This is not how it was all supposed to go down. When Scot Pioli came to the Chiefs in 2009 he was supposed to be creating “New England West.” Not to say that Pioli wasn’t going to create his own legend here in Kansas City, rather, he was supposed to turn the Chiefs into perennial Super Bowl contenders. The next time the Chiefs and the Patriots were going to meet it was going to be the two class organizations of the AFC going at it. Instead, we have tonight’s matchup of the class of the AFC Patriots versus the 4-5 Chiefs whose season is hanging by a thread.
Pioli’s first couples of moves as General Manager made it look like the team was going to be headed in the direction of the Patriots. He picked Todd Haley as the head coach who came from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, just like Bill Belichick in New England. He traded for Matt Cassel to be the franchise QB. Cassel was a late round selection by the Patriots and was thought to be an undervalued commodity, just as Tom Brady was. Tyson Jackson was drafted with Pioli’s first draft choice as general manager, and was supposed to be the Kansas City version of Richard Seymour. These were all cornerstones of the Patriots run and were supposed to be the same for the Chiefs.
Here we are three years later and things haven’t exactly worked to plan. Cassel remains a divisive figure at best. The relationship between Pioli and Haley can only be described as contentious. Tyson Jackson looks to be an average player, if not an all out bust.
The Chiefs have been ravaged by injuries this year. Yet, even without those injuries would there be much hope for this game tonight? The Chiefs are a rudderless ship at this point. They have no identity. The “Patriot Way” isn’t working here. There’s the obvious reason that we don’t have Tom Brady in KC, but there’s more to it than that.
There is one distinct difference between the “Patriot Way” and what has transpired during Pioli’s tenure. As an identity the “Patriot Way” is not something they had in mind when Pioli and Belichick arrived in New England. They had a philosophy they were trying to implement, but the ultimate identity developed on its own.
When the Pioli regime started in KC, they proclaimed they were going to build a franchise that will churn out perennial contenders like the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Patriots. The problem is they ascribed a predetermined identity to a team that did not have one. While in some circles that would seem like what a general manager should do, I happen to disagree. A general manager is there to facilitate and to ensure continuity. The GM should facilitate an identity that develops on its own. Once developed the GM just has to make sure it continues. That is not the approach Pioli has taken.
While at New England, the Patriots took on a life of their own. They made shrewd moves with their personnel and with their coaching staff. No one player was above the team. That developed because the players and coaching staff bought into their philosophy. Eventually, that became the identity that later was turned into the “Patriot Way.”
Deion Branch was a Super Bowl MVP and the Patriots let him walk out the door. He never achieved such success again. Ty Law was an all-pro and he was allowed to leave the team without much fuss. Law’s success after New England was short lived (including a two-year stop in KC). These players, though talented, were put in place to succeed by the Patriots. Belichick knew that they were replaceable because they possessed skill sets that could be found in others. With the exception of Tom Brady, nobody on the Patriots championship teams possessed out of this world skills. Rather, they were all put in position to succeed.
The Chiefs have tried to circumvent this building of their identity. They have tried to enforce their identity upon these players. Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson probably aren’t cut out for a 3-4, but they’re playing it anyway. Matt Cassel is not Tom Brady, but the Chiefs are paying and treating him like he is. Jamaal Charles may be the best running back in the league (before his injury, anyway), but Thomas Jones started over him for an entire season.
Those are all examples of the Chiefs setting a tone and enforcing an identity the players didn’t necessarily agree with and might not be suited for. Thus, in year 3 of the Pioli-Haley regime we have wound up where we’re at today.
When the Chiefs look across the sideline at their opponent they will see the team that they want to be. What they won’t see are the reasons why there is such a gap between the two organizations. There is no set time table to building a franchise but I don’t believe I’m alone when I say that most probably thought the Chiefs would be closer than they currently are.
While the front line of the Chiefs is great with budding stars like Charles, Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, and others. There is still much work to do. Over the last three years the Chiefs have been near the bottom in salary cap spending. While they have done a good job signing the players that were already here, they have sorely neglected getting this team the depth they need. Injuries have been a popular excuse for the Chiefs struggles in 2011. Yet, we all saw the 2010 Green Bay Packers have near historic amount of injuries and still win the Super Bowl. The next guy stepped up and they didn’t miss a beat.
Kansas City lacks that depth right now and it’s a large reason why the Chiefs are farther than they should be after three years in the Pioli regime. Trying to force feed an identity and proving they are smarter than the rest of the league has led the Chiefs to be undermanned going into one of the hardest five game stretches in recent memory.
Going in to 2011 that wasn’t supposed to be the storyline for tonight’s game. This was supposed to be master versus pupil, Belichick vs. Pioli, Cassel vs. Brady, etc. This was supposed to be two teams looking for division championships and playoff spots. Instead, we are treated to an inferior Chiefs squad going up against the model organization it’s striving to be.
This was definitely not the way it was supposed to be.