I sat in front of my television Sunday night watching the Kansas City Chiefs lose to the Denver Broncos and listening to Al Michaels call the game. He made a statement that got me thinking. At one point in the game Scott Pioli’s name came up, and Michaels said, (paraphrase) “That was Scott Pioli, the man who put a lot of this team together”. Pioli’s time in Kansas City was undoubtedly a failure, but I firmly believe he left the team better than he found it.
Scott Pioli started his career as a front office executive with teams like the Cleveland Brown, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Jets, but he made his name came in the early years of the New England Patriots dynasty. Pioli became the Director of Player Personnel in 2001, and later came to be the Vice President of Player Personnel with the Patriots. Bill Belichick and Pioli were a tag-team of developmental, talent-finding prowess. They found talented players of all shapes and sizes, in any position of the draft. Pioli was partly responsible for the three Super Bowls in four years, the best team during the span of 2000 to 2008, and the 18-1 Patriots of ’07, including the trades that brought Wes Welker and Randy Moss to New England. That kind of result will get draw attention, and so it did.
After the 2008 season, The Chiefs ownership decided it was time to take the franchise in a new direction. Gone was the old General Manager, Carl Peterson, in was Scott Pioli. His first course of action was to make changes at the Head Coach position — he fired Herm Edwards and hired Todd Haley, the former offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl contending Arizona Cardinals. The coaching change looked good at the time, the new coach could help create a new offense and hopefully get the Chiefs back to respectability.
Pioli traded away Tony Gonzalez and traded for “quarterback of the future” Matt Cassel. Again, these looked to be a reasonably good, at least acceptable, decisions made by Pioli; the age of Gonzalez pointed to an upcoming decline in stats, and Cassel filled in nicely for Tom Brady while he was injured (by the Chiefs). In hind sight both of these moves turned sour. Tony Gonzalez produced numbers on par with the other top tight ends in the league, and is still playing. Cassel showed signs of capable quarterback play, but has ultimately was released after several seasons of losing.
The Chiefs went on to have 4-12 season in 2009, but few people expect major turnarounds in just one season.
The 2010 season would begin with plenty of optimism. There were two new coordinators in Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, who both flourished as coordinators in New England. The 2010 draft represented what Pioli was best at, selecting talent where no one else was looking. Kansas City ended the season going 10-6 and winning the AFC West, the first time since 2003. Pioli won the Executive of the Year Award. Everything was coming up roses.
2011 was filled with injuries after the shortened offseason. Tony Moeaki (the teams leading receiver in 2010), Jamaal Charles, and Eric Berry were all injured in the early season, taking away most of the what got the Chiefs to the playoffs the previous year. Pioli fired Todd Haley in Week 14. Many sources say that Haley didn’t provide a good atmosphere for the players and they did not like playing for him. Defensive Coordinator Crennel stepped in as the interim Head Coach, upsetting the undefeated Green Bay Packers. Kansas City finished the season 7-9, and Crennel was given the Head Coach position.
In Pioli’s final season as GM, the Chiefs were bad. Franchise-worst kind of bad. They won two games and were the at the bottom of the NFL standings. This convinced the Chiefs’ ownership that Pioli’s time was up; he was fired at the end of the season.
Pioli was the GM for Kansas City for all of four years, and now we sit in the first year without him, looking at a 9-1 record with a high probability of making the playoffs. He was responsible for building the team that we see every Sunday. No, he’s no longer with the franchise, but his actions are still present.
Pioli’s tenure comes down to two things: players acquired and coaches acquired. In my opinion, he excelled at one and failed miserably at the other.
Take a look at some of the players he drafted. These are not all of them, of course, just some of the more notable, productive picks. Keep in mind that no team draft’s star players with every pick. I consider a draft with two or three stars to be solid.
Without a doubt, 2010 was Pioli’s best year of the draft. Berry, McCluster, and Asamoah are starting on the current roster. Arenas and Moeaki haven’t added much to the team this year, but they have played well at times before.
But the years that Pioli ran the team still produced mostly losing football, and I credit it to the coaches he employed. It has become known that Todd Haley can be difficult for some players to get along with and it affected the Kansas City players. (I live in Pittsburgh, where he coaches now. I hear a lot about his coaching tactics and how players don’t always agree with him.) Then Pioli hires Romeo Crennel, which was his biggest mistake. Crennel displayed his ability as a Head Coach in past years with the Cleveland Browns, which if you recall was horrendous: 24-40 over four years. It never made sense to me why they hired him in the first place. Actually I believe that if the Chiefs would have hired someone else then Pioli would still have his job.
The 2013 Chiefs surprised everyone with the biggest turnaround in NFL history. A depressing 2-14 record is now a 9-1 swing, and that just doesn’t come out of no where. Pioli collected young, talented players that were injured, under-coached, or just hadn’t reached full potential (Justin Houston) while he was in Kansas City.
Sunday night, Pioli attended the first Chiefs’ game since his firing. Twitter showcased many fans proclaiming that the only time the Chiefs lose is when Pioli was at the game. What they don’t seem to remember is that he constructed most of what Chiefs’ fans can be thankful for this season.
So I would just like to say: Thank you, Scott Pioli. There would not have been a 9-1 record without you.