The transition of power at Arrowhead Stadium, begun in the hours that followed perhaps the most disheartening season in the 53-year history of the Chiefs, became mostly complete on Friday.
Rocked by historic ineptitude on the field and nearly unthinkable tragedy off it, the Chiefs handed control of their football operations to 54-year-old Andy Reid, who agreed to a five-year contract making him their head coach.
Reid, a burly, mustachioed man with a striking resemblance to former Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren — one of Reid’s mentors — spent the last 14 seasons as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, where in one of the NFL’s most competitive divisions he won six NFC East championships and took three other teams to the playoffs as wild-card entrants.
Earlier Friday, the Chiefs cleared the way for Reid’s arrival as the franchise’s 13th head coach by parting ways with general manager Scott Pioli. The Chiefs won 10 games and the AFC West championship in 2010 under Pioli but were 23-41 overall during his four seasons.
Pioli’s time in Kansas City will be remembered more for a miserable 2012 campaign that produced just two wins, his earlier squabbles with former head coach Todd Haley and his focus on off-the-field details that seemed to have little to do with helping the Chiefs win.
On Monday, the Chiefs fired first-year head coach and former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. But that was just the beginning of a massive front-office reboot that moved both swiftly and surely at the hands of chairman and CEO Clark Hunt.
Hunt’s courtship of Reid, which included a nine-hour meeting in a Philadelphia area airport on Thursday, beat at least two other teams to the punch: Both the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers were said to be interested in talking with Reid, but neither got as much as a chance to interview him.
The biggest change for the Chiefs, apart from the new faces at One Arrowhead Drive? Both Reid and the Chiefs’ new general manager will report directly to Hunt. Pioli reported to Hunt, too, but the team’s head coach had reported to Pioli.
The departure of Pioli, termed a mutual decision in a statement released by the Chiefs, makes it clear that Reid will be calling the shots now at Arrowhead.
Reid, who declined to comment on Friday, intends to surround himself with his own front-office and assistant-coaching personnel. One source said that a strong candidate to be the team’s new general manager is John Dorsey, the Green Bay Packers’ director of college scouting. Another is recently fired Cleveland Browns general manager Tom Heckert, who worked with Reid for 10 years in Philadelphia.
The Chiefs announced Reid’s signing early Friday evening, several hours after he and Hunt and arrived at Wheeler Downtown Airport. The pair flew in together on a private plane from Philadelphia, and Hunt then drove him to Arrowhead in a black SUV.
Once at the Truman Sports Complex, Reid and Hunt spent about 45 minutes touring the stadium before meeting with Mark Donovan, vice president of football operations, and moving to the Chiefs’ nearby practice facility. Reid signed some footballs for fans on the short drive between the stadium and practice facility, which also houses the Chiefs’ business offices.
On Friday evening the team’s official Twitter account showed a picture of Reid and Hunt, standing side by side at a table, signing what appeared to be contract paperwork that made the hire official. Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Although Chiefs officials weren’t talking about Reid on Friday night, preferring to wait until a Monday afternoon news conference to discuss the personnel changes, others did it for them.
“The Chiefs got a good one,” former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon said. “I’ve always said the two most important positions in the organization are the head coach and the quarterback. You’ve got to get both of them right. They’ve got part of it right now with Andy.”
The Eagles advanced to five NFC championship games under Reid. They lost their only Super Bowl, to New England, after the 2004 season, with Reid at the helm.
Reid was fired by the Eagles this week after enduring a 4-12 season, his worst in Philadelphia. The Eagles also missed the playoffs in 2011, Reid’s first back-to-back years without a trip to the postseason.
Some have questioned certain facets of his coaching approach, but there’s no questioning the fact that he knows the game as well as anyone.
“He’s a very proven coach in the league,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “I’ve been watching him over the years. He’s at the top of the charts when you talk about coaches getting the job done. So I think it’s a great opportunity for us at this time. We’re getting a veteran coach who has been there and done that and knows how to get things done.”
Earlier Friday, the Chiefs released a statement regarding Pioli’s departure.
“After several productive conversations, we made the difficult decision to part ways with Scott Pioli and allow him to pursue other opportunities,” Hunt said. “Scott has been an invaluable member of the Chiefs family since joining us in 2009, and we sincerely appreciate his tremendous contributions over the last four years.
“I know that this was a difficult decision for Scott as well. He has a great deal of appreciation for the history of this franchise, for our players, coaches and employees, and especially our great fans.
“There is no way to overstate the level of respect and admiration I have for Scott on a personal level. His character, loyalty, integrity and commitment to a team are extraordinary, and throughout the last four years, he has consistently put the best interests of the Chiefs ahead of his own. I know he will go on to enjoy further success in the National Football League, and I certainly wish him the best in the future.”
In addition to a difficult season on the field, Pioli and the Chiefs had to deal with the murder-suicide of linebacker Jovan Belcher and girlfriend Kasandra Perkins. Pioli, Crennel and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs witnessed Belcher’s death outside Arrowhead.
Pioli, 47, came to the Chiefs after nine seasons as the New England Patriots’ personnel director. He was a key component for that franchise as the Patriots won three Super Bowls during his tenure. New England’s drafts, particularly during Pioli’s early years with the team, were among the best in the league.
But he had less success in the draft or free agency with the Chiefs. They have five Pro Bowl players this season, but four of them were already with the team when Pioli arrived.
As the Chiefs’ dismal 2012 season progressed, and fans hired small airplanes to fly banners calling for his ouster over Arrowhead Stadium, it became clear that Pioli had lost the support of many in Kansas City. In time he also lost the support of the Hunt family.
“I would like to thank Norma, Clark and the Hunt family for the opportunity that they gave me four years ago,” Pioli said in a statement released by the team on Friday. “I’d also like to thank the players, coaches, scouts and countless other employees throughout the organization and at Arrowhead Stadium that have worked so hard during my time here. I would also like to genuinely thank Chiefs fans.
“The bottom line is that I did not accomplish all of what I set out to do. To the Hunt family, to the great fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, to the players, all employees and alumni, I truly apologize for not getting the job done.”