For a team that's supposed to be New England West, there sure are a lot of fires with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Books have been written about the tight-lipped Patriot Way in which sportswriters are shunned and there are no such things as "sources." The Pats, under Bill Belichick's thumb, can make moves like signing Chad Ochocinco or trading for Randy Moss, and they come as complete surprises. If someone's a clubhouse cancer, even a Stage One variety, they're quickly disposed of and the leadership culture in New England is enviable enough that numerous teams have lined up to pluck something -- anything -- from the Patriots tree. The moves don't always work, but that doesn't stop franchises from trying again and again to strike gold with one of Belichick's disciples.
But for every Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Thomas Dimitroff or Josh McDaniels that leaves New England, it's clear the ultimate catch was Scott Pioli. Numerous organizations tried year after year to even gain a platform to discuss a job offer and year after year those overtures were ignored or politely declined. After years of Carl Peterson's reign in KC, everyone was suddenly high on Chiefs' football and believed that if anyone would be successful away from NE, it would be Pioli.
From the beginning, it was clear that the buddy system of the past would be ignored and that a new disposition was in place in KC. Jason Whitlock quickly resorted to namecalling (Scott Egoli somehow seemed clever enough to repeat again and again) and reporters in general were shut out. The idea was to dispel both the good and the bad in the name of control. Pioli believed in a tight ship and, since it worked before, there was good reason to do so.
From the beginning, it was tested. Brian Waters came to Arrowhead Drive in the offseason and apparently demanded a trade after Pioli reportedly denied his request to meet with the new Chiefs GM. Pioli's tenure also began with the firing of Herm Edwards (as expected) and his head coach of choice was Todd Haley, then offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl losing Arizona Cardinals. Immediately some drama began as former players discussed Haley's emotional, passionate manner and questioned his maturity to handle the position.
Yet winning, as they say, solves everything and that became true in 2010 as the Chiefs wowed everyone to win a surprising AFC West crown and host their first playoff game in seven seasons. Haley was praised, Pioli was lauded and the Chiefs were suddenly a hot commodity with a dynamic, athletic young core of players bound for future glory. Pioli had truly succeeded in establishing New England West.
But this year has featured the complete opposite of last year. Just as winning solves everything, a team that's losing makes everyone question every aspect of the program in place. The focus of the draft went from high character leaders to immature yet unquestionably talented problems. Those are, of course, gross generalizations of entire draft classes, but those headlines were common just five months ago after the 2011 NFL Draft.
Months later, those headlines served as ominous predictions when news broke about an alleged locker room fight between Jonathan Baldwin, the team's first round choice out of Pitt, and veteran leader Thomas Jones. The Chiefs tried to keep it under the radar, labeling it "family issues," but what was clear was that something was amiss -- moving beyond typical training camp scuffles that come with intense competition and time together. Instead, it was a sign of things to come.
In between was rumors of familial fighting among coaches/coordinators with the exit of Charlie Weis and possible fights between offensive egos. There was also the handshake snub. In and of themselves, none of these issues -- Waters' complaining, Haley-Weis, Handshakegate -- would be a big deal. Put together and they create a series of flash fires that won't quite go away under Pioli's rule. Simply put, the Chiefs have been unable to completely snuff out the drama.
The latest musings, however, are beyond anything the Kansas City Chiefs have seen so far and given the frustration with the season so far -- even after two wins -- it certainly shows that there's likely a larger fire blazing behind any curtain the team would want to put over it. With the rumor today emerging from 610 Sports' Nick Wright that Scott Pioli wanted to fire Todd Haley had he lost to the Colts, the drama has now engulfed the locker room. In other words, it's larger than the winning at this point.
Positive momentum should dispel the rumors, but it's clear something is at work here. Just a few weeks ago, Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver posted that the worst kept secret in Kansas City was the tension between the general manager and his head coach. It even led to some prognostication of "who's next?" and some to wonder if Josh McDaniels would be coming soon. Haley defended himself at that point, but Pioli remained silent. Then after winning two games, the flames died down and the smoke went away.
But Wright's rumor has sparked things again at a point in the Bye Week where everyone is looking for a story. Typically this me-first form of journalism could typically be ignored given its sensationalism, but credit goes to Wright for breaking the Baldwin-Jones fight earlier in the year and it's clear there's already been others pointing to the tension this season. It's impossible to say what's going on for certain given the level of drama surrounding the Chiefs, but there's at least something going on there and that's enough to make you wonder how they got here in the first place.
If anything, two conclusions can be drawn from this entire scenario as it unfolds. First, this is clearly not the atmosphere that Pioli envisioned when coming to Kansas City. Maybe that's behind some of the Haley drama. Maybe not. But either way, it's clear that the focus on anything but preparing for the next football game on the Chiefs schedule is antithetical to anything the team's brass would like to see.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it goes to show that even the Patriots Way is as fragile as any other philosophy about running a football team. In the NFL, it all comes down to winning and losing. And whether a team wants things controlled or loose, mechanical or laissez-faire, 3-4 or 4-3, it all comes down to a team's record. Nothing else, not even the Patriot way, qualifies a team as successful or not.