We’re all making our lists, checking them twice, and waiting with anticipation until the day we finally get to unwrap the shiny new G.M. that Santa leaves under the tree. As Chiefs fans fire off letters to the North Pole, most are asking for the biggest, most expensive gift of them all - Scott Pioli.
Pioli, the Vice President of Player Personnel for the New England Patriots, holds the position in New England that Bill Kuharich currently holds in Kansas City. It’s a job that demands a keen eye for evaluating talent, specifically in relation to the college draft.
Pioli has been with the Patriots since 2000, which means he was around for every step of their ascension as an NFL dynasty. His connection with Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick goes back some 16 years to the days when Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns and Pioli was hired as an assistant in their Pro Personnel department.
That Pioli’s name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue is nothing new. For the past few years now, he’s undoubtedly been on the short list of every NFL team looking to make a big addition to their front office. Check the newspaper archives in every city where a new general manager has been hired over the last few seasons and you’re sure to see a sports columnist explaining why Pioli was the best man for the job.
In fact, you don’t even need to go back all that far. Pull up some recent articles from Detroit, Cleveland, San Francisco, and any other NFL city that may be in the market for an executive this offseason and you’ll find Pioli’s name popping up all over the place.
In terms of name value, there’s no question that Pioli is the biggest hire Clark Hunt could make. He’s the crown jewel, the big fish, the one candidate who would make everyone that follows the NFL stand up and take notice of what’s going on in Kansas City.
But would he be the best hire?
To answer that question, we have to discuss whether Pioli would even be interested in coming to the Chiefs in the first place. After all, there’s no point discussing what sort of job he might do if there’s no chance he’ll be hired. Over the past few years, Pioli has turned down two chances to leave New England for the Seahawks and Giants.
Many believed Pioli might grow bored in New England and would eventually seek a new challenge. However, he has been quoted as saying the hardest challenge is achieving consistent success. If that’s how Pioli feels, he should be comfortable with the Patriots for at least a few more years, if not longer.
But there has been scuttlebutt in Boston that Pioli may be looking to get out from Belichick’s shadow. John Tomase of the Boston Herald wrote on Sunday – prior to Carl Peterson’s resignation – that the Detroit Lions’ G.M. job may appeal to Pioli for five key reasons:
1) Money – the Lions had been paying Matt Millen $5 million a year.
2) Ownership – the Ford family isn’t known for meddling with the team.
3) Lack of success – small improvements would seem big by comparison.
4) Young talent – there are key building blocks and high picks in the upcoming draft.
5) A weak division - the NFC North is brutal.
Obviously, you could apply most everything on that list to the Chiefs’ job as well. The biggest question of the five would be money – it’s expected to take quite an offer to pry Pioli away from New England. What Hunt is willing to spend to land a new G.M. is anyone’s guess.
The Chiefs’ job would also offer additional benefits that the Lions – and other teams with potential openings around the league – can’t match. Kansas City has enormous cap space, and the team’s cash flow will only improve in the coming years with the stadium improvements and naming rights.
So if the rumors circulating in Boston are true, and if Hunt is truly interested in pursuing him, it’s possible Pioli might be receptive to the offer. So that brings us back to the question - is he actually the best man for the job?
I have to be honest – I don’t have the slightest idea.
Like some of the other candidates, Pioli has never been the sole man in charge of a football team. There’s no telling how he’ll fare outside the support system he currently works in. Even candidates who have experienced success as general managers in the past aren’t guaranteed to repeat that with the Chiefs. There are numerous executives over the years that have gone on to other jobs and never lived up to their reputations.
While Pioli is widely considered the league’s hottest G.M. prospect, there are, quite frankly, reasons to be skeptical.
Let’s start right at the top of the list – if the Chiefs hired Pioli, would Belichick be coming with him to Kansas City? No.
The list of people who have succeeded post-Belichick is about as impressive as the Chiefs’ sack total this season. The Patriots lost both of their coordinators in 2005 when Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weiss left to take head coaching jobs. Not only has New England rolled along without missing a beat, but Crennel is likely to be fired by Cleveland at the end of the season, and the combination of his big contract and the bad economy may have been all that saved Weiss from getting canned at Notre Dame.
The Patriots have even marched on without Tom Brady. They may not make the playoffs this season, but they could finish with an 11-5 record, an amazing accomplishment for a team that lost their future Hall of Fame quarterback in the opener.
It’s also been pointed out on numerous occasions that Bill Parcells never won a Super Bowl without Belichick on his staff. So taking Pioli away from the successful Belichick system is not without its risks.
Let’s examine another key issue: the Patriots’ draft success. Pioli took over his current V.P. job in 2002, and since that time New England has drafted a handful of Pro Bowlers – Asante Samuel, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and Stephen Gotskowski, just to name a few. Others, like Deion Branch, have been solid players without actually making a Pro Bowl appearance.
But there have also been notable misses along the way, particularly in the first two rounds of the draft. The Patriots’ first-round pick in 2002 was tight end Daniel Graham, who currently plays for Denver. New England was so thrilled with their selection of Graham that they spent another first-round pick on a tight end just two years later.
Benjamin Watson – the tight end taken in 2004 – is best known for making the last-second tackle that prevented Champ Bailey from scoring on an interception return during the 2006 Broncos/Patriots playoff game. When an offensive player who was taken in the first round is best known for making a defensive play, it’s probably not a good sign.
In 2003 the Patriots took Ty Warren in the first round and he’s gone on to have a strong career in New England. But New England had two picks in the second round and neither of those players are still with the Pats today. In fact, one of the two – Bethel Johnson – is out of the league entirely.
New England had two of the first 36 picks in the 2006 draft and came away with Laurence Maroney and receiver Chad Jackson. Maroney has been considered a disappointment to this point, and Jackson – who the Patriots traded up to get – only lasted two years before getting cut.
You can also read between the lines of one of the biggest criticisms of the Patriots over the last season or two, that their defense is getting too old. Chiefs fans should know as well as anyone that teams start to get old when they aren’t finding young players who can step in and replace the aging veterans.
For those of us on the outside, there’s no way to know which decisions Pioli was responsible for and which ones Belichick made. Perhaps all the draft disappointments were the coach’s call, and all the Pro Bowlers were the result of Pioli getting his way. Or it could just as easily be the other way around.
The point of all this isn’t to dissuade you from thinking Pioli is the right man for the Chiefs. He could come to Kansas City and do a fantastic job. He could start up a dynasty of his own making and prove to be the brains that kept the Patriots rolling all these years.
The point is that there’s no can’t-miss prospect or magic elixir that will solve all of Kansas City’s football woes. Pioli may have the highest profile of all the rumored candidates, but it doesn’t mean he’s the only person who could come in and do a good job. In fact, it doesn’t mean he would do a good job at all.
If Clark Hunt believes Pioli is the best man for the Chiefs, he should do everything he can to bring him here. But if you’re only excited about Pioli because of his name value, try not to be too disappointed if he isn’t the present Santa leaves you under the tree.