Quick fixes aren't the appeal. This time it's about finding someone who can bring more than a year of two of winning records, someone who can lay a foundation that will last. They’re looking for someone who is experienced in the ways of winning, and can pull it all off by doing it with style - Patriots style.
The departure of Scott Pioli this season was not unexpected after teams saw what his understudy, Thomas Dimitroff, accomplished in Atlanta this year. In one season, Dimitroff: found a head coach in relatively unknown Mike Smith; rebuilt a coaching staff decimated by the mid-season departure of first year flunky Bobby Petrino; added a few key veterans in Michael Turner, Jason Elam and Domonique Foxworth; drafted rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and made people forget about Michael Vick by making the playoffs
Pioli has done all that and more. Kansas City Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt knows this, which is why he went after Pioli as his main target to head his football operations.
“With his proven track record of success, Scott is the finest player personnel executive in the NFL,” Hunt said in announcing Pioli as the new GM of the Chiefs. “We look forward to his leadership in building a championship organization.”
The impact Pioli has had in New England cannot be summed up with a few short words or in a paragraph or two. It takes time. He's not exactly a public person, so much of the credit he deserves has not yet been heaped upon him, as one might expect. It also hasn’t been made public, but that's just his style - the Patriots style. Understated, secluded, focused on the task at hand.
Yet, the cloak of secrecy surrounding the Patriots has been cast in both a positive and negative light. The obvious is the information lockdown, which accompanies a trip inside the confines of Gillette Stadium. A host of unwritten rules are there to greet newcomers and veterans alike.
The Patriots aren’t about flash, bling, self-promotion or individual accomplishment. It’s more important to succeed or die trying as a team than reach the mountain peak alone. The team consists of players that have carefully been handpicked by Pioli and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to focus on one thing above all else – football.
Certainly the team has personality, and a definite sense of style, but that style is more Brooks Brothers and GQ than the latest fashion by Burton to hit the X-games. It’s sophistication and technique over brute strength. It’s intelligence and selflessness over being on the front page. That’s why the Patriots have been so successful. But to build that type of team, you have to know where to look for those kinds of players.
Pioil knows where to look, and has been able to find the diamonds in the rough. He’s done an impressive job with reclamation projects in Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau – players that teams gave up on, but were integral components of New Englands’s march toward Super Bowls.
Tom Brady is the perfect example of one of those diamonds. He was a sixth-round pick out of Michigan. Matt Cassel is another. Asked to workout on a whim at USC’s pro day, Cassel impressed the scouts enough for Pioli to take a closer look. Despite not playing much in college, Pioli’s Patriots took a flyer on Cassel in the seventh round. That turned out to be a good thing four years later when Tom Brady goes down with a knee injury- diamond No. 2 steps in and runs the system much like diamond No. 1 did.
Giving Pioli all the credit for finding Brady and Cassel or the various free agent successes is unnecessary, especially since he wasn’t in charge when the team drafted Brady. Then there’s the small detail that Belichick is as involved with deciding which players to draft as Pioli is – actually more so.
Yet, despite downplaying his accomplishments, it’s important to acknowledge Pioli’s skills. He has the right disposition to work alongside Belichick, and to promote the wants and needs of the coach throughout the organization. He was able to form a structure knowledgeable enough to discover the talent necessary to build, and then rebuild the roster time and again. He set up the operation to perpetuate its winning ways even after losing coaches, players and front office personnel.
Those skills earned him NFL Executive of the Year honors twice from both the Sporting News and Pro Football Writers Association. Those skills made him one of the most highly coveted front office executives in recent years, prompting former NFL coach and dynasty builder Jimmy Johnson to say, “If there’s one guy to hire, it’s Pioli.”
“Start with New England’s Scott Pioli,” Johnson said when offering his advice on how to rebuild the Lions woeful franchise. “Pay him whatever he wants. He’ll pay for his salary with less first-round busts making millions. And then let him do the necessary house cleaning. He’ll hire the right people to get the job done.”
Johnson knows. He had help building the Dallas Cowboys into consecutive Super Bowl winners in 1992-93, becoming only one of six head coaches to ever do that. He’s also only one of two former head coaches to win both a college football National Championship and a Super Bowl.
Belichick is also on the consecutive Super Bowl title list with Johnson. He too understands how important it was to have Pioli on board as someone who shares his vision for building champions.
"To sum up in words everything Scott Pioli has meant to this organization and to me personally would be difficult, if not impossible,” Belichick said in a statement released by the Patriots. “From the day I met him, he has demonstrated a passion for football and respect for the game that is second to none.”
Then Belichick offered this sage wisdom to Chiefs fans everywhere:
“Now with the opportunity to steer his own ship and a vision of building a winner, there is no more capable, hardworking, loyal, team-oriented person than Scott Pioli."
Fortunately for Patriots fans, New England still has Bill Belichck. But winning the Lamar Hunt trophy in coming years isn’t going to be easy, especially with Pioli working hard to keep it near his new home and the family for which it was named.