View Full Version : Chiefs Gretz: The legend of Crash (Frank Ganz. Long read, but very good)

04-29-2009, 08:03 AM

April 28, 2009 - Bob Gretz |

The date on the yellowed clipping is torn, but it was from sometime in October of 1986. It’s a story I wrote for the Kansas City Star about then Chiefs special teams coach Frank Gansz.

Frank allowed me to sit in on a special teams meeting during the early part of that season. I got the chance to see what so many players had talked about over the years. There was nothing quite like going to a meeting where Crash Gansz had the floor.

In the dark of that meeting room, tape of a football game played on a large television screen. One team was kicking off, the other returning. The teams would meet in a series of violent collisions, replayed over and over with no sound.

No sound that is until the voice of Frank Gansz voice pierced the quiet.

“Men, look at this team cover this kick,” Gansz told the kick coverage team. “That’s mediocre coverage by that team. No one is taking risks. No one is trying to force the action. Napoleon once said if the art of war consisted of not taking risks, then the glory and winning would be in the hands of mediocre talent.

“Gentlemen, we do not want to be mediocre. We do not want to limit ourselves. Don’t put limits on me. I hate it. I don’t want somebody to call me mediocre.”

No one would ever call Frank Gansz mediocre. Some would look at his 8-22-1 record as the head coach of the Chiefs in 1987-88 and call him a bad coach. He was anything but, sabotaged in his one chance to be an NFL head coach by a players strike, injuries and some very poor personnel decisions by the front office.

Frank passed away on Monday in Dallas. He came out of retirement to coach the kicking game for June Jones at SMU last year and was preparing for year two with the Mustangs.

Let me get this on the record right now: I have a hard time being objective about Gansz. The happenstance of his career and my career pulled us together on and off the field and I got to know more about him than just about any coach that has ever crossed my path in over 30 years in the business.

The then Mrs. Gretz and Barbara Gansz were first cousins, separated by 20 years, who had never met each other until both moved to Kansas City in 1981. Gansz joined the coaching staff of Marv Levy to take over the Chiefs special teams. That same season, I arrived in Kansas City to work for the Kansas City Times & Star as a beat writer on the Chiefs. Our wives very quickly established family bonds and there was a lot of time spent with the Gansz family at their house at Lakewood.

Frank proved to be a valuable resource; something that all media people who ever spent time with him came to learn. He would take time to explain the nuances of the kicking game. He was a master at breaking down an opponent’s kick protection units and finding the chinks in the armor. Combine that with the athletic gifts of a guy like Albert Lewis and the Chiefs were the best kick and punt blockers in football.

The Ganszs left K.C. after the 1982 season when Levy and his staff were fired and there was great sadness in our house. When they returned in 1986 to join John Mackovic’s staff, there was great excitement. By that time I was no longer on day-to-day coverage of the team. I was writing columns and features. I saw more of Frank away from the stadium.

The Chiefs that season were an odd one. Mackovic was under the gun, given an ultimatum by Lamar Hunt after a very disappointing 6-10 season in 1985. Hunt wanted progress and everyone knew that meant a spot in the playoffs. Going into the ‘86 schedule the Chiefs had not made the post-season in the previous 14 seasons (1972 through 1985.)

Mackovic was encouraged to do two things going into that season: add Gansz to his coaching staff and make Walt Corey the team’s defensive coordinator. He did both and they paid off handsomely. Corey had his “Sic’em” defense and it was at times one of the best units in the league. Gansz not only had the kicking game humming all season, but he was the motivational coach, frequently speaking to the whole team.

Those times were part revival tent, motivational lecture and advanced instructional training in football. In a May mini-camp, he spoke to the team and quoted John Wooden, Chuck Yeager, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, Genghis Kahn and Jimmy Doolittle. He did a lot of this without notes, all of it planned out in his head. He would re-tell stories of battles and war from the pages of history and remember personal tales of his time at the Naval Academy and his time flying planes in the military.

The players loved Gansz and it wasn’t because he was a so-called “players coach.” He was very demanding of them, but if they worked hard at it, Frank loved them. He entertained them with his stories and parables. A Gansz meeting was never boring. On the first day of that ‘86 season at training camp in Liberty, Gansz made a habit at the start of every practice to stop and speak to each player. Even when that number was close to 100 players to begin the pre-season, he did this every day.

Homer Rice was the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals when he hired Gansz in 1980 and he may have put it best in describing Gansz: “When you first meet Frank you might think he comes across too strong. But he quickly shows the players two things: he is sincere and he really cares about them. Frank is not a phony. What you see from him is the real man. Sooner or later, he wins over each and every player.”

Gansz believed in practice. His favorite saying was “drill the gunners” and it meant doing something over and over again, until it became second nature. On any practice field, he was the loudest voice.

Tight end John Spagnola played for the Eagles when Gansz coached there in the early 1980s. “He is the most dedicated, most intense coach I’ve ever been around,” Spagnola said. “He developed a cult following. To be part of his special teams is to be part of an elite group within an already elite group. There isn’t another coach in the NFL that demands and expects so much, but there isn’t another coach who gives so much.”

The Chiefs put together a three-game winning streak at the end of that ‘86 season – thanks largely to the defense and special teams – and earned a spot in the playoffs.

Their stay was short, as they lost that first round game at the Meadowlands to the New York Jets, 35-15. Offense was the problem for the Chiefs that season. That was Mackovic’s forte; he called the plays. At the team meeting after the loss to the Jets, Mackovic told his team to not expect much in the way of changes in how they went about things.

It was typical of the poor communication that Mackovic had with just about everybody inside the Chiefs, from the locker room to his coaching staff to the front office. What he meant was the Chiefs would still be a passing offense first and foremost. But he planned changes and in fact was contemplating hiring a then out of work coach from the USFL as his offensive coordinator, a guy named Steve Spurrier.

Three assistant coaches, without speaking to Mackovic, went to the GM Schaaf and wanted to get out of their contracts. Schaaf and Mackovic had a bad relationship in 1983 through 1985 and then no relationship in 1986. Mackovic had sent out a telex to the other NFL teams that if they wanted to talk about personnel, they were to call him and not Schaaf.

The assistants – Pete McCulley, John Paul Young and Carl Mauck – were ready to bolt and Schaaf began talking inside Arrowhead about a program in disarray. While that was going on, Gansz was contemplating his own future. He would be 48 years old in 1987 and he wanted a chance to be an NFL head coach. He just didn’t think that would come from handling special teams. He needed to move up the coaching ladder to an offensive or defensive coordinator positions.

Gansz resigned without another job, believing something would come his way. “Bobby, if I don’t do it now, it will be too late,” Gansz said one night. “I can’t wait.”

His resignation set into motion one of the most bizarre series of events in team history:

-Corey was offered and was considering the defensive coordinator’s job with Levy, who had become head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

-Schaaf kept stressing behind the scenes that the team was falling apart because of this rupture in the coaching staff.

-Chiefs players held at meeting at kicker Nick Lowery’s house. Some wanted to see if there was a way to keep Gansz. Others were hoping the players could help send Mackovic out of the job; he was not a player favorite

-Remarkably, Lamar Hunt went to Lowery’s house and met with the players.

-A few hours later, Hunt fired Mackovic.

-Within 48 hours, Gansz was hired as head coach.

It was a bad situation and some people threw Gansz in with the three assistant coaches who were trying to get out without telling their boss. He had nothing to do with it. Frank Gansz never stabbed anyone in the back in his 70 years on this earth. When Hunt showed up at his home to offer him the head coaching job, Gansz was shocked.

But he wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity.

One of the first things he did as head coach was fire McCulley because he knew what the then quarterbacks coach had done behind the scenes to Mackovic. That move would come back and haunt him off the field.

Almost from the time he was fired, McCulley began savaging Gansz behind the scenes. He called reporters and complained about the new head coach. He said he had information that would show many of Gansz’s personal stories of his time flying planes were fiction. I know McCulley made those calls because one of those calls was to me.

He eventually found a willing listener at the Kansas City Star in investigative reporter Mike Fish. By the end of that year, Fish produced a story that savaged Gansz and his reputation, calling into questions stories he had told for years. Basically the piece called Gansz a liar.

One day, while in the Star sports department I stumbled upon the guts of the story in the computer system before it was published. I did not hesitate: I went to Gansz and told him what was coming, that he needed to be prepared. Frank brushed away the suggestion, not believing anybody would intentionally try to destroy him.

In typical fashion when a media outlet wants to make a splash without allowing their subject time to respond, they didn’t ask to speak to Gansz until the day before the story ran. They spoke to him after a Saturday morning practice. The story ran on Sunday, with only tepid responses from the coach.

The reaction was not good. This was 20 years ago and at that time readers still believed what they read in the daily newspaper was gospel. With his losing record as head coach, Gansz was vilified.

In the next month, Frank put together documents that rebutted every point made against him in the story. It included employment documents and paperwork from the military. He submitted this information to the Star. The newspaper refused to run any of it.

It was his record as head coach and a new GM in the building in Carl Peterson that cost Gansz his job as head coach of the Chiefs after the 1988 season. The newspaper story ended up being nothing more than a sad and dirty thing to do to a very good man.

Nothing had gone the way Frank had hoped it would. Not the things on the field, not things off the field. His chance to be a head coach had come, but it was gone in an instant and his reputation as a coach and a man was dragged through the mud in the process.

It was a sad time, and it wounded Gansz. Not that he ever let it show. He was always upbeat, always Mr. Positive and he always had something good to say; if Frank had something bad to say he may have shared it with Barbara, but few others would hear any negative words. That wasn’t Frank’s way.

Frank and his family moved on and years later my divorce cut any family connection to him. But everything that happened to him in Kansas City didn’t change the man. We would run into each other along the football trail and he would always have personal greetings and a hug. It wasn’t special to me, it went out to anyone he had become friends with in the world of football.

He continued to coach, going to Detroit, then Atlanta, St. Louis and finishing up in Jacksonville in the 2001 season, when he retired. He earned a Super Bowl ring as the special teams coach of the 1999 St. Louis Rams.

The head coach of that Rams team, Dick Vermeil told the Dallas Morning News this week: “He was the finest football coach I ever worked with. The quality of the human being matched his coaching skills.”

Football has lost one of its best coaches and best men.

04-29-2009, 08:17 AM
This article may give some of you younger fans as glimpse into what some of us longtime Chiefs fans went through in the 70's and 80's.

04-29-2009, 08:26 AM
This article may give some of you younger fans as glimpse into what some of us longtime Chiefs fans went through in the 70's and 80's.

Yea no doubt. That whole story about the players meeting at Nick Lowrys house and the three coaches being insobordinate....just amazing. An organization in complete disarry at the time.

Whatever happened to that Mike Fish reporter dude who tried to ruin him? What a complete a-hole.

Honestly, Ganz was an awful head coach. Thats why Peterson fired him.

Great special teams coach though.

04-29-2009, 08:35 AM
Yea no doubt. That whole story about the players meeting at Nick Lowrys house and the three coaches being insobordinate....just amazing. An organization in complete disarry at the time.

Whatever happened to that Mike Fish reporter dude who tried to ruin him? What a complete a-hole.

Honestly, Ganz was an awful head coach. Thats why Peterson fired him.

Great special teams coach though.

This is spot on. Ganz was one of the best special teams coaches ever, and one of the worst head coaches ever. Very sad that he would die from complications of knee replacement surgery.

Rain Man
04-29-2009, 09:21 AM
Shut up, Gre -

Oh. Wait. This is actually a really good article.

big nasty kcnut
04-30-2009, 03:36 AM
I think if ganz had a chance he would be a good coach.rip crash
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