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The Chiefs general manager has come under fire for good reason, but would replacing him provide the answer on the field?
"Everyone deserves to get fired." That's a valid point. The Kansas City Chiefs have potentially endured the most frustrating and difficult season in NFL history given both the team's league-worst record, the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide and a list of embarassments, letdowns and frustrations. It is absolutely right and good to throw everything away and start all over.
Head coach Romeo Crennel is most certainly out (Update: Crennel has been fired). One season after winning over players, media and fans with two of three wins during an interim tenure last season, Crennel's official time as the Chiefs leader has been as disastrous as his turn in Cleveland. It's clear that sweeping changes will be made on the field and on the sidelines, and Crennel should be the first to go.
The only question at this point: How far-reaching will those changes be? Will they extend beyond the coaching staff to the front office? If so, Clark Hunt has a difficult personal decision to make to oust a friend and respected colleague in general manager Scott Pioli -- the same one with three Super Bowl rings and multiple wins for NFL Executive of the Year.
This is not a defense for Pioli.
Changes need to be made and everyone, Pioli included, must be held accountable. That's no different than what the man himself has said on several occasions -- that he needs to be among those owning up to the deficiencies on the current team. However, a team that responds emotionally can expect to continue to do the same year after year. It's vital, then, to ensure the Chiefs would decide on Pioli because it was the right decision and not an emotional response to the anger of fans or the frustrations of the season.
It's easy when emotional to make grandiose statements only to regret them later. The same can happen with an NFL team deciding to change course. Franchises must be able to make difficult decisions that might prove unpopular at the time. A popular player might be allowed to let go a year early rather than a year too late (i.e. Deion Branch). A coach might be given some leeway despite a poor season (i.e. Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith). It is the owner's decision to make decisions with the long-term in mind.
As exciting as a change can be, the top NFL franchises hold a level of stability about them that such changes can undermine.
Would getting rid of Pioli provide the solution, or would it exacerbate the problem?
The question needs to be asked because Pioli is not entirely responsible for what has taken place on the field. The Chiefs earned 7 total Pro Bowl nominations (with two alternate spots for Brandon Flowers and Justin Houston) in a season in which they were the worst team in football. The talent is clearly there to win, and the Chiefs are obviously respected enough to warrant such inclusions.
When the Chiefs started the season, expectations were high all around. The talent on paper was good enough to compete for the AFC West title and nab a playoff spot. At that point, the primary job of the general manager has been done. The team is compiled. The roster is set. The coaching staff is given the keys to do the best they can with the talent they have.
In short, Pioli's job approval in the dog days of summer would have been fairly high. As much as every team wants to be able to win in the NFL year to year, sometimes, like life, it just doesn't work out. Everything is in place. Everything seems to be working. It all makes sense... then it all falls apart.
That's not to say that Pioli's regime is not to blame for what happened on the field. The quarterback position is a disaster of Pioli's own making. The lack of depth in some areas, in particular the secondary, has been very frustrating all season. To watch Brandon Carr head out the door only to release Stanford Routt after a half-season was nearly enough for most fans to finally write off Pioli for good. Not only did he fail to keep the Chiefs homegrown talent in-house but then he was wrong on the replacement player.
Yet every general manager makes such mistakes. Pioli has also been right many times. Eric Winston signed in KC above other potential options. He locked up players like Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers to long-term deals. He's nailed several draft choices, including the Chiefs long-term search for a pass rusher opposite Hali in Justin Houston. Even this year's draft class has contributed on the field with Dontari Poe, Jeff Allen and even Donald Stephenson playing significant snaps.
It's not a perfect record for sure, but let's not forget that Pioli himself is ready to pull the trigger on a new starting quarterback. He said last year around this time that he wanted more competition and the Chiefs made public overtures to Peyton Manning. The bottom line is that if a better option is not in the cards or the price is prohibitive, then there's nothing Pioli could do -- unless he wanted to trade the farm for a draft pick like the Redskins did with Robert Griffin III.
The Chiefs will have their changes in 2013. There will be a new quarterback under center. There will be a new head coach on the sidelines. There will be turnover in several other areas on the roster as well. But if Pioli is the one left standing, is that really so bad?