This is a name at the top of many Chiefs fans' wish lists, and for good reasons. The positives start with Cowher's accomplishments during his 15-year tenure as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. At this point, however, we will look at Cowher strictly from a General Manager aspect, since it is all but guaranteed he’d require full control of all aspects of a football team, including personnel decisions, in order to return to the NFL.
Cowher's power and influence over the overall football operations of the Steelers grew in 2001, when he won his power struggle with the Steelers' former President of Football Operations, Tom Donahoe, who went on to Buffalo where he set the Bills franchise back several years. Cowher called the shots that led Pittsburgh back to being a powerhouse and eventual Super Bowl champions.
There isn't much of an obvious downside to hiring Bill Cowher to lead the Chiefs, but a case can be made that in the modern NFL landscape, the "Head Coach as GM with full power" model has not met a large amount of success. It eventually paid off for Cowher in Pittsburgh (though Cowher was never technically the GM), but others have held all the cards in other NFL towns and struggled (Mike Holmgren in Seattle, Mike Shanahan in Denver, Butch Davis in Cleveland, etc.). Another possible strike against Cowher is the sheer size of the investment it would take to lure him out of semi-retirement. Not only the huge amount of control over the franchise, which would likely be included in his contract, but also a financial package that would likely need to be in the $8 million-$10 million per year range.
Cowher makes a lot of sense on a lot of levels, but still feels like a long shot.
The next big-name candidate has been on NFL wish lists across the league for the last few years. Attempts have been made by the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons to hire Pioli to lead their franchises, but Pioli refused offers, and in some cases refused to interview. Until now. With Pioli fielding offers, he has a resumé that fits what the Chiefs are looking for.
Pioli has been Bill Belichick's right-hand man since 1992, when Belichick was coaching the Cleveland Browns. He followed Belichick from Cleveland to the New York Jets to the New England Patriots, where Pioli has assisted Belichick in building what many view as the model NFL franchise. Successful draft choices, shrewd moves on the free agent market, and the resulting three Super Bowl titles have made Pioli a big name among NFL executives. At just 43 years of age, Pioli is already a veteran when it comes to evaluating personnel in the NFL, and he has won multiple awards for "NFL Executive of the Year."
If there is a drawback when hiring Pioli, it may be the perceived "lack of success" other Belichick disciples have found outside of the Patriots fold. Many point to Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and Eric Mangini as examples, but Thomas Dimitroff (former Patriots Director of College Scouting and current Atlanta Falcons General Manager) may have put a dent in that theory with the turnaround of the 2008 Falcons.
As with anything that is unproven, success is anything but certain. There have been other "hot" or "up and coming" NFL executives who have finally received their shot at running a franchise only to struggle and eventually fail (Phil Savage anyone?). The only way to determine Pioli's success as a leader of a franchise is for him to get the job. Until then, as enticing as he may be, he is still an unproven commodity.
Polian, the son of revered Indianapolis Colts General Manager Bill Polian, is currently the Vice President of Football Operations for the Colts. It’s easy to see Polian taking over for his father someday, but there is no guarantee that will be soon.
With the success his father has had (building powerhouse Buffalo Bills teams, starting the Carolina Panthers from scratch and having the team in the NFC Title game in their second year, as well as guiding the Colts since 1998), Chris Polian obviously draws a great deal of interest. If he has learned as much about the business from his father as possible, he would have the makings of an outstanding General Manager.
The clear downside, again, is Polian being unproven as a top dog for an NFL franchise. Is he the "second coming" of his father? If the Chiefs were to hire him, we would all hope so.
Another trendy name floating around the Chiefs' job opening is the Director of Pro Personnel from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dominik is a KU graduate, which instantly makes him appealing to nearly half of the Chiefs' fan base. Dominik has served in Tampa Bay’s personnel department since 1995, and spent a short time as a personnel assistant in Kansas City prior to that.
As appealing a candidate as Dominik may be, one might have to wonder why he hasn't risen through the ranks more quickly or been lured away to higher positions with other teams. Save for a couple of promotions within the Bucs' personnel team, it would seem (on the surface, at least) that Dominik hasn't exactly set the world on fire among NFL executives.
Dominik could be an up and coming personnel man, but bringing him in and basically handing him the keys to the Chiefs' football operations would be embarking on a voyage into uncharted waters for Clark Hunt.
Bradway took over as General Manager of the New York Jets in 2001 following Bill Parcells' departure, and hired Herman Edwards as head coach. That fact right there will probably scare off a number of Chiefs fans. Bradway did build playoff teams with the Jets and didn't let the organization fall apart in the wake of the Bill Parcells/Al Groh/Herm Edwards transition.
On the flip side, the drafts under Bradway's watch were pretty spotty to say the least. Many draft choices failed to reach their potential, and ones that did ended up playing for other teams. Bradway also came from the Carl Peterson regime here in Kansas City, so the "need for change" factor weighs heavily against Bradway.
As a former director of scouting, there’s certainly value in hiring Bradway, but his ties to previous Kansas City leadership may keep the Chiefs from bringing him in even in that capacity.
That covers a few of the candidates. Next time we’ll take a look at some of the lesser-known names who are still worth consideration.