Scott Pioli’s Silence Is Telling

Only two games into the 2011 season, Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley is already on the hot seat. This is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that just a few months ago, he was a legitimate coach of the year candidate.

There are those who are questioning whether or not it is reasonable for Haley to be feeling so much heat so soon. It is a valid question. Haley took over a team that had won only 10 games in three years and turned them into a ten-win division champion in just two seasons.

Yet the Chiefs have been so miserably bad, it has those who have had the displeasure of watching the team play this season questioning whether or not the team won in 2010 despite Haley, not because of him.

Let’s be honest. If the Chiefs had lost to the Bills by a last-minute field goal and to the Lions by a touchdown, nobody would be calling for Haley’s head. Fans wouldn’t be happy, but they wouldn’t be talking about the Chiefs having the first pick in the draft so soon either. It wouldn’t be reasonable. This is the NFL and sometimes good teams struggle. Most fans, I think, understand that.

What is going on with the Chiefs goes a lot deeper than just a couple of tough losses. There are other factors at work that are shining a harsh light on the franchise and the men who run it. That light is making an already bad situation worse.

The entire organization is being made into a laughing stock. Bills head coach Chan Gailey was the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs in 2009 when he was unceremoniously fired by Todd Haley just three weeks before the season. Two years later, Gailey was still talking to reporters about how a win against the Chiefs and Haley would mean more to him than just any victory. It was personal for Gailey and the Bills.

In Week Two, the Chiefs traveled to Detroit to get their asses handed to them by the Lions. After the game, former Chiefs head coach and two-time defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, received a Gatorade bath from his players. Cunningham obviously made it pretty clear to his defense how badly he wanted to beat the Chiefs.

The extra embarrassment didn’t end there. After the game, Scott Pioli was given the cold shoulder by Lions GM Martin Mayhew. Pioli and the Chiefs accused Cunningham and Mayhew of tampering last season. Gunther had made some comments about wanting to pick up Chiefs players if they were released. The NFL has rules against other team officials talking about acquiring players under contract with other clubs. The NFL sided with the Chiefs and awarded them a 7th-round draft pick that belonged to the Lions. After the game last week, Pioli reportedly ran into Mayhew near the elevators. According to reports, Pioli called out Mayhew’s name and tried to shake his hand only to have Mayhew turn away and ignore him.

These incidents have added another level of humiliation to what is already an embarrassing situation for Pioli, Haley and the Kansas City Chiefs. It is one thing to get beat badly, but to have teams demonstrate grudges by giving coaches Gatorade baths after kicking the team’s brains in or openly demonstrating their dislike for the organization in the media is something else all together.

To be fair, Pioli and Haley are not the only men in the NFL that people have grudges against. There are many folks out there who aren’t very big fans of Bill Belichick either, but winning can make people overlook a lot of things.

Unfortunately for Pioli and Haley, they aren’t winning.

The personal vendettas, questionable coaching decisions and the manner in which the team is losing are all logs on a fire that will only get hotter should the team continue to lose.

As things stand, Pioli appears to be lying low, allowing Haley to take all the heat. With many in the media slamming his head coach, you would think Pioli would come to Haley’s defense. It has only been two games after all. A loss is a loss whether by three points or 50. A win over the Chargers, however improbable it might be, combined with losses by Oakland and Denver, would give the Chiefs the same record as everyone else in the AFC West. As bad as things have been, a dominate performance in San Diego on Sunday would put out the fire as quickly as it had begun. For a week at least, it would lead the critics to at least consider that perhaps the team’s first two games of 2011 were simply an abnormality.

Unfortunately for Haley, Pioli is remaining silent. This may be because Pioli simply doesn’t believe a turnaround is possible. If that is indeed the case, there is no reason for him to come forward now and say anything. After all, firing Haley after two games, regardless of how badly the Chiefs lost, would be premature.

If, however, the team continues to struggle in the same manner, Pioli will have a perfect excuse to step forward and make Haley the fall guy. The Chiefs are almost sure to struggle in San Diego. If they do, the discontent amongst fans and the media will only grow. After the Chargers, the Chiefs play the 0-2 Vikings at home before going on the road to play the dreadful, Peyton Manning-less Colts. A loss to either or both of those teams could give Pioli enough courage to dispose of Haley.

The Chiefs have their off week after the Colts game. Teams that fire coaches midseason often do so in the off week to give the interim coach time to settle in and make changes. Pioli has three perfect interim coaching candidates in Romeo Crennel, Maurice Carthon and Jim Zorn. Any one of those men would make a suitable replacement for the remainder of the season.

Some folks have wondered what purpose firing Haley mid-season would serve. For starters, it would enable Pioli to put the blame for this season’s struggles all on Haley. Pioli knows that people think Haley’s unorthodox approach to the preseason is responsible for the team’s poor start. The longer the losing goes on, however, the more people will begin to look past Haley and at Pioli for an explanation of how things got so bad so fast. Should the team rally under the interim coach and string together a few wins, it will validate Pioli’s firing of Haley. If the team continues to flounder, it will just be further evidence that the team needs new coaching leadership and that Pioli made the right decision. For Pioli, it is win-win.

The worst thing Pioli could do in this situation is stand with Haley on a sinking ship. Right now, Pioli’s fate and legacy are not tied to Haley. If he rids of himself of the head coach and hires a new guy, he likely will get two, probably three more years to allow the new regime to take shape. Most GMs get a chance to hire a tleast two coaches.

Should he stand behind Haley throughout this season, however, their fates become more and more intertwined. Another disaster of a season in 2012 could put Pioli and his career in serious jeopardy.

Pioli’s silence is telling. He’ll likely remain silent for a few more weeks. If Haley turns things around and the team puts together a respectable season, Pioli can wait out the season before deciding on how to react.

If the team continues to lose, however, Haley is likely a dead man walking.

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