The NFL gods must have a sacrifice. Losing seems to almost demand it. It's the nature of a competitive league that some teams will win and some will lose every year in the NFL. Those teams that lose, then, generally must offer someone to account for their inability to be on the other side. For the Kansas City Chiefs 2011 season, Todd Haley was the one to walk the plank as the necessary sacrifice. But what about this season?
There's no use debating whether it is fair or not. Haley is out whether you thought he was to blame or not. Same with Raheem Morris out of Tampa Bay. Both coaches won 10 games unexpectedly and went to the NFL playoffs in 2010. Yet the next year, they were fired. The 24/7 nature of sports analysis these days insists that answers come quickly. Penance is demanded. Haley was axed because, frankly, someone had to go.
Now Romeo Crennel is the head coach and Brian Daboll is the new offensive coordinator, but if the Chiefs lose the AFC West again in 2012 to another team (a real possibility), should they be the ones to blame? What about Scott Pioli, the team's general manager? Should anyone be forced to leave? Those are very real questions.
Some fans were calling for Pioli's head this time around. The drama around Arrowhead has been the Chiefs' main headline late in the season until now, and the team's leadership has acted questionably in the last year. There are a few key questions that lack reasonable answers at this point:
-Why was there such tension with Haley and Pioli if he was the choice hire of Pioli in the first place?
-What is really going on with the age discrimination suit?
-Is Arrowhead really that controlling and manipulative of a work place?
-Why has the team failed to spend nearly as much money as others, especially since the team lacked obvious depth heading into the season?
The Chiefs' brass certainly doesn't have to answer to anyone. They control the team and they're the ones paid to do the job, but some of these questions linger and poke holes in the team's public image.
So if the Chiefs continue to lose in 2012, should Pioli finally be the one to leave? After all, it might prove that it wasn't just a matter of a bad coach but a poor front office.
While that opinion might be valid, I contend that it would also be the wrong one. Another season in would give Pioli four seasons running operations at Arrowhead, so it's easy to believe that's enough time. Certainly other teams have given less to their own general managers. But check out what Mike Freeman says about longevity given the New York Giants' recent success:
If you want to understand why the Giants have been so great -- and there are a number of reasons -- the biggest might be front-office continuity. The team has had three general managers since 1979: the late George Young (who should be in the Hall of Fame), Ernie Accorsi (who had a pretty terrific career himself) and Jerry Reese. Three. And it's not like the first two were fired. Young and Accorsi voluntarily left their positions leaving the team in far better condition than when they arrived. They were brilliant, and now Reese is holding his own. Some organizations -- I'm looking at you Dallas, Washington, and a host of others -- still don't understand how important that is. Stability in the front office is the most important thing to a franchise -- other than finding a solid quarterback.
Developing a winning culture also doesn't happen overnight. If you bring a player or coach in to be the answer, that person has to be given time. Do you fire the guy who made the decision when he's 0 for 1 on his hiring or personnel decisions? For example, should Pioli be taken down because Matt Cassel hasn't become the next Tom Brady? What about the other teams clamoring for Cassel at the same time? That trade, in the moment it was made, brought questions as to whether or not it was a favor from Belichick to his old pal in his new home. Certainly you cannot fault Pioli for that.
The same thing can be said of Haley. He made a hire and it didn't work out. The Chiefs won a division title under him, but there has to be unity among all personnel involved and someone has to go if that doesn't exist. That's not to say that Pioli did nothing wrong on his part, but it's just the reality of a workplace environment. An interview or two does not fully reveal how a person will work out over the course of a few years. Clearly this one didn't work.
In the end, it's also forgotten that no single person has been more sought out to run a team in the last decade than Scott Pioli. Not Bill Parcells. Not Mike Holmgren. Not Ron Wolf. Scott Pioli has won multiple NFL Executive of the Year Awards over the last decade for his work on three Super Bowl teams and the Chiefs were considered the lucky winners of the front office sweepstakes when Clark Hunt brought him to Arrowhead. The fanfare has been quickly forgotten.
Three years is long enough to start asking questions, and Pioli and Hunt are not beyond accountability. They should answer some of these questions. Better yet, they should spend the money that they have in pocket. But consistency has its value and even executives make the wrong trade or hire every once in a while. Given how long things take to play out, multiple people shouldn't be sacrificed for the same decisions. Pioli deserves a chance to see this thing through.
And the Chiefs are better than you realize. After all, a season that cost the head coach his job featured a team that came within one game of the playoffs for the second year in a row.