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“Not everybody deserves to be a head coach,” said an assistant coach for another NFL team. “He had his chance with Cleveland and proved then he probably was one of them. I was surprised when the Chiefs fired him.”

The Patriot Way doesn’t appear to work as well without a guy like Tom Brady at quarterback. The Chiefs’ collection of quarterbacks at the time Pioli arrived included the aging Damon Huard, the brittle Brodie Croyle and a developmental prospect in Tyler Thigpen.

An uninspiring bunch, to be sure. So Pioli traded for Matt Cassel, who had also worked with Pioli in New England. The Chiefs committed to Cassel, a smart tactic in trying to make the move work.

But the Chiefs may have gone too far with that strategy. With one exception, they never acquired another quarterback capable of stabilizing the program were Cassel injured or ineffective.

“If I had to boil it down to a few things, I’d say a proven leader, somebody who has demonstrated the ability to build a successful program or been a part of building a successful program,” he said. “Somebody of high integrity, somebody who is a an effective communicator and teacher.

“Someone who has a high football IQ but at the same time likes to roll up their sleeves and work hard, and somebody who is willing to hold themselves and the team accountable.”

The list is long, but first comes finding a new coach for his team.

Hunt was expected to meet with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and special teams coach Keith Armstrong this week, and there are surely more interviews in the near future.

All the usual names are expected to be on the wish list — former NFL coaches Jon Gruden, Andy Reid and Bill Cowher, college coaches such as Penn State’s Bill O’Brien and Oregon’s Chip Kelly, and top NFL assistants, including the Colts’ Bruce Arians and the Broncos’ Mike McCoy.

Hunt said he wouldn’t target a coach who was necessarily “offense or defense,” but he did have a specific list of attributes that he seeks in Crennel’s replacement.

“If I had to boil it down to a few things, I’d say a proven leader,” Hunt said. “Somebody who has demonstrated the ability to build a successful program, or been part of building a success program. Somebody of high integrity, somebody who is a successful teacher and communicator, who has a high football IQ but at the same time likes to roll up their sleeves and work hard — and somebody who likes to hold the team and themselves accountable.”

It’s my belief that Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly is the best NFL coaching candidate on the market. It’s remarkable what he’s done at Notre Dame. I don’t mean this as an insult, but I don’t see Kelly as a “molder of men.” The Declan Sullivan/scissor lift tragedy told me all I need to know about Kelly as a college coach. He’s a mercenary focused on one thing — winning games. Kelly is a guy who loves football. He’s meant to coach in the NFL. He reminds me of Jim Harbaugh. Kelly will tone down his sideline rants in the NFL.

But Scott Pioli can’t help Brian Kelly transition to the NFL. Pioli can’t help any college coach transition to the NFL. Retaining Pioli limits Hunt’s options at head coach.

Let Pioli walk with his money. Smart people get swindled from time to time. A bought lesson rarely goes unlearned. It’s the mistakes that go unpunished that we most often repeat.

Veteran offensive lineman Ryan Lilja, who helped block for Peyton Manning during the Colts’ Super Bowl-winning 2006 season, announced his retirement Monday.

Lilja said he was going to “hang it up” after the Kansas City Chiefs finished a 2-14 season with a 38-3 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Lilja had played guard his entire career until injuries along the Chiefs’ line forced him to play center the majority of this season.

“I’m ready to shut it down and move on with my life,” said Lilja, who grew up in Kansas City and starred for Kansas State before signing with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2004.

Are the 11-1 Big 12 champs of 2012 his best team? Ask us after Thursday’s Fiesta Bowl date with Oregon. Is it his best, single-season coaching job, the apex of a glorious career? Let’s just say this: It’s awfully hard to make a compelling case the other way.

“He’s had so many,” says Kansas City Chiefs safety and K-State alum Tysyn Hartman. “He’s had (a) Heisman Trophy finalist this year (quarterback Collin Klein). He’s been ranked No. 1 in the country. It’s definitely up there. He made the tradition years ago and now he’s brought it back.”

 

Making it? Tough. Maintaining it? Tougher still. Bringing it back? Good luck, pal.

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