The Pioli Decision

December 14th, 2011 by Lee Eldridge

It’s funny. For the last week I have been planning to write a post entitled “The Pioli Decision”. The gist of the article would have been that general manager Scott Pioli will be faced with a difficult decision when the year is over. Actually, two decisions that have consequences on each other. One, what to do with the quarterback. And two, what to do with the head coach.

Todd HaleyYou would think that the Chiefs will have to at least consider drafting a quarterback in the first round of the draft this year. And Todd Haley has (had) one year left on his contract. If Pioli believes in Matt Cassel, then he can allow Haley to coach the team through the final year of his contract before making a final decision on extending Haley’s contract or replacing him. But if the Chiefs draft a quarterback, you can’t let Haley dangle with just one year left. You either have to fire him at the end of the season, or extend his contract. It wouldn’t be fair to tell Haley he’s coaching for his job, and then hand him a rookie quarterback.

But on Monday, Pioli fired Haley.

Is it fair? From a coaching standpoint, probably not. Haley made mistakes this year, but there were circumstances well beyond his control. I’ve read many of the local and the national articles about Pioli’s decision, but I want to take this from a different perspective. The perspective of an employer.

I seem to be in the minority, but I like Todd Haley. I think he’s a good coach. Is he good enough to coach a team to the Super Bowl? Maybe. With the right team. But I don’t think Haley’s coaching ability had anything to do with why he was fired.

I have employed and managed hundreds of people. And one lesson I learned the hard way was that when you have an employee who is the wrong fit for your organization, the sooner you replace that employee, the better. There were rumors that Pioli wanted to fire Haley last year. Then there were rumors that Pioli would have fired Haley if the Chiefs had lost to the Colts and started the season 1-4. I tend to take rumors with a grain of salt. Many rumors are untrue and unfounded. But in hindsight, I think we can now assume they were true.

It’s clear that Pioli and Haley had a dysfunctional working relationship. And it’s likely that Pioli had come to the conclusion long ago that Haley was the wrong fit for the Chiefs. Or at least, the wrong fit to work for Pioli. But how do you fire a coach that just won the AFC West? That would have been a tough sell to Chiefs fans. Pioli decided he had to wait until he had “public justification” for the firing of Haley. And he finally got it with the loss to the Jets. The Chiefs could no longer pretend that they still had a shot at the playoffs. And Haley was fired.

I think the jury is still out on whether or not Scott Pioli can lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. There are some glaring holes on this roster, and Pioli is responsible. Some have even speculated that Pioli sabotaged the roster so that he could justifiably fire Haley. I don’t believe that for a minute. But that doesn’t mean that Pioli made all of the same decisions that he would have made if he had full support of his head coach. Only Pioli can look in the mirror and decide if he did everything possible to make this season a success.

And while I tend to like Haley more than I like Pioli, I might have come to the same conclusion and fired Haley. It’s great to have fire and passion. I like that in a head coach. But I don’t like disrespect. A heated discussion between Haley and Matt Cassel doesn’t bother me at all. But some of the public arguments between Haley and his assistants bothered me a lot. Those discussions should be behind closed doors, and should always be respectful. As a business owner, I would never undermine one of my managers by berating them in front of other employees. (Actually, I don’t think I ever berated an employee.) Haley not only berated his assistants, he seemed to relish that atmosphere. He wanted the confrontations, and obviously believed them to be beneficial to the team. I’m guessing Pioli came to a different conclusion.

One more comment and we’ll move on. I listened to the press conference with Scott Pioli and owner Clark Hunt. I’ve been surprised that I haven’t seen this comment anywhere else. On multiple occasions, Hunt said that he wanted a team that the fans could be proud of. I’m guessing that Hunt was not proud to have Haley as the face of the franchise.

The Next Head Coach
Chiefs fans are clamoring for Bill Cowher. I would love it, but I don’t see it happening. I’m not sure that Cowher has the desire to coach again. I do hope that Pioli at least makes the call. So if not Cowher, then who?

Personally, I would be very enthused by either Jon Gruden or Jeff Fisher. Gruden has a good job with ESPN, and it’s unclear if he wants to return to coaching. That leaves Fisher as probably the hottest available coach on the market. I will be very surprised if he doesn’t take a job somewhere this year. There are already openings in Kansas City, Jacksonville and Miami. And I think it’s likely that San Diego and possibly St. Louis will be in the market for a new head coach.

Jon GrudenBut let’s make a case for Gruden. The Chiefs are certainly in better shape today than they were a few years ago. This is a good job to walk into. Pioli does not need to blow this thing up and start over. He will probably try to keep as much continuity as possible. Gruden is an offensive minded coach. And who was his offensive coordinator when he was with the Bucs and won a Super Bowl? Bill Muir. Gruden called the plays, but Muir was his offensive coordinator. And I think it’s likely Romeo Crennel would be willing to stay on as defensive coordinator under Gruden. He’s been out of football for a couple years now. If he wants back in,  this would be an excellent opportunity. And remember, Gruden won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson at quarterback. Pioli might be thinking that if Gruden can do it with Johnson, then he can do it with Cassel.

One thing I find interesting is that there isn’t a lot of buzz around the league about the offensive and defensive coordinators. Typically there are a few “hot” names out there. Not this year.

My biggest hope? Do NOT hire Josh McDaniels. Lots of people have been linking McDaniels to Pioli, and I think it’s very possible that Pioli would have hired McDaniels three years ago if Denver hadn’t gotten to him first. I think this would be a huge mistake. And Pioli can’t afford to make another mistake.

People have also been linking Pioli to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. I don’t have any strong feelings either way about Ferentz. There have been a number of high profile college coaches who couldn’t cut in the NFL, but if you look at it objectively, MOST head coaches don’t make it in the NFL. Ultimately, most head coaches are fired within three-to-five years. And look at Jim Harbaugh. In his first season with San Francisco, he’s got the 49ers winning the NFC West.

Unless Pioli has his eye on a coordinator, this is something that could get wrapped up soon. There are strong candidates who are currently out of football. There’s no reason to wait.

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