Passing Judgement On Clark Hunt and Scott Pioli


A few years ago my wife and I took a class through our church called “Financial Peace University.” It was a series of classes on how to get your finances in order put together by financial “guru” Dave Ramsey. It really helped us get ourselves on track. For those that aren’t familiar with Ramsey, here’s a brief summary. Debt is bad. If you have it, get rid of it. If you don’t have it, don’t get it. He says that the biggest problem with our society is that we have become too obsessed with instant gratification. It seems that anymore if you want a huge flat screen TV, you don’t think about if you can afford it, you just go out and buy it on credit and figure out how to pay for it later. Ramsey’s solution is not that you can’t buy a big flat screen, it’s that if you want one you save up your money until you can afford it and then buy it. That way the happiness you get from the TV doesn’t get replaced with regret when you can’t pay your bills down the road.

“Great financial lesson, Graversen, but this is a Chiefs blog, move it along!”

Alright, but I think you know where I’m going with this. For the last year Scott Pioli and Clark Hunt have been public enemies number 1 and 2 (you pick the order) with most KC fans. They’ve been called cheap, tight, and even evil human beings. The general consensus has been that these two men both care more about filling their own pockets then fielding a winning football team. Now I’m sure some of you that have read my columns before are expecting me to ride the positive vibes coming off the early free agent signings into a 100 percent Pioli and Hunt are great “fluff” piece. Hopefully, that’s not what this is. I’d like to take an honest look back at their tenures and see if there is a fair assessment that most KC fans could agree on.

Since Clark Hunt’s ownership of the team predates Scott Pioli, let’s start with him. Before the passing of the great Lamar Hunt, their was actually some “buzz” amongst Chiefs fans that Clark taking control of the team would be a good thing. The reason? Word was that he didn’t share his father’s loyalty to then general manager Carl Peterson. When Clark assumed control of the team after his father’s passing he didn’t fire Peterson right away. In fact, coming off a playoff appearance in Herm Edward’s first season as coach it appears he allowed Peterson to continue running things as he had for most of his tenure. That being, to fill perceived holes with some free agents in hope of continuing to piece together a winner. The plan that year flopped and the Chiefs went from playoff team to 4-12.

Here’s where things get interesting. Clark Hunt still didn’t fire Carl Peterson. However, the Chiefs strategy that off season was different then at any other time since Peterson took control of the team. The Chiefs gutted their roster of veteran players and stocked it full of young players. Was this because Herm Edwards (a coach with a history of giving young players a shot) convinced Hunt to let him go young? Maybe. Did Peterson have an epiphany and decide that it was time to abandon his FA building ways and develop a new core of young in-house talent? Maybe. We’ll never know who was the mastermind behind it, but I believe that the timing of this move is not a coincidence. At that same time Clark Hunt was pledging millions of dollars towards renovating Arrowhead.

So here’s what we know. Clark Hunt had one of the lowest payrolls in the NFL from that point up to this coming season where it appears they will be very close to the salary cap after they sign their draft picks. Why was this? Here are some explanations:

Pro-Hunt: Hunt knew that the best teams build the core of their team through the draft and then just supplement with free agency. So despite knowing that they would struggle in the short term, he oversaw the rebuilding of the roster with young talent that they could develop from within. The decision was based on football philosophy and had nothing to do with money. We are now seeing the benefits of this philosophy on the football roster and as it has come time to pay this in-house talent Hunt has been willing to do so. The fact that we have now arrived back near the cap proves that this was never about being cheap.

Anti-Hunt: Hunt doesn’t care about the football team at all as long as he is making money on it. His desire to cut payroll was based entirely on greed. If the collective bargaining agreement was not mandating that owners spend a certain percentage of the cap starting in 2013 then Hunt would have kept the payroll at the bottom of the league indefinitely. The only reason he is spending this year is so that he doesn’t have to shell out his money in the way of huge bonuses all at once next season when the “cap floor” comes into effect. Also, the recent “Arrowheadgate” scandal has given him some bad PR, and he’s trying to repair his image so he can continue to trick KC fans into showing up to games and lining his pockets.

My take: I think the truth lies somewhere in-between the two. I believe that Hunt wants the Chiefs to win. I do however think that the bottom basement payrolls at the same time the Chiefs were renovating Arrowhead are not a coincidence. If the “youth movement” was about football strategy and not about getting payroll down, then why not fire Peterson then and hire your new GM to oversee this “rebuild” himself? That is something I have never understood. I do think that Hunt is smart enough and has enough business strategy to understand that having a team that the fans are excited about sells more tickets and that at some point you have to spend in order to make money. I don’t think he would have spent the money to bring in a hot GM name like Scott Pioli if he had no intentions of trying to win and just wanted to keep the payroll low. I do think that the fact that Pioli came from a team that was not known for signing players to huge free agent contracts, but building from within was part of the reason Hunt wanted Pioli.

I also believe that since Pioli took over Clark Hunt has had zero percent input on the Chiefs roster. I think he hired a guy that had a good reputation that he trusted and that he knew wasn’t going to run his team like the Redskins or Raiders and then stepped aside. I personally don’t think Hunt looks at scouting reports or watches game tape. He runs the business, period. So bottom line is that I do think that Hunt cares about his bottom line. I do not believe that it is the only thing he believes in. I personally believe that Clark’s ego would like to see himself winning Super Bowls and elevating his name to amongst those elite legendary owners in the game. I just don’t think he’s willing to lose money to do it.

So of those three options, where do you fall when it comes to Clark Hunt?

Next up, it’s time to take a look at Scott Pioli.

Pioli was THE top GM candidate on the market when Clark Hunt hired him to be the Chiefs’ new GM. He had turned down offers from other franchises to even interview for their GM jobs before he came onboard in KC. My stance on Pioli has always been, why would he leave NE to come somewhere where either he or his boss wouldn’t do whatever they could to win? What possible reason could Pioli have for not having “winning” as his top priority? I think that if Scott Pioli had been fired after last season another team would have snatched him up in a heartbeat and paid him well to be their GM. So it can’t just be that he doesn’t want Clark to fire him. I think Pioli wants to win in the worst way. If nothing else, then to prove to everyone how great he is. We’ve heard a lot about Pioli’s ego and how it’s a problem. The thing about ego is, it often drives people to want to win to reaffirm their high self-worth. So I’ve never bought into the “Pioli is just cheap and doesn’t want to win” thought process. I believe Pioli thinks that every move he makes is the right one and that he is trying to win a Super Bowl. I would imagine he would very much like to prove that he has what it takes to build a Super Bowl winner without Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. He may be wrong in some of those decisions, but I personally don’t question his commitment.

So how good of a job has Pioli done? How much of the criticism that he’s received is fair?

First, let’s start with Matt Cassel. When you look at the team that takes the field for the Chiefs season opener in 2012, there is a good chance that the one glaring weak spot may be the QB position (assuming they find someone to play NT). For some people, even if the rest of the team is stacked, that will be a sign of Scott Pioli’s failure. Here’s my take: Bringing Matt Cassel to the Chiefs and signing him to that contract was the right thing to do at that time. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that I think Cassel is good, but at the time they didn’t have any other options. Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen were not NFL-caliber starting QBs. They needed someone that could step in and play QB at an NFL level, even if it wasn’t great. Even if you HATE Matt Cassel, he is an NFL-caliber QB, maybe a poor one, but he’s better than the Croyles, Thigpens, and Tyler Palkos of the world. So saying that Cassel is not the QB to lead us to the Super Bowl, doesn’t have to mean that you think it was a mistake to bring Cassel here. I know his contract was big, but at the time we had plenty of money and they front-loaded it so that if he didn’t work out then they wouldn’t be financially tied to him.

Now I was impressed by Kyle Orton’s pocket presence last season. However, he actually showed even less of an ability to get TDs in the red zone than Cassel. I would have been in favor of brining him back to compete with Cassel. Here’s the deal though, I think Orton is AT BEST a very slight upgrade over Cassel and I don’t think it was worth getting in a bidding war for him. The Chiefs reached out to Peyton Manning, but for whatever reason he wasn’t interested. So that leaves us with Cassel. Has Pioli found us a long term answer at QB yet? No, but I still don’t know that he has made any huge mistakes regarding the QB position. Great QBs are really hard to come by and if finding one was easy every team would have one. I think it’s unfair to base how good of job Pioli has done based entirely on Matt Cassel. He’s part of the equation, but not the ENTIRE equation.

So outside of Cassel how has Pioli done at building this roster?

Well let’s look at who he has added to this team that are still on the roster:

QB: Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Ricky Stanzi

RB: Peyton Hillis, Dexter McCluster, Shane Bannon

WR: Steve Breaston, Jonathan Baldwin, Terrence Copper, Jeremy Horne

TE: Tony Moeaki, Kevin Boss, Jake O’Connel, Steve Manari

OT: Eric Winston, David Mims

OG: John Asamoah, Ryan Lilja

C: Rodney Hudson

DL: Tyson Jackson, Allen Bailey, Amon Gordon, Jerrell Powe, Brandon Bair, Anthony Toribio

LB: Justin Houston, Jevon Belcher, Cameron Sheffield, Brandon Siler, Gabe Miller, Cory Greenwood

CB: Stanford Routt, Javier Arenas, Jalil Brown

S: Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis, Donald Washington, Kyle McCarthy

K: Ryan Succop

Along with that he has resigned these players that were already with KC when he became GM.

Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers, Derrick Johnson, and hopefully Dwayne Bowe will be added to that list shortly.

During this same time I can only think of three good players that Pioli has let get away: Brian Waters, Jared Gaither, and Brandon Carr. Waters did end up being a mistake because he played better this season than Ryan Lilja did. However, the logic wasn’t that bad. They wanted to get Asamoah in the starting line up (and Asamoah earned that spot this year playing well) and to be fair the year before most people agreed that Lilja outplayed Waters. So a mistake, but not a horrible one.

Jared Gaither is unforgivable. Barry Richardson was flat out horrible last season and to not even try a player with Gaither’s upside at that position before you release him is just ridiculous. Pioli deserves every bit of criticism he gets for that. I guess on the bright side, at least we’re ending up with Eric Winston at that position.

Letting Brandon Carr get away is a mistake on Pioli’s part. However, not because he wouldn’t give him five years and $50 million this offseason. The mistake is that he didn’t recognize Carr’s ability a year earlier and re-sign him to a contract extension then before his price got so high. Once it became clear that Carr was going to be a high-dollar free agent, Pioli’s hands were tied. You just can’t have three players in your secondary making around $10 mil per season.

The other big mistake people like to bring up is Tyson Jackson. Has Tyson Jackson been worthy of the #3 pick? No. Is he a complete bust? No. Go back and look at that draft class at how many players have flat out busted. Last year Jackson was rated as the #1 3-4 DE against the run. That’s a valuable player to have on your roster. So let’s not act like it was the worst draft pick in the history of the franchise. A letdown? Yes, but not a total failure.

That takes us to Pioli’s spending and my original analogy to our society’s spending habits. If Daniel Snyder and the late Al Davis are the guy that go out and buy a $5,000 flat screen on credit when they’re broke, then Scott Pioli is the guy that won’t even eat out at McDonald’s if it isn’t in his detailed weekly budget. I know that it’s frustrating at times, but Pioli’s way is the better of those two extremes.

The problem is when Pioli holds back when the money is in the budget. Not making a HUGE free agent splash and signing a guy to some 100 million dollar contract is a good financial decision. Not signing a veteran back up QB and quality RT last season when the money was there and they could have been cheap one year contracts that wouldn’t hurt the Chiefs in the long run was stupid.

This year we seem to be getting the same “fiscally responsible” Pioli only he isn’t holding out on us and leaving spots unfilled. Every signing he has made has been a financially safe one, even Winston’s. These signings aren’t really that different from the Breaston, Gregg, and McClain signings they made last year. However, he is systematically filling almost every hole that the roster has this year instead of leaving a couple like he did last year. I count only starting NT, OL depth, pass rusher, and overall defensive depth as our only real needs now. If this is the Pioli we have from now on, I’m sold.

Pioli’s handeling of Eric Winston was masterful. At the time he came to town he was also scheduled to visit the Rams and Ravens. Pioli kept him in town until both of those teams signed other players on their OL, effectively taking away the competition and Winston’s leverage. Winston, despite being the top OT on the market in a year when there just weren’t hardly any starting OTs available, basically signed for the same amount he was making in Houston. The free agency market didn’t even get him a raise. Well played, Pioli.

So has Pioli made some mistakes? Definitely. However, I think its undeniable that this team is SO much better now from top to bottom. Keep in mind the 2-14 team he took over just went 7-9 and missed winning the division by one blocked FG despite losing arguably their most talented players on both sides of the ball, firing their head coach mid season, and starting Tyler Palko at QB for 4 games. If that’s not a sign of overall improvement, I’m not sure what is. So if we’re going to call him out for his mistakes (and I’ve admitted there have been some) it seems we should also give him credit for what he has done well.

You’ll notice I haven’t talked at all about the entire “Arrowheadgate” situation and Pioli’s controlling nature. That’s because I have no idea what to make of it. Could Pioli be a completely overbearing jerk who is making the Chiefs organization a horrible place to work for no good reason? Yes. Could he just be a really demanding boss who is pushing his employees to get the best out of them and firing people who he feels aren’t doing their job? Yes. Personally, I’ll judge him by the success of the football team because its the only place where I can judge with my own two eyes and not rely on second-hand opinions. Not getting Peyton Manning to even come for a visit was a strike against, but getting a player like Winston to stick around that long and eventually sign is a mark in his favor. And so it goes with Scott Pioli.

Okay, Addicts, I know this is a subject of great debate between the so called “homers” and “haters.” Have I been fair in my assessment? I tried to be as objective as possible. How do you feel our owner and GM should be viewed when you look at their entire body of work in KC? Do you have hope for the future with these two in charge? Has this off season changed your view of one or both of these men? I’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to cut loose in the comments section.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!