A Culture Of Winning

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.

Tags: Kansas City Chiefs Scott Pioli

  • Nate Taylor

    By the way, according to Adam Schefter the Buffalo Bisons in 1929 went to the 9th game before taking a lead. The Chiefs are the worst team (in that category) since 1929. If they don’t take a lead today or next Monday they will break a 93 year old record.

  • Steph

    Anytime the opposing team’s RB goes thru the Defense, it looks like the Red Sea…And that RB should be nick-named Moses! Nobody on that D, will bring the Wood! And the O-Line? You shouldn’t a have three legit Running Backs, an have your QB be the leading rusher in a game… With 45 (Runnning for my LIFE) Yards! Just Saying…

  • ArrowFan

    I say that if and when we lay another egg tonight on National TV someone is getting fired as soon as the team lands in KC. Next week isn’t a bye week but it might as well be. It’s the closest thing to a bye week until the end of the season. If everyone in the organization makes it through the week end, then no one is getting fired until the end of the season.

    • Jonathan Aldridge

      the bye week will be the playoffs…

  • tm1946

    This all begs a bigger question. Can a new GM and or coaches use the talent here to win games? Or are we stuck with another 3-4 year plan? If so, all our current “stars” will be done. Take all of Piuli’s draft picks and how many will even make the roster.
    Just saying the Hunt Chiefs are in deep trouble, odd how so many say how improve the roster is with Pioli and the future looks so dismal. Most comment assume Clark will make changes sooner than later…..but he could just ride this out – give the plan a chance to work, cannot keep firing coaches, they need achance. We may well be saying the same thing for the next year or two.

  • Doc

    Oh man Big Matt, you are harsh – but I LOVE it! I drank the kool-aid at teh beginnnig of the year and bought in to the, “We have a talented roster.” I agree, this team should have a fired saled (yes I said fired). I can only keep maybe 10 players on this current roster to start over with. However, that is realistic unless we want to wait another 5-7 years to ‘rebuild’. Pioli di his job fantastically. He brought in the NE way – build a club that would never challenge NE in the playoffs. he brought in the ‘right 53′ – players that go along and would nto be a distraction on/off the field and would not mouth off to the media. I can make an arguement for Baldwin being kept around because he was starting to produce in trainnig camp. Then Bowe signs and he is relagated to second place. Matt “I am a good guy, really” Cassel only looks for Bowe during the game. You can watch it and seef or yourself. Why did Breaston drop the easy ball Sunday? He never gets thrown to so he was caught off guard (mental error). These are spoiled young rich kids that think they are ‘da bomb’ and when you demote them they get attitudes. Just go out and go through the motions and collect my check attitudes. People can play teh ‘professional’ card all they want, but this team has no heart. They have no heart because they have no leadership. They have no leadership because Pioli brought in the ‘right 53′ to do it the patriot way. I guess being worried about candy wrappers would get me rattled too where I couldn’t do my job effectively too. We blamed everything on Haley when he was here, so we fired him mid-season. No we have a different head coach and the same results. I’m sorry, if I buy a pack of small condoms and the first doesn’t fit (head coaches) trying on another one from the same package (another HC and different coaches) and it still doesn’t fit – I have to go but a different bigger package (GM)! Not too hard to figure out.

  • ladner morse

    Wow. Big Matt. What a great piece.

    “The Pioli Way: a culture of winning minus the wins.” That pretty much says it all.


    This is soooo freakin’ sad. Even when Edward’s team went 2-14, I wasn’t embarrassed to be a Chiefs fan. I, along with most other Chief’s fans, figured with a new regime that we would get it together. Boy, were we wrong! Now, we get to showcase this abomination on national TV for the next two weeks! Tonight at the Chargers and then on Monday Night Football against the Steelers. Do you think that Todd Haley is gonna’ take his foot of the gas against his former team? This is the same GM (Pioli) that withheld 3 million dollars from Haley after he was fired. Pick out any negative you want to use about the Chiefs, and you would be correct. What a bunch of sad sacks!!!!

  • Lyle Graversen

    There was a day when I would have passionately defended Pioli from a post like this. Those days are over. I was wrong about Pioli, you were right. I do think that Mark Donovan has done some good things. The website was a disgrace before, now 65TPT Productions turns out some pretty good stuff. Sad that that’s the only pro-chiefs argument I could come up with.

  • Priest4Prez

    I was wrong I”ll say it. I ranted and ranted on Haley; calling him nuts and confrontational; even went as far as to call every Steelers fan I knew and give em hell for signing him. It wasn’t Haley ya’ll; it was the dark shadow over his shoulder and that is the truth. I want my filthy homeless coach back; he had balls and tenacity. Granted he had issues with every offensive cordinator but that’s a sweet reprive after watching this season swirling the drain.

  • Guest

    Remember Haley’s odd claim that his office was bugged? And everyone thought he had gone nuts? Not so hard to believe, now.

  • jimfromkcj

    Matt, first of all, I have been saying from day 1 of the Pioli era that he was taught everything he knows by Belechick, But Belechick didn’t teach him everything Bill knew. I know that is kind of a smart ass way of putting Pioli down, but it is what it is. Now I would like to make a statement that a lot of folks will take the wrong way. But it is a fact that small market teams have to brag up their best players to the fans to keep interest up and going to losing programs. It has always been that way. In other words if you are in a small market town, you had better take the hype with a grain of salt because if you expect a player to live up to the hype you will only be disappointed and mad as hell and blame it on everyone but the situation itself. We just don’t have the talent that we have been led to believe. Never have and probably never will. I think I have read somewhere that Clark has to come up with 10 million to his siblings each year. His mother is a part owner too and so if they each take 10 million that would be 50 million off the top before you can pay your players, coachs and the many people who arefront office, groundskeepers etc.So you see why he is running such a tight ship. And if you add the money it takes to run the other sporting enterprices which are money losers rather than money makers like the Chiefs it will be even clearer. But that is just my mind wandering and how much is fact or figments of my imagination is any one’s guess.