In 36 years, Denny Thum worked for only one organization, the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1974 he graduated from KC-based Rockhurst College and took a job as an accountant with the team. Rising through the franchise ranks, Thum was named Chief Operating Officer in May 2006, interim team president in December 2008 and team president in May 2009.
(Clockwise from left: Denny Thum, Clark Hunt, Scott Pioli)
Then, two weeks ago, after the club’s biggest win in years in a gleaming, newly-renovated Arrowhead Stadium, Thum abruptly, and quietly, resigned.
Former longtime Chiefs beat writer Rick Gosselin wrote a most appropriate obit of Thum’s decorated tenure with the team in the DALLAS MORNING NEWS:
The Kansas City Chiefs dumped club president Denny Thum unceremoniously this month after a 36-year stay with the team. I covered the Chiefs from 1977-89, and Thum taught me the financial side of the NFL. He was the best contract negotiator I’ve ever seen. He also was a loyal employee to Hall of Fame owner Lamar Hunt through good times and bad.
But Thum’s problem was he was inherited by a new owner (Clark Hunt), new general manager (Scott Pioli) and new chief operating officer (Mark Donovan). So the new wave ushered him to the door. Thum deserved better treatment.
The Chiefs have no idea right now how much they are going to miss his expertise in so many areas. Thum won’t be out of work long.
The timing of Thum’s departure, though strange on the surface, actually makes sense once you dig into the details of the Chiefs’ office politics.
Thum’s fate was ultimately sealed 19 months ago, when Hunt announced that Pioli would take over for Thum as the team’s player contract negotiator.
Though no longer involved in player payroll, Thum did oversee the $375 million renovation of Arrowhead Stadium, with the culmination of the project the recent Sept. 13 home game against the Chargers - two days before Thum resigned.
Without a role in player contract negotiations, the renovations of Arrowhead realized and the framework of the club’s new training camp digs in St. Joseph, Missouri, in place, Thum’s influence in the organization going forward already figured to decline. But there was at least one factor that expedited his ouster.
From the moment he arrived with the Chiefs as GM, I’ve been told that Pioli was determined to obtain complete control over virtually every facet of the organization. He couldn’t prevail upon Hunt to give him absolute power last season with his on-field product in the toilet and Thum-led Arrowheard renovations in full swing.
But the moment the stadium redo was done and the Chiefs showed a brief flicker of promise on the field, Hunt forced Thum off the job and handed over all meaningful franchise matters to Pioli.
It didn’t help Thum that he was the last significant remnant of the dark ages most Chiefs fans associate with Carl Peterson. But the team’s non-performance on the field over the years had nothing to do with Thum and he played a crucial role in helping the Chiefs keep up appearances with the media, league and players during the final, ugly years of Peterson’s tenure.
Apparently that, unwavering loyalty to Hunt’s father Lamar - and the organization over 36 years - couldn’t save Thum in the face of Pioli’s power grab.
As Gosselin said, Thum won’t be out of work for long.
Last weekend I was told by two independent sources that Thum is a candidate for the vacant athletic director position at the University of Kansas. After the unmitigated disaster wrought by Lew Perkins, KU would be extremely fortunate to land a seasoned athletic administrator like Thum.
As a KC native and Chiefs fan myself, I’ll be the first to cheer if Pioli can bring a championship team to the city. But if he doesn’t, without Thum, Hunt better be prepared to take the shots that Thum was so experienced in standing up to.