While many Chiefs football fans will recognize Mitch Holthus’ booming voice during Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots — the first-ever AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium — they may not know about the folks who make his job run as smoothly as possible.
Manhattan’s Bernie Haney, 43, is the statistician for Holthus during the Chiefs’ home games, a job he’s had for 19 years along with his full time career as the executive director of the Kansas State University Golf Course Management and Research Foundation at Colbert Hills.
Haney tracks offensive and drive statistics, as well as in-game numbers related to turnovers, timeouts, penalties, conversions and more. Haney then has to relate those numbers almost instantly to Holthus so he can explain the game or provide context to fans.
For example, Haney said, when a team punts, Holthus has three people feeding him information. An executive producer may be keeping track of hang time, a spotter gives him the tackler’s number and Haney, as the statistician, relays the distance of the punt and return.
It’s a fast-paced job, Haney said. As soon as a play ends, he records what happened on a chart. By the time he wraps up cataloging the play, the next one is usually starting.
“Mitch does a great job of preparing to do a game, and so I just feel it’s important that I try and provide anything of relevance during the game that listeners may want to know,” Haney said. “It’s a full day job… but I do it really because Mitch gave me an awesome opportunity and he’s just obviously been a good friend so I want to continue and try to help him the best as I can.”
Haney said Holthus had been his father’s friend since he was a young boy. During his junior year at Topeka West High School, Haney won the 6A Regional Golf Championship and Holthus personally called him to congratulate him. Haney also took some TV production classes during school and when he wasn’t sure where to attend college, Holthus convinced him to visit K-State and see how broadcast journalism worked.
“It was more like a recruiting trip,” Haney said. “I was meeting all the head coaches, he introduced me to a bunch of people, I got to experience what radio broadcast was all about. Then he invited me to see if I wanted to come to K-State and be the statistician for the Wildcats’ Sports Network, along with (him) being a mentor while I pursue a degree in electronic journalism.”
It was an offer Haney couldn’t refuse.
Haney worked as a statistician for football, basketball and baseball games while attending K-State. Haney specifically worked with Holthus for three years when he was “The Voice of the Wildcats” before he became the play-by-play announcer for the Chiefs in 1996. While Kansas City already had a statistician, Holthus worked to bring Haney on.
In the meantime, Haney did national statistician work on an as-needed basis. When a position opened up with the Chiefs’ Radio 1 Network, Haney jumped at the opportunity and has been working games at Arrowhead since 2000.
The journey with Haney has been like an odyssey, Holthus said. But with their history, Holthus said he advocated for Haney so often because he knew he could absolutely trust Haney to do the job.
“I challenge and I test him,” Holthus said. “Just like (KC Chiefs Coach) Andy Reid will test (quarterback) Patrick Mahomes, I’m testing Bernie all the time. He also knows I do a prodigious amount of preparation so he kind of understands where I’m coming from and he also knows my style... It sounds ridiculous, but I need him almost before the play’s over. You get what you need to knows right away and you’re not leaving listeners wanting.”
Holthus said you can’t be complacent when working in the NFL as you’re only as good as your next game — something Haney knows.
“He understands competition and he understands sports,” Holthus said. “I saw that when he was a competitor in high school, but then I saw his personality around people. I could see he had the attitude and he had the ability to be, in some ways, an extension of me when I needed to put some tasks on him or I had other pressing matters. I could trust him (then) and I can trust Bernie now.”