- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN Staff Writer
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If you need any more evidence that Bill Belichick is the smartest football man of his generation, just take a quick gander at the disaster that is the Kansas City Chiefs.
Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli earned his stripes as Belichick's vice president of player personnel during the New England Patriots' run to three Super Bowl wins between 2001 and 2004. He was hailed as a savior in Kansas City, the man who would bring The Patriots Way to a floundering franchise. Aside from one overrated AFC West championship in 2010, all Pioli has done is remind everybody why he was lucky to be connected to Belichick in the first place.
Pioli has become such a laughingstock in Kansas City that the biggest story in town is whether Chiefs owner Clark Hunt actually has extended his general manager's contract. There have been reports of such a deal. There have been denials by the franchise. The bottom line is that it's an issue because the Chiefs no longer can sell Pioli to their fan base. The very possibility that he might still run the organization after this year might empty a lot of seats at Arrowhead Stadium.
It shouldn't be surprising that Pioli -- who is largely responsible for a team that is 1-5 and nose-diving toward its third losing season since his arrival in 2009 -- has been such a disappointment in Kansas City. We all know the history of the men who leave Belichick's nest and try to fly by themselves. Only a select few are talented enough to thrive without his presence. Most tend to end up looking just as fraudulent as Pioli now appears.
The list has grown long and familiar by now. Charlie Weis flopped at Notre Dame and now presides over a woeful Kansas team that claims to be playing something resembling football. Romeo Crennel bombed in Cleveland and will have a hard time holding onto his current job as Chiefs head coach after this season. There's also Eric Mangini, formerly of the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, and current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who lasted two years as Denver's head coach before nearly ruining Sam Bradford as the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator last year. Both were rising stars who flamed out without Belichick standing behind them.
If not for Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff -- the Patriots' former director of college scouting and a man who has astutely assembled the league's best team so far this season -- there wouldn't be any major success stories coming out of those New England glory years. This is also why Pioli's troubles have become so glaring. He was supposed to be the prize of that organization. If a team couldn't have a head coach like Belichick or a quarterback like future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady, it could at least have Pioli.
Now we all can see how silly that notion was. The first three major decisions Pioli made with the Chiefs went as follows: (1) He hired Todd Haley as head coach. (2) He traded for quarterback Matt Cassel. (3) He used the third overall selection in the 2009 draft on defensive end Tyson Jackson. The team ultimately fired Haley last December after an ugly, heavily publicized rift developed between him and Pioli. Cassel was just benched this week after producing 14 turnovers in his first five starts. Jackson remains on the roster, which is the only noteworthy thing that can be said about his NFL career thus far.
Pioli's reign looks even worse when considering other variables beyond those three substantial whiffs. His draft record is spotty: only safety Eric Berry and outside linebacker Justin Houston have matured into difference-makers. When he's spent money in free agency, his moves have been largely uninspired or unproductive. If not for several holdovers from the Carl Peterson/Herm Edwards regime -- including running back Jamaal Charles, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali -- there would be no stars in Kansas City.
About the only thing Pioli did bring from New England was the same controlling nature that people familiar with the Patriots know very well. Multiple team sources say he's turned off longtime employees with a bullying management style. Published reports accuse him of lecturing staffers for not picking up candy bar wrappers in the hallways and chafing at the way assistant coaches park in the team's lot. During his first season with the team, Pioli sent emails warning employees to keep their window blinds drawn when the team was practicing, according to another team source. Those who didn't comply could expect somebody -- presumably a security guard -- to help them follow the rules.
It's hard to believe all those measures haven't helped the Chiefs become a competitive football team. Sure, they got that title back in 2010, but this much we all know: A last-place schedule can do wonders for a dysfunctional franchise. It says more that the Chiefs followed that success with the soap opera that was the Haley-Pioli feud and that this team is 8-14 since that supposed breakout year. Pioli's supporters can cling to that title all they like. It doesn't diminish everything else that has happened during his time in Kansas City.
He owes even more than we ever imagined to Belichick. Pioli was involved with one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. He had a chance to learn how a Hall of Fame coach operates and what a Pro Bowl quarterback can do to make up for weaknesses within a franchise. Pioli may have done some things to help the cause back then. But there's no reason to believe he'd be sitting where he is today if he'd made his bones in Buffalo or Tampa Bay.
At the end of the day, Pioli happened to be in the right place at the right time, and he ultimately cashed in on perception. That's not an unfamiliar story to anybody who knows how the world works. But every man eventually is judged on his own merits. From this vantage point, Pioli falls right in line with all the other failures who benefited from Bill Belichick's greatness.
35mEric D. Williams
1dBy Ian O'Connor