Scott Pioli is out after four seasons as Chiefs general manager.
The move clears the way for the Chiefs to hire Andy Reid as their head coach. Reid will likely bring a general manager of his choosing, perhaps Tom Heckert, who formerly worked with Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“After several productive conversations, we made the difficult decision to part ways with Scott Pioli and allow him to pursue other opportunities,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement released by the team. “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.”
Pioli said in a statement released by the Chiefs,
“I would like to thank Norma, Clark and the Hunt Family for the opportunity that they gave me four years ago. 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.”
Pioli, 47, was a right-hand man to coach Bill Belichick with three Super Bowl champions at New England during 2000-08, was hired as Chiefs general manager in January 2009, replacing Carl Peterson.
"With his proven track record of success, Scott is the finest player personnel executive in the NFL,” Hunt said when introducing Pioli, “and we look forward to his leadership in building a championship organization."
Pioli, a five-time winner of NFL Executive of the Year honors as vice president/player personnel with the Patriots, spoke of finding “the right 53 players” in restoring the Chiefs as a competitive franchise. But it never happened.
Pioli was 23-41 in his four years running the Chiefs with just one winning season when the club won the AFC West with a 10-6 record but was blown out by Baltimore in a wild-card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium.
In addition, neither of his two coaching hires panned out. He hired Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley as head coach in 2009 after Haley had just helped the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. But the hot-tempered Haley had never served as a head coach at any level and as an assistant was known for clashing with players on the sidelines at games and in practice.
It didn’t take long for Pioli and Haley to butt heads and with three games to go in the 2011 season, Haley was dismissed, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was promoted as interim head coach. Crennel coaxed the Chiefs to two wins in three games, and Pioli gave him a three-year contract as head coach despite Crennel’s 24-40 record as head coach at Cleveland during 2005-08.
Beyond the losing on the field, Pioli’s management style created a toxic atmosphere within the organization. Haley told The Star a few days before he was fired in December 2011 that he suspected rooms at the team facility were bugged so that team administrators could monitor employees’ conversations. Haley also believed his personal cellphone, a line he used before being hired by the Chiefs, had been tampered with.
Meanwhile, the stunning firing of club president Denny Thum, a 37-year employee of the organization, was one of many departures in a purge of former Chiefs associates who had worked for the previous administrations. During the next three years, more than half the workforce had been turned over, and an atmosphere of fear and insecurity permeated the environment among holdovers from the Peterson years as well as the newcomers.
Typifying the micro-managing and misguided priorities of Pioli’s, he once noticed a candy wrapper in a back stairwell at the Chiefs’ facility and waited to see how long it took to be picked up. About a week passed, and it remained in the stairwell. He placed the wrapper in an envelope, and during a meeting of department heads, club president Mark Donovan brandished the wrapper as evidence that Chiefs employees neglected attention to detail.
Little would have mattered had Pioli restored the winning ways of the Chiefs, who were an NFL power during 1990 to 2006, winning four AFC West titles and advancing to the playoffs nine times.
But Pioli’s performance in the draft and in acquiring players through trades and free agency was as poor as it was in hiring head coaches.
Pioli’s first major transactions backfired horribly. He traded tight end and Chiefs icon Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta for a second-round draft pick, and Gonzalez has added to his Hall of Fame resume by helping Atlanta to three playoff berths in four years, while the player taken with that pick, cornerback Javier Arenas has made no impact.
Before his first draft with the Chiefs, Pioli traded a second-round choice to New England for Patriots veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel and backup quarterback Matt Cassel, who received a $63 million contract.
Vrabel retired after two seasons, and Cassel, who was a Pro Bowl injury replacement in 2010, was benched as the starter last October. With the Chiefs, Cassel is 19-21 with 59 touchdown passes, 44 interceptions and a mediocre 77.5 passer rating.
While always speaking of bringing in competition at all positions, Pioli never backed up those words at quarterback, the most important position on the field. The Chiefs claimed Kyle Orton on waivers after Cassel suffered a season-ending injury in 2011, and Orton helped Crennel get the head-coaching job by leading the Chiefs to wins over Green Bay and Denver in the last three games of the season.
But Orton, a free agent at the end of the season, opted to sign as a backup with Dallas rather than return to the Chiefs where he would get little chance to compete with Cassel. Pioli, Crennel and Hunt all paid lip service in saying they would pursue Peyton Manning in free agency last winter, but Manning never considered Kansas City and signed with AFC West rival Denver, which won the AFC West this year.
Instead, the Chiefs signed Brady Quinn, who hadn’t appeared in a game in two seasons for Denver, and performed no better, if not worse, than Cassel, in his eight starts this season.
Except for center Casey Wiegmann and guard Ryan Lilja, who were signed in 2010 and helped the Chiefs go 10-6 that season; and offensive tackle Eric Winston, who helped the Chiefs rank fifth in the NFL in rushing this season, Pioli had little but embarrassment to show for his dealings in free agency.
Just as Pioli traded Gonzalez as way to divest the team of players from the Peterson era, he ran off five-time Pro Bowl guard and team leader Brian Waters after the 2010 season. Waters signed with New England as a free agent and helped the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2011.
Pioli also failed to retain cornerback Brandon Carr, who signed a five-year, $50 million contract with Dallas during the off-season and had a brilliant season with the Cowboys. Meanwhile, Stanford Routt, whom Pioli signed to a three-year, $31.5 million contract last spring, was released at mid-season. And the major free-agent signing of 2011, wide receiver Steve Breaston -- who signed for five years at $22.5 million -- has been healthy but inactive for several games, even though the Chiefs were thin at the position.
The four draft classes under Pioli’s watch failed to produce consistent playmakers. It took four years for the Chiefs to realize defensive end Tyson Jackson, the third overall pick in 2009, could be a three- down player, and he’ll likely be a free agent in 2013.
While a two-time Pro Bowl pick, Eric Berry has proven that taking a safety with the fifth overall pick in 2010 was a reach. And the biggest bust of all was wide receiver Jon Baldwin, taken in the first round in 2011 despite all kinds of red flags. Baldwin has caught two touchdown passes in two years.
Pioli’s tenure ended with tragedy. On Dec. 1, he was called from his office at the Chiefs training complex to the parking lot and encountered linebacker Jovan Belcher, who had just killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and was brandishing a Beretta .40-caliber handgun. Pleas from Pioli, Crennel and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs failed to prevent Belcher from taking his own life right in front of them.
More off-field headaches would follow when Adam Zimmer, an assistant coach, was arrested on a DUI charge on Dec. 23, the night of the final home game of the season, a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.