Derrick Thomas. Len Dawson. Art Still. Everybody has a legacy.
Percy Snow. Ryan Sims. Sylvester Morris. Some better than others.
How does a legacy change? I’m not talking about events that change a legacy like O.J. Simpson’s. Nor am I referring to the way a memory can evolve or transform over time through a shift in perspective.
I’m talking about how a team goes from being an annual also-ran to a perennial powerhouse therefore reshaping their legacy. I believe that’s what’s happening to the Kansas City Chiefs as we speak and I want to point out how I think that’s happening.
First, let’s look at the dual legacies of St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots over the past ten years. This can give a feel for the important elements that can shift a team’s legacy.
The 1999-2001 St. Louis Rams. The Greatest Show on Turf, right? Won the Super Bowl following the 1999 season and went there again two years later. However, they couldn’t sustain that kind of success and by 2005 were on the downhill slide coming in at 6-10, with several worse years to follow. So, why couldn’t the Rams stay on the mountain top? They haven’t sniffed a playoff game since 2003.
Next, take a look at the New England Patriots. They happen to be the team who beat the Rams in the Super Bowl following the 2001 season. Three Super Bowl wins and four appearances in a 7 year period. Why the different fates?
In 2001, I wouldn’t have predicted that at all.
Looking back now of course, there are some obvious tells. It’s these tells, that largely determine the future success of a team. Here’s a Rams-Patriots comparison, then we’ll examine these same “tells” for the Chiefs.
The Rams vs. the Patriots legacy tells:
1. Longevity of the coach. Vermeil was getting ready to retire. Although he un-retired and signed with the Chiefs, he officially retired from the Rams. Bill Belichick was 49 when he won his first Super Bowl and is 59 now, still going strong and considered one of the best.
2. The age of the star QB. Kurt Warner was 29 when he won his Super Bowl and was considered washed up, erroneously, by the Rams by 2003 and was released after that season. Nothing further needs to be noted about Tom Brady (33) except that he had, and still has, many productive years ahead of him.
3. Stability of the Owner. If a team is going through an ownership sale or death the consequential transition can lead to years of ups and downs, mostly downs. The Rams lost Georgia Fontiere in 2008 and the Patriots ownership has been nothing but stable.
4. Team Leadership core. Does the team have enough self-motivated, self-disciplined, emotionally stable and quietly out spoken leaders to guide others on the team when things get rough. Belichick’s boys have been the best in the league at this for a long time. They know what to say and what not to say… and when. The Rams had some great leaders but, that was ten years ago now.
5. Signing and re-signing keepers. If you can’t keep your own good players then it’s hard to “build” a good team. The Pats have been terrific at this but, they also know when to let a guy go. That’s usually when that player seeks to max the amount he can get and usually when he’s reaching the end of his career. They also know when to trade out and get the max amount back for a player. The Rams, like the rest of the league, just don’t make this happen with the proficiency that the Patriots do.
6. Scheme permanence. Teams that are changing offensive and/or defensive schemes every year, or every other year, make it much harder for their players to adapt and be effective. Belichick has always altered or varied his approach but, he hasn’t made wholesale changes like going from the 3-4 to the 4-3. The Rams have changed coaches several times in the past ten years and each has brought his own scheme.
7. Player and scheme suitability. Do the talents of the players you have, match up well with the scheme you’re using? The Pats have traditionally been terrific in this department. Until the Rams hired Steve Spagnuolo they spent years of patching holes with marginal players.
8. Destination Hawaii. Do players, outside of an organization, see that destination as someplace they really want to be? Do players want to be on that team? The Pats have gotten their fair share of star players to sign with them including Corey Dillon and Randy Moss. New England may be frigid in winter but, it’s one hot spot for players wanting to win the big one. St. Louis lost it’s mass appeal when Marshal Faulk retired.
9. Tree compatibility. Every player, coach and GM arrives at their position as the result of having developed under someone else. It’s the “philosophical” approach to the game that’s important here. The Patriots have consistently promoted within the ranks, maintaining continuity. The Rams have changed coaches too often for this to have been helpful. However, their hiring of Josh McDaniels as the Offensive coordinator is right in line with Steve Spagnuolo’s tree.
10. Sustaining a winning tradition. It’s a lot easier to continue winning than beginning to win. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. Once you’ve begun the winning tradition it’s a whole lot easier to keep it going. The Pats have maintained it and the Rams have not.
11. An effective QB-RB-WR triad. Examples abound: Rogers-Jackson-Jennings (2010), Brady-Dillon-Branch (2004-2005), Warner-Faulk-Holt/Bruce (1999), Elway-Davis-Smith (1997-1998) and Aikman-Smith-Irvin. Brady has been so consistently strong for a decade that it almost doesn’t matter who he’s throwing to and they have done RB by committee successfully for years. The Rams have gone from one of the all time best triads ever to not so serviceable. Currently, the Rams have Sam Bradford and Stephen Jackson who are both excellent. They drafted wide receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas but, I don’t anticipate either one becoming that go-to guy that’s needed in a successful triad. But, who knows.
12. Offensive-defensive balance. The Rams victory in 2000 featured a dominating offense over a Titan’s defense that kept them in check most of the way. Aside from the Rams offensively dominant club in 2000 and the Ravens defensively dominant squad in 2001, all of the Super Bowl victors, in the last ten years, have been offensively-defensively balanced football teams. The Patriots are evidence of that. The Pats have consistently won with a smothering, opportunistic defense and an offense that was unpredictably diverse, disciplined and led by Tom Brady.
Now, let’s rate the Chiefs on a scale of 1-10 in each of these areas, with 10 being highest.
1. Longevity of the coach. Todd Haley is young (44) and should he continue to be successful we can expect him to be around for a long time. 10.
2. The age of the star QB. Matt Cassel is 29 years old and entering his prime years of service. Many QBs have had years of experience by his age but, on the other hand, Cassel doesn’t have all the wear and tear. 8
3. Stability of the Owner. Clark Hunt is not only young (46) but, is one of the core owners in the bargaining group helping to re-write the new CBA. He carries on his father’s legacy in a dignified manner, even though I don’t agree with his policy on withholding pay from on-site employees. Also, he needs to spend more money on players. The one’s he has and the free agents who can help this club. Unless of course, he’s hurting in the pocket book and we just don’t know it. He is high on “proper” and low on “pomp.” 9
4. Team Leadership core. Mike Vrabel just exited but, Scott Pioli has already, in two and a half years, infused the Chiefs with so many club house leaders that Mike won’t be missed. Much. 8
5. Signing and re-signing keepers. Scott Pioli was a big part of this Patriot’s tradition and has already done a good job in this department locking up both Derrick Johnson and Jamaal Charles to long term contracts last season. 9
6. Scheme permanence. The Chiefs changed defensive schemes the first year Todd Haley came in. They also changed offensive coordinators from year one to year two and now again in year three. The reality is that Romeo came to K.C. in year two and stabilized a struggling unit. The defense will continue to progress in 2011. The offense is a question. Charlie Weis leaves. Does the play book change? Who will call the plays? We’ll have to wait and see if it becomes problematic. Is it a return to 2009 or does the unit get to build upon the 2010 momentum? 7
7. Player and scheme suitability. When the Chiefs went from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense in 2009 the personnel was not immediately available. Scheme and personnel is still not a great match but, it’s getting there. The offensive personnel is now being hand picked to provide Todd Haley exactly the players he wants to accomplish the goals he has in mind. The Chiefs get high scores here on offense but, not so high on defense. We’re still looking for that monster nose. 7
8. Destination Hawaii. There may not yet be a high percentage of players desiring to move to Kansas City and play for the Chiefs but, Scott Pioli has stuck to his guns and signed players who do want to be here. Another way to measure this is to total the number of players wanting out. Todd Haley’s first year here I’ll bet there were a lot of players secretly wanting out. Jarred Page wanted out and made that fact perfectly clear. Good riddance. Over the decades it used to be so disturbing to me to hear about players wanting out. Jared Allen and Tony Gonzales come to mind. I’m not hearing anyone on our current roster wanting a trade right now. Winning solves a lot of problem I guess. 8
9. Tree compatibility. Without drawing you a lot of funky pictures I’ll just say that the Chiefs are great in the coaching tree department right now. 9
10. Sustaining a winning tradition. We’re on the precipice right now. So, we won’t be able to add this to our legacy shopping cart until a half a decade of winning or so goes by. No score.
11. An effective QB-RB-WR triad. Cassel-Charles-Bowe are looking really good right now. The problem is that they were contained by the Ravens last January and so a triad alone is not enough. However, the makings of a good one are there. 8
12. Offensive-defensive balance. It’s been difficult in years past to watch a great Chiefs defense dominate the opposition only to have the offense limp in and put next to no points on the board. In other years it’s been equally frustrating to watch as the offense marched down the field again and again scoring every time only to have the defense allow the opposition to score at will… like when the Colts strolled into Arrowhead in a 2005 Playoff game. Now, or at least last season, there have been games when both the offense and the defense have taken over the game. When they both have been on their game at the same time… like against the 49ers and the against the Cardinals… it’s a beauty to behold. The Chiefs have grown on both sides of the ball and on Special Teams. 8
It’s easy to see that the K.C. Chiefs have many, many positive elements developing and coming together across the organization. Not just one or two components but, a myriad.
It’s an exciting time to be a Kansas City Chiefs fan.
Although I haven’t done this analysis for other current mid-level teams I have perused the league and the only other team that appears to have as many pieces in place as the Chiefs, is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see both the Chiefs and the Buccaneers with high winning percentage levels for years to come.
Perhaps they will be doing a legacy power shift at the same time.
Let me know if you disagree with any of the scoring above… then I’ll set you straight. That’s my new personal legacy power shift.