John Schnatter penned an autobiography called “Papa.” | Courtesy of Koehler Books

Papa John’s announced in a press release Thursday that John Schnatter, the founder and face of the national pizza chain, would be replaced as CEO at the beginning of next year.

The surprise announcement comes just one month after the company apologized for Schnatter’s earlier comments suggesting that the NFL’s failure to stop players from kneeling during the national anthem had hurt the company’s sales.

The Papa John’s press release states that current COO Steve Ritchie will be promoted to CEO on Jan. 1, while Schnatter will remain chairman.

The release added that Schnatter “will continue to champion the core principles that led to recognition as the industry leader in product quality and customer satisfaction. He will also pursue his personal passion for entrepreneurship, leadership development and education.”

Asked by the Associated Press, Ritchie would not say if Schnatter’s NFL comments contribution to the shake up of the top positions.

In the press release, Schnatter was quoted as saying that he is proud of Ritchie for his advancement over 21 years at the company — starting as a $6 per hour employee — adding the he “will put the spotlight on our pizza and the most important ingredient – our team members. We couldn’t have a more proven leader to guide Papa John’s through its next stage of growth.”

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]