Reasonably assuming there was an interchangeable blueprint that could be snapped into place here by one of its apparent architects, Chiefs’ chairman Clark Hunt in 2009 plucked Scott Pioli from New England to become their general manager.
Presto, Pioli simply would inject “Patriot Way” serum into the franchise that had gone just 6-26 the previous two seasons.
And why wouldn’t it take? With Pioli as Bill Belichick’s No. 2 man, the approach had been validated by three Super Bowl titles in the new millennium.
The philosophy, as Pioli explained at his introductory news conference, was this:
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“The Patriots way is what Bill and I brought to the Patriots. … The Patriots way starts with hard work and discipline and creating a culture where everyone is on the same page, everyone knows their role, everyone believes in the system and everyone does their job.”
This was a pretty generic assessment of the process that is better known for a fiendish emphasis on secrecy, hoarding draft picks, renowned work with the salary cap and free agency and nitpicking team rules toward a culture that didn’t suffer non-conformists.
Toward assuring the conversion, 14 of Pioli’s first 39 acquisitions in 2009 were former Patriots, including quarterback Matt Cassel. He hired former Patriots assistant coach Joel Collier as his assistant GM. Later, former Patriots assistants Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel would become coordinators.
But other than some fleeting success in his second season, Pioli’s Patriot act was a disaster for the Chiefs organization, which became defined by paranoia and chaos before Pioli was fired after the 2012 season.
As the Chiefs prepare to take on the Patriots in an AFC Divisional Playoff game Saturday at New England, it’s because general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid have revived the franchise from the nightmare it had become.
And they did it by forging their own way — Dorsey as a first-time GM and Reid surrendering the dual role he had in Philadelphia — and seemingly coming together seamlessly based on a friendship they’d begun in Green Bay years ago.
In radical contrast to the Pioli-Todd Haley feuds, their alliance has made for enormous change in almost every way.
That starts with the most telling ones: 31 regular-season wins and the first playoff victory in 22 years with only 10 men remaining on the Chiefs’ 53-man roster from the dark last days of the Pioli era.
But all of that also is a manifestation of behind-the-scenes work, including, of course, Reid’s coaching and Dorsey’s nose for talent, but plenty more.
The upbeat, folksy Dorsey set a tone of accessibility and amiability by immediately inviting back alumni who largely had been shunned and roving One Arrowhead Way to revive spirits of a support staff battered by browbeating and nitpicking.
He made players feel appreciated and wanted (punter Dustin Colquitt raves about how that made him feel upon first meeting Dorsey).
Heck, Dorsey even thought it worth having good relationships with the enemy-media, and still does, though his accessibility has diminished over time.
Meanwhile, Reid has basked in the shared responsibility that’s left him free to focus purely on coaching. And he’s retained — and even enhanced — his reputation for being a player’s coach.
Many pointed to that when the Chiefs started his first season 9-0, and again when they somehow were galvanized instead of splintered by the 1-5 start this season that proved a springboard for the current franchise-record 11-game winning streak.
There was no cookie-cutter diagram for this, of course, but something almost organic based on the relationship and Hunt’s astute determination that this would work.
Surely, Dorsey and Reid have squabbled or jousted at times. Neither would probably be doing his job right if they didn’t have some disagreements.
But any such incidences have been handled with a maturity that was lost on the previous regime.
Pioli’s demise was just the latest and perhaps most vivid evidence that there was never so much a Patriot Way as a Belichick Way.
It’s oft-imitated but ultimately animated only by Belichick, his strategic brilliance and his ability to know how best to deploy his staff.
Not to mention the unique factor of quarterback Tom Brady, whose dynamic role in Belichick’s success can’t be stated strongly enough.
Others, of course, shared in the making of Belichick, who once upon a time was fired by Cleveland after four losing seasons in five years.
But whatever they siphoned from him seems to have been of little benefit thereafter — unless you count Alabama coach Nick Saban and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, assistants to Belichick back in Cleveland … before any genius was apparent.
At the NFL level, the only former Belichick assistant who seems to be making good is Texans coach Bill O’Brien, 18-14 in his first two seasons after inheriting a 2-14 team. And Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff, for whom Pioli now works, is well-regarded.
The proof that one size doesn’t fit all, though, can be found in those who’ve failed while trying to assert at least some elements of what they learned from Belichick.
Crennel was fired by Cleveland and then by the Chiefs after going 2-14 in relief of the deposed Haley.
Weis was dismissed by Notre Dame and Kansas.
Eric Mangini was dumped by the Jets and Browns, going 33-47 overall.
Josh McDaniels, back with Belichick in New England, was jettisoned before the end of his second season with the Broncos with an 11-17 record.
And then there was Pioli, who arrived with credibility and the blessing of Belichick.
“Now, with the opportunity to steer his own ship and a vision of building a winner, there is no more capable, hardworking, loyal, team-oriented person than Scott Pioli,” Belichick said in a statement in 2009.
In fact, Pioli enjoyed some early success with the Chiefs, who in their second season with Haley at the helm improved from 4-12 to 10-6 to win the AFC West and seemingly bode better days to come.
But the foundation turned out to be built on quicksand by Pioli, who, citing Falcons policy, declined to be interviewed for this article.
That was in no small part because Pioli’s interpretation of the Patriot Way was to wield it as a weapon of manipulation and control.
That showed up in everything from alienating and casting off players who should have been valued, such as Tony Gonzalez and Brian Waters, to his relationship with the volatile Haley, who would come to think his office was bugged.
It showed up in his obsessiveness over the absurd, from monitoring the use of pens to letting a candy wrapper sit in an office stairway for days to see who would pick it up to ordering support employees to close the blinds at One Arrowhead Way when the team was practicing.
It shows up now, even, on a Chiefs roster that has just six of his acquisitions remaining and four left who had preceded him.
And now it all stands mostly for this:
No matter how Pioli saw it in 2009, there is only one Belichick, after all.
And the Chiefs have been much better-served forging their own way.