What does Kansas City Chiefs GM Scott Pioli do when he's visiting a school?
"I look for Carl the Janitor from The Breakfast Club," he told me in his office last week.
Indeed, actor John Kapelos from the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club plays a role in the Chiefs draft process. There's a great scene in the movie where the character John Bender is giving Carl the janitor a hard time for being "just" a janitor and Carl told him to watch out because he's the "eyes and ears of this institution."
"In this day and age," Pioli begins, "so many people know how to be politically correct. As the players are going through this process now, they're being trained and they know when to straighten up and fly right. They know when to bring their 'A' game, and their personality. They know when to turn it on and off but the whole concept of how people behave when they're not being watched...you can get more insight into who someone is when they're not being watched."
As he often does, Pioli referenced his parents trying to explain his point. He says he came from a blue collar family with two working parents -- his mom cleaned houses and his dad, at one point, held three different jobs pumping gas, driving a taxi and helping a plumber -- and from that experience he learned the importance of treating everyone -- rich people, poor people, upper class and lower class -- with "genuine" respect.
"As I go through life, I was always careful about genuinely respecting people no matter what their lot in life was because I remember what my parents did and what my parents' friends did. To me, being friends with the janitor at school was very natural. Me being friends with the bus driver was very natural. My parents raised me to respect everyone from every walk of life, every socioeconomic background. It was a blanket thing."
He says how you act when you're not being watched -- like something someone might say in front of a person who cleans houses, drives a taxi, or as, we'll find out, a graduate assistant coach -- can sometimes allow you to see who they really are. Sometimes that's good for that particular person and sometimes it's bad. With agents spending tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars prepping their clients for the draft process, getting the real story on a player becomes more difficult. That "nobody" in the corner of the room, he says, can tell you a lot more than you realize.
He says when he was a graduate assistant coach years ago he would find that some players would behave differently around him because his position was perceived as having no real power or influence.
"So then a couple years later I become the low man on the totem pole with the Cleveland Browns and one of my jobs was to drive and pick people up at the airport and take people to the Cleveland Clinic," he says. "You're just this guy. You're the lowest person on the totem pole.
"Watching the players behave, and what they would tell me, or what they would be on their cell phones talking about in front of me, thinking I wasn't paying attention, and then how they would straighten up and fly right whenever they got around Bill [Belichick] or the other coaches, you could see the switch go on and off. People behave differently in different circustances and they let their guard down."
"It all goes back to The Breakfast Club," he said. "I have this [quote]. I keep quotes."
He then hops on his computer searching for the Carl the janitor quote in a document he keeps from various books he's read and movies he's watched. He spends a minute searching for it before giving up.
"Talking to those people tells me if they're fair, respectful, and all of those things. There's a good chance they're going to be respectful to their teammates, the young guys working here and everyone in this organization who is doing something for them. Because one thing we won't tolerate in this building is some clown who comes in off the street and doesn't treat the equipment manager right, the payroll director right or the football ops guy right. Because those things are all inner-twined which has something to do with accountability, dependability and trustworthiness."
He looks back to his computer trying to find the quote again as he continues to talk. At this point I'm hoping he has the Chiefs draft board as his screen-saver and I can sneak a peek. No luck.
He says this Breakfast Club theory has "saved us in the sense that we might think this guy is a bad guy, and then when you talk to those people, you get feedback that, 'He's not a bad guy. He's a quiet guy or he's an aloof guy.' Sometimes people who isolate themselves and who are aloof aren't necessarily bad people -- they're just private people. But then sometimes those people have some insight and say, 'Yeah he's private because he's got some really weird behavior or lifestyle issues.'"
Channeling his inner Carl the janitor, Pioli then says, "And sometimes those people who seem to know nothing, know everything."
By now, he's found the quote.
Bender: How does one become a janitor?
Carl: You wanna be a janitor?
Bender: No, I just wanna know how one becomes a janitor because Andrew here, is very interested in pursuing a career in the custodial arts...
Carl: Oh, really? You guys think I'm just some untouchable peasant? Peon? Huh? Maybe so, but following a broom around after shit heads like you for the past eight years I've learned a couple of things. I look through your letters, I look through your lockers, I listen to your conversations, you don't know that but I do...I am the eyes and ears of this institution my friends. By the way, that clock's twenty minutes fast.