Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

A Culture Of Winning

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Scott Pioli’s Chiefs are now breaking 70-year-old records for futility.

I’m not going to say I told you so. To do that, you have to correctly predict something. I didn’t predict this. I have always disliked Scott Pioli personally, and I thought he was mediocre-to-bad at his job, but I never considered him the worst GM in the league. Bottom half, sure, but I thought his “play-it-safe” approach would probably keep us right in that 6-10 to 10-6 range for the rest of his tenure in Kansas City. And I’ve always assumed that tenure would be at least 10 years long. Wrong on both counts. So no, an “I told you so” would most definitely not be appropriate here. Pioli has done worse than I ever thought possible.

I’ll be interested to see how long his supporters will continue making excuses for him. Most of the blame so far seems to have been placed on Romeo Crennel and Matt Cassel, with opinion more divided on Pioli. “He’s put together a good roster,” and “this team has talent,” are phrases oft-repeated. What more can we ask of our GM, right?

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: this latest collapse could only be a result of a franchise in total disarray. “Changing the culture” is something Pioli has focused on from day one. He cleaned house, brought in “his guys,” put up signs, heightened security, drafted captains, repeatedly changed PR directors, picked up candy wrappers, etc, etc. One might argue he focused more on the culture than the roster. “The Patriot Way” was his blueprint. He was going to install that culture here.

How’s that working out for us? This roster, that is supposedly full of talent, is the worst in the league. When good players play bad, when coaches don’t have them prepared to play, what is that if not a cultural breakdown?

There is no longer any way to shield Pioli from this mess. He hand-picked the QB, he refused to bring in real competition AGAIN, he promoted his NE buddy to head coach, and he signed or drafted most of these players (just not the good ones). After four offseasons, I think we can safely say this culture is of his own creation. And it has failed miserably. Either that, or this roster has far less talent than we thought. Either way, Pioli is the architect of this team’s misery.

It’s been clear to me for some time that our general manager learned all the wrong lessons from his time in New England. He thought he could import that way of doing things and the rest would take care of itself, even without Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. He also thought he had earned the right to take things slow, and that we shouldn’t expect too much yet. Serious misjudgements there. They have set this franchise back even further, and will cost him and many of his underlings their jobs (#fireMarkDonovan).

I usually roll my eyes when people talk about changing a team’s culture. The way to create a culture of winning is to, you know, win. And the way to win is to have better players and coaches than your opponents. Not Matt Cassel, not Tyson Jackson, not Brian Daboll. What you need is people who are better than their counterparts on the opposing sidelines.

Jason Whitlock and Kent Babb did a hilarious podcast on Pioli recently. Babb has no reason to stay mum any longer, so they really went to town. Whitlock had a great line, to the effect of “If you don’t have a quarterback, and your defensive and offensive lines are bad, what do you really have?”

That got me thinking about this roster, and how talented it really is. I’m torn here. All three QBs Pioli has brought in are total duds, and his first-round draft picks are contributing very little. Having said that, I was in favor of three of those picks when they were made, and am still interested in those three players (Tin Man being the odd man out, of course).

Our defensive line is one-dimensional at best. We have good linebackers, but Jovan Belcher is well below average as a starter. Brandon Flowers is the only above average defensive back.* Can we seriously say this defense has above average talent? I count four, above-average starters (Hali, Houston, Flowers, DJ). I think most teams could claim as many.

*There are some straight-up clowns in that secondary, ya’ll. You know who I miss? Jerome Woods. There was a safety you could set your watch to.

I would like to believe there is some talent on the offensive line. I don’t think we need major changes there, anyway. But it would be hard for me to call any of those guys significantly above average. Some fine players, no world-beaters. Bowe is good, Charles is good. That’s pretty much it, right? When your QBs are this bad, and you only have two good skill position players, is that above-average talent?

I realize this team should be better than 1-6, but anyone thinking about playoff victories this season was kidding himself all along. We don’t have top 10 talent, and we never did.

I’m not saying I saw this meltdown coming. I’m just saying, maybe we could have? There were certainly signs. Both Romeo Crennel and Brian Daboll had done their current jobs before and been bad at them. Is borrowing heavily from the Browns ever going to lead to success? I mean seriously, why don’t we just start a basketball team and bring in the late ’90s Clippers?

We knew Cassel wasn’t good; we knew Quinn wasn’t good; we knew D-Bowe was unhappy; we knew the rookies were unlikely to contribute much this season; we knew Berry, Moeaki and Charles might not be the same; we knew we had no defensive coordinator; we knew our defense was geared toward stopping the run despite this being a pass-heavy league; we knew Brian Daboll had failed twice; we knew Peyton Hillis had averaged a Thom Jones-esque YPC his last three years; and, perhaps most importantly, we knew this very team had been bad last year. A sub-.500 record this season was always a distinct possibility, whether we wanted to see that or not.

Of course, there were reasons to be optimistic about the roster if you were willing to ignore the quarterback position. The aforementioned good linebackers, replacing Barry Richardson with Pioli’s first-ever, big-ticket free agent, a seeming plethora of offensive weapons.* You didn’t have to squint too hard to see a solid team there. Again, minus the quarterback position.

*You guys should’ve seen Jon Baldwin in camp. So amazing! And the Chiefs were so happy to tell us about it, too. Definitely didn’t have anything to do with that Bowe holdout though. Why would you even think that? What, just because this player you were repeatedly told was incredible has 14 catches in seven games? Come on, guys, it’s a coincidence. Jeez, you act like this team has a history of deceit or something.

So what is this team’s real talent level? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter at this point. However talented or untalented they are, Scott Pioli’s culture has turned them into the worst team in the league. Sweet irony. The one thing he thought he had a perfect handle on is actually his greatest weakness, and will be his undoing.

The Pioli Way: a culture of winning minus the wins.

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