brethren here in Kansas City, particularly those who earn a living hosting radio shows.

Saunders, however, did perfect the art of making insecure media members feel like they’re the next Howard Cosell. Saunders scored more points with members of the media than the Chiefs did on the football field during Saunders’ tenure as offensive coordinator.

Saunders returned every phone call, made love to every microphone put in his face, swapped locker-room hugs with Karen Kornacki, acted interested in Jack Harry’s ticket- and parking-prices rants, shared conspiracy theories with the New Don Fortune, counseled The Freak Renshaw during a meltdown, memorized the name of Neal St. Davey B. Franz and offered me dieting tips.

Saunders worked the media. And judging by the drastic overreaction to his departure, he accomplished his goal. He convinced members of the media that the Chiefs absolutely cannot play football without him.

Unfortunately for Saunders, he’s having a much harder time convincing NFL general managers and owners that he’s God’s gift to football.

There’s a reason that there were 10 NFL head-coaching jobs available, and Raiders owner Al Davis was the only man to pretend to be significantly interested in Saunders. The reason has nothing to do with Saunders’ age (59) or his rocky relationship with Carl Peterson.

Around the league, Saunders is known as a climber, a self-promoter, a snake. The labels have stuck with him since his days as head coach in San Diego, where reporters there contend Saunders used insecure media puppets to back-stab Don Coryell to get the Chargers job.

So I’m not surprised that Saunders is on his way to our nation’s capital to lead Joe Gibbs’ offense while sources claim that Peterson promised Saunders the head-coaching position here. Oh, and what a twist, Saunders, a reporter’s best friend, is shockingly unavailable for comment.

Yeah, when I learned that Saunders was inside Arrowhead Stadium on Friday, I made a special trip to Arrowhead to question him about Peterson’s alleged promise. I left a message on Saunders’ voice mail. I haven’t heard from him.

Not only did I want to know about Peterson’s promise, but I wanted to hear Saunders explain why nearly a third of the NFL’s teams took a look at his stellar resume and hired 30-year-old kids. Now, keep in mind, I’m someone who believed — until this messy departure from KC — Saunders was worthy of getting a second crack as a head coach.

But this messy departure says a lot about Saunders. Consider that the St. Louis Rams didn’t even grant Saunders an interview for their vacant head-coaching position. The Rams, despite pleas from Dick Vermeil, first pursued defensive-minded Gregg Williams and then changed course and hired Dolphins offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

The evil and allegedly reneging Carl Peterson does not run the Rams franchise. He has no pull in St. Louis. John Shaw, the president of the Rams, knows Al Saunders quite well. Saunders worked in St. Louis with Vermeil and Mike Martz. Saunders couldn’t get an interview. That’s telling.

While Saunders has no problem connecting with star-struck members of the media, his connections with football folks aren’t nearly as strong.

A week ago, long before there was a strong hint that Mike Solari would replace Saunders as offensive coordinator, a low-level member of the Chiefs family and a Saunders fan told me a revealing story.

During training camp, Vermeil singled out an assistant coach to speak to the team each night. The assistants were rather competitive about the speeches. They put a great deal of thought into connecting with the team.

My details may be a little sketchy, but the overall point is accurate. Saunders talked with the team about growing up with an illness (polio) that could be helped by daily swimming. Saunders said his dad took a job at a location that had a swimming pool so that Al could swim every day. Al said he swam every day to save his own life, and that’s how he wanted the team to approach the season.

The person who told me this story said he was very touched by Al’s story and was surprised when he found players chuckling about Saunders’ story when the meeting broke up.

“They thought it was made up or exaggerated,” he told me.

When it was Solari’s day to speak, he showed a movie clip — I believe from Clint Eastwood — of a bunch of guys taking turns pounding a huge rock with sledgehammers. Solari said that’s how he wanted the team to approach the season.

“We gotta pound that rock.”

The players repeated Solari’s theme throughout the season. In this instance, Solari connected and Saunders didn’t.

Solari is quiet. He’s one of the most respected coaches in the league, but he totally avoids the spotlight. He pounds the rock year round and leads the strongest aspect of the Chiefs franchise — the offensive line. No disrespect to Saunders, but the play of the Big Willies — Willie, Will, Waters, Wiegmann and Welbourn — has been far more impressive and effective than KC’s play-calling or game planning.

Furthermore, Herman Edwards would be foolish if he failed to adjust Saunders’ record-setting, playoff-winless offense. You have to adjust for Larry Johnson’s talents. You have to adjust so that your all-world tight end, Tony Gonzalez, is a bigger threat in the red zone. You have to adjust because Trent Green will be 36 next season.

I hope Saunders enjoys success in Washington. Gregg Williams, Gibbs’ heir apparent, should watch his back. Washington owner Dan Snyder falls in love easily, and you can bet Saunders will tell Snyder everything he wants to hear.

As for things here, call me when the Chiefs players express outrage about Saunders’ departure. Edwards would’ve been stupid to retain Saunders as offensive coordinator. You don’t keep a guy on the assistant-coaching staff who openly believes he should be the head coach unless the players love him the way the Chicago Bears loved Buddy Ryan.

Those of us in the media don’t suit up. Our love of Saunders is irrelevant.

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