January 09, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt (left), new head coach Romeo Crennel (center) and general manager Scott Pioli speak during to media at the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Grading The Chiefs’ Big Three


Let’s just cut to the chase here. Unless you guys want to hear about my hilarious adventures over the weekend?  See, there was this dinner party, and I couldn’t keep my zipper up……

Clark Hunt

You all know how I feel about Clark Hunt.  My opinion hasn’t changed.

But let’s take opinion out of this for second and look only at what Clark Hunt has done in comparison with other owners.  Because that’s what we need to do if we want to assign him a grade.  Obviously this isn’t a leader who can inspire confidence.  His personality is wooden, his soundbites are sleep-inducing, and he has no connection whatsoever with his team’s fan base.  I’ve literally never seen a less charismatic public figure.  But does that matter?  Maybe not.

Obviously it would be nice to have a likable owner, but none of us would worry too much about that if the team was good.  So if we want to assign Hunt a grade, it should be based not on his personality (or lack thereof), but on how well he performs his duties as owner.

And what are those duties, exactly?  His apologists would like you to believe an owner’s only duty is to sign a GM.  According to them, Hunt should be given an A+ on that front because Scott Pioli seemed like the best candidate at the time.This perspective is flawed on several fronts, the first and most obvious being the actual performance of the team since Scott Pioli took over.  Hunt only scores points for signing Pioli if Pioli succeeds at his job. So far, he has not. Was the right hire still the right hire if it was the wrong hire?*

*According to Scott Pioli, yes, actually, this is true. see Haley, Todd

You don’t get credit for making the choice that seemed right, you get credit for making the choice that was right. Hunt interviewed the most obvious candidate, was delighted to discover he was a like-minded penny-pincher, and pulled the trigger. In true Chiefs fan fashion, we dismissed all potential problems and assumed Hunt had made a slam-dunk hire. Three years later, Pioli’s Chiefs are 21-28.  Can an intelligent brain really come to the conclusion that Hunt gets an A in 2011 for a sub-.500 hire he made in 2009? I’m sorry, but that’s crazy talk.

Still, the Hunt apologists are correct, in a way. There isn’t much an owner is supposed to do.  Choosing a GM is one aspect. But even that is only done at most once every few years. The other aspect, which more often than not is the only thing an owner really has to do, is spending enough to keep his team on an even playing field. And in this aspect Hunt, as ever, has been woefully inadequate.

Make excuses for him if you like, but there is no getting around the fact that every year we spend less than about 30 other teams. Pioli says Hunt has never refused to spend on a given player, and maybe that’s true. But if you’re naive enough to think that tells the whole story, then I just may know a Nigerian prince who could use your assistance.

Hunt talked openly in an October interview about instructing Pioli to manage the cap prudently. This when the team was more than $30 million below the cap, and hadn’t sniffed the ceiling since Lamar passed away. And Clark is instructing him to “manage the cap prudently?” I ask you, what is he really saying there?

I’m going to leave adjectives like “greedy” and “cheap” out of this. In his six years of ownership, Hunt has spent considerably less than his peers, and his team’s record is 36-62. He clearly places profit above winning. That might not make him a bad person (although yeah, it kinda does), but it definitely makes him a bad owner.  Final Grade: F

Todd Haley

It turns out things may have been worse with Haley than any of us realized. I don’t want to spend too much time rehashing this, because I feel like that’s what we spent the entire season doing. I will say though, if you want a really hard laugh, go back and read the comments from any of my articles this season in which I criticized Haley. Hilarious, indignant comments all over the place. I considered posting the funniest, but I’m really not looking to shame anyone here.

Still, the fact remains: some of us were able to come to the conclusion that there was a problem with Haley on our own, and some of us weren’t. Here’s a Big Matt quote from an article in September:

…when your coach and GM repeatedly say dumb things, they probably also think some dumb things. Did you guys catch Haley talking about his “quarter of the season” system again in yesterday’s presser? Yep, still doing that. It’s weird, it’s meaningless, and it’s something our coach apparently spends a lot of time thinking about. This is the same guy who once said Quentin Lawrence and Brodie Croyle were part of his core. He said our running game was going to be better under Bill Muir. He said Thom Jones was going to be quicker this year. He told Peter King the reason he didn’t give Jamaal Charles more carries than Jones last year is because it would’ve been anti-team.

I’m not saying any one of these things is necessarily a deal breaker. But there was plenty of smoke before this all-out forest fire started. We have to actually listen to what these guys say. If it sounds really dumb, it probably is really dumb.

And here’s a second one, from a different September article:

Those of you still angrily defending Haley’s training camp and preseason need to slow down and take a deep breath. Sarcastically arguing against straw men doesn’t get our discourse anywhere, and neither does inventing excuses for everything Haley does. Our coach has made some pretty obvious mistakes in his time here. It’s OK to admit that.

I took a lot of heat for making comments like that. How do they sound when you read them now?

When your football team is failing, you can either look to excuses, or look to the men in charge. The former may be easier, but the latter is the only way we ever learn anything. Todd Haley did a lot of crazy stuff, and it turns out……he was crazy! Hardly rocket-science. But we all wanted to believe in him, so most of us did. Some continued in that belief even as Tyler Palko started four consecutive games. But the minute Haley was purged, it was finally safe to turn on him. And now that he’s gone, he’s a boogeyman, responsible for all of our team’s problems. Todd Haley is our Trotsky.

I beg of you, comrades, learn the lesson Haley has to teach. Party loyalty is not the be-all-end-all.  The glorious leader isn’t always so glorious. Final Grade: F

Scott Pioli

By far the most important grade to assign. Like it or not (in my case not), Pioli sets the tone for this entire franchise. He’s had a pretty tough year, on a number of fronts. Inactive offseason (again), losing season, chosen head coach melts down, numerous PR gaffes and an outright disaster. I would hope Pioli is embarrassed. He’s only human, so I’m sure he probably is.

I’ve tried to put myself inside his head. No easy task, since we’re obviously very different people. I doubt he attends Comic-Con or or watches Christopher Lambert movies, for instance. And I don’t get livid about parking spots and roam hallways hunting for candy wrappers. So yeah, different people.

Still, in a way, I think I can relate to how he must be feeling right now. He pretty clearly thought he had all the answers when he arrived in KC. I felt that way when I became manager of my current company.  I knew the score, I knew how to get shit done, I’m gonna clown that last fool, etc. It was humbling to discover how wrong I was. Within a month I realized I was going to have to seriously adjust the way I did things in order to succeed. I would imagine a lot of you have been through scenarios like this as well. It’s probably a pretty natural occurrence when a confident person gets a promotion or takes a new job.  My biggest problem with Pioli is we’re three years into his tenure and still wondering whether or not he might be figuring this out.

This has been a painfully slow learning curve. And honestly, I’m not sure he’s actually learning anything.  His free agent strategy has remained exactly the same throughout his three years here, despite poor results. He’s claiming Haley wasn’t a mistake while simultaneously trying to scapegoat him for all of the team’s ills (quite a tightrope, that). And his response to his recent shaming has been to further batten down the hatches. The fact that he and Donovan came up with that “great moment in coaching” line is mind-boggling.

Earlier, I said Clark Hunt’s personality shouldn’t be factored into his grade. A GM is a totally different beast. One thing I’ve learned over the last decade of intensely following the front office is that a GM’s personality has A LOT to do with the success of his team. Things like pride, stubbornness, arrogance, insecurity and fear of change will manifest in your football team. Not that the players will be those things, but that those things will keep a team from being everything it can be.

Case in point: how much better would we have been this year with a real backup quarterback? One win?  Two?  We may very well have made the playoffs. Why didn’t we have a real backup quarterback? There are a few possible explanations, but the most likely is that Scott Pioli didn’t want Matt Cassel to feel threatened. Why? Because Cassel was his QB. Pioli couldn’t handle the possibility of his chosen QB getting benched, so he made that an impossibility. That’s a personality flaw manifesting itself on our 53-man roster. Scott Pioli’s pride led to Tyler Palko starting games for us. This is how it happens.

So yes, we should care about our general manager’s personality. Deeply. It’s vital to our future success.

As to how Pioli did this offseason, I suppose that’s up for debate. The head coach he just canned attracted Steve Breaston. None of the other free agents he signed made much of an impact. Justin Houston was the only draft pick to distinguish himself, but I still have high hopes for that class and am inclined to give Pioli a good grade for the draft. He also re-signed Brandon Flowers and inked a sweet deal with our kicker, but failed to re-sign Dwayne Bowe or Brandon Carr.*

*I’m gonna cut a few of you guys, “my boys” let’s call you, off at the pass here. Yes, I realize Bowe and Carr could still be re-signed before they hit free agency. But I’m assigning a grade for the 2011 season, aren’t I? 

So basically, there were high points if you look for them. The low points, unfortunately, you don’t have to look for. Pioli, in essence, committed to both Tyler Palko and Barry Richardson. He cut Jared Gaither. He had oodles of cap space, and again, he didn’t use it. His big free agent score from 2010, Thom Jones, continued to be a poisonous thorn in our side.  Even his idea for a first-round pick seems to have come directly from Bill Belichick. I was definitely a little embarrassed to discover that.

I’ve seen people saying Pioli did a good job in talent acquisition this year. That is an incredibly generous evaluation. I don’t see how you can give him anything higher than a C there. Need I remind you, there were four games when Tyler Palko’s blind side was protected by Barry Richardson. That has to be the worst QB/blind-side-tackle combo of all time, right? Hey, I’m just glad those guys were the right “fit.”

I’m not expecting Scott Pioli to finally break the bank this offseason. I want to set reasonable goals, and I’ve come to grips with the fact that the Chiefs will never, ever be in the top half of the league in spending. An occasional year in the top 20 would be nice, but honestly even that probably isn’t in the cards. So let’s start with this: no more catch phrases to justify inactivity. No more right 53, no more substance over sizzle, no more team speed, no more “fit,” no more it takes two to marry. Sign good players. Start with the two that already on our team. Do that, and everyone will be happy.

As far as 2011, I realize you’re probably expecting an F here. Believe it or not, I’m not grading out of spite (OK, maybe Clark Hunt’s grade). Pioli had a tough year, but I’ve seen worse. In fact, I’ve seen worse from him. And maybe down the road, if that draft class breaks out, we’ll have to revisit this grade and improve it.  But for now…… Final grade: D

Romeo Crennel

Matty likey. Pretty sure everyone likey. I don’t want to make too much of a three-game stint, but yeah, Crennel did really well. I’m psyched to have him back. He’s turned our defense around, he answers questions, and he understands how awful Tin Man and Dorsey are at the pass rush and attempts to sub them out accordingly. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as soon as he got to town DJ was a starter again.*

*Anyone still want to credit Haley for “motivating” Johnson with that genius benching? I seem to remember that being a pretty widely held opinion around these parts. As it turns out, all those depth chart games were just crazy Haley nonsense. Again, this is something that some of us were able to figure out before Haley was fired.

We’re all overrating Crennel, obviously. But for 2011, the man was a Jesus-send. Don’t even have to think about this one.  Final grade: A

OK, Addicts, what do you think? Was I too hard on the men upstairs? I’m sure some of you think so. Let’s hear it.  I am accepting personal insults at this time, with the caveat that they have to be funny.  Funny insults get a like, unfunny ones get put on my “people to haunt when dead” list.  Current list: Edwards, Herm.  That is all.

Tags: Clark Hunt Romeo Crennel Scott Pioli Todd Haley