“Winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing.”
This legendary sports quote is most often attributed to legendary coach Vince Lombardi,* but rarely is it reprinted in its entirety: “Winning isn’t everything—it’s the only thing I love more than picking up candy wrappers.”
*Speaking of Green Bay, I didn’t get to see much of the games this past weekend, but I’m looking forward to Sunday. What time is Saints-Packers?
In the history of sports and coaching—particularly the rarified domain of big-time professional sports ownership and leadership—there have always been idiosyncratic personalities. That’s not news, and it’s one of the reasons why Kansas City Star reporter Kent Babb’s examination of “Arrowhead Anxiety” was as credible in its concept as it was dreadful in some of its details.
Babb’s story was a solid piece of reporting, based on weeks of investigation and reflection and more than 30 interviews (as it should be—I wish I hadn’t been so pleasantly surprised by its thoroughness). For that alone, it deserved to be on the front page. As to whether it deserved to be the front page—for anyone who hasn’t seen the hard copy, Babb’s story (and its accompanying, menacing graphic) occupy about 80 percent of the broadsheet (right)—or to be the only sports story discussed in Kansas City and to make its way to many other markets, I have mixed feelings.
Actually, not mixed at all—I hate that we’re talking about this, because even though football is the undercurrent and the reason we care, actual football-on-the-field is removed from this discussion. I understand it’s interesting that Chiefs executives may seem more preoccupied with the surreptitious routes their employees take to lunch (so as not to be seen fraternizing with one another) than they are with Dwayne Bowe’s pass routes,* but does that mean we should be? Can’t we all just get back to relishing the end of Tebow Time?**
*I stole that clever route comparison from Nick Wright, who spent about four hours—three-and-a-half hours too many—discussing this on his show yesterday.
**And its return next fall, which, I feel, will ultimately be a good thing for the Chiefs (and all of the Denver Broncos’ opponents).
Yes, I’m writing about it right now, and no, I don’t think I’m hypocritical for doing so. Not wanting to talk about something and believing it can’t be ignored are two different things. I’m adding to the hubbub,* but I hope that by talking it out now, we will all see this story fade away sooner.
*Couldn’t decide whether to go with “hubbub” or “hullabaloo.” Hullabaloo? Yeah, I should have used hullabaloo.
Because I don’t have much at all to add—it’s hard to imagine how anyone could—to the comprehensive scrutiny laid down by Big Matt and Lyle yesterday. I appreciate the points made all around. I agree with most of Matt’s observations and roughly 100 percent of Lyle’s conclusions (and in the comments, it sounds like Matt agrees more than disagrees, too). So before I leave it at that, I will share just a couple of my own, none-too-profound reactions to the article and its allegations…
My first impression after the opening paragraphs was not “hmmm, something is amiss” nearly so much as, “wow, Haley really is paranoid.” From what I have heard (we all have our anonymous sources), the coach’s fear of being surveilled extended to his car—he stopped driving himself—and even his home. Apparently, the not-so-slow breakdown we witnessed on the sideline wasn’t just about outward appearances (and/or odors). Sure, there is the argument—made near the start of Babb’s article—that the regime made him this way, that Haley is the victim of “mental abuse.” And hey, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.
But I don’t buy it. Look, we don’t know Romeo Crennel all that well yet—only what we can glean from his recent public persona—but still, he’s been on the inside for a couple of years now, too, and this is a coach who purportedly makes decisions and then calmly informs management. Can you envision Crennel freaking out at the suspicion that Pioli and Hunt might be listening in on his conversations—or giving a sh*t if they were?
Imagine Babb’s piece without the dramatic Haley lead (of course, as the writer himself testified in radio interviews yesterday, it was the coach’s paranoia that propelled him to look deeper in the first place). Lacking that, the story immediately loses a lot of its cruel intensity. The details, such as requiring staffers to lower window shades during practices or that symbolic candy wrapper, demonstrate a tight ship where all distractions are discouraged, but no longer leave such a sinister impression. And while not a great sign, three lawsuits, in a situation where a large organization in transition has recently let go dozens of long-time employees, don’t seem so exceptional.
As Lyle brilliantly illustrated, the whole scenario is almost too cinematic to be true. Tapping phones? Bugging offices? Who is doing all this, especially when the staff has just been streamlined? Would Hunt go to all that extra effort and expense? Going to expense is not so much his thing. Is Pioli overly obsessed with small details? Okay, sure.
That’s why the movie that immediately came to my mind is As Good As It Gets. The Scott Pioli of this article is more like Jack Nicholson’s Melvin, the obsessive-compulsive misanthrope unyieldingly set in his ways until he meets Carol (played by Helen Hunt), whose refusal to excuse or tolerate his behavior leads to a revelation:
Melvin: I’ve got a really great compliment for you, and it’s true.
Carol: I’m so afraid you’re about to say something awful.
Melvin: Don’t be pessimistic, it’s not your style. Okay, here I go: Clearly, a mistake. I’ve got this, what—ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I hate pills, very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I’m using the word “hate” here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never… all right, well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills.
Carol: I don’t quite get how that’s a compliment for me.
Melvin: You make me want to be a better man.
Maybe all this hubbub and hullabaloo, finally provoked beyond any containment by the Chiefs PR machine, thanks to Kent Babb (I guess he’s the Helen Hunt in this scenario), and all the popular resentment it has triggered, will ultimately make Scott Pioli and Clark Hunt strive to become better bosses and better men.
But if you believe that, you probably need some pills.