The man in the sweatshirt and blue jeans stood on the sidelines Wednesday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, squinting as football players repeatedly crashed into each other on the third day of Senior Bowl week.
It was a rare moment of peace for former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, who had just been announced as the Atlanta Falcons’ new assistant general manager.
All morning, a steady stream of men wearing NFL apparel approached Pioli to shake his hand, offer some kind words and a pat on the back, which he warmly reciprocated. During his first appearance with the Atlanta reporters — a sort of impromptu gathering on the sideline a little later — he smiled often, cracked a few jokes and was even deferential, a contrast to the reputation he built during a tumultuous four-year tenure in Kansas City.
After spending the last several months as an NFL analyst for NBC Sports and SiriusXM Radio, Pioli officially found himself back in an NFL front office. The only real reminder of his past failure with the Chiefs was the blue Pembroke Hill sweatshirt he wore, which represents his daughter’s school.
“I need some new gear,” Pioli said, joking.
Pioli will no doubt turn his attention to the Falcons soon enough. But when asked about his biggest regret with the Chiefs, he not only mentioned the standard stuff — not building a consistent winner or winning a championship for owner Clark Hunt — but that he may have rubbed some people wrong along the way.
“When you get in these jobs, you’re so focused on what you need to do and representing and protecting the institution of the organization you work for,” Pioli said, “and sometimes — in my case, in particular — I have found I need to be a little more open-minded about certain things, and I will be.”
Though he didn’t get into details, Pioli blamed his stubborness on his single-minded desire to win.
“The funny thing is when you aren’t as open-minded sometimes, it’s not because there’s any malice or ill intent,” Pioli said. “You’re just trying to get the job done, especially when you’re doing a big job like that and running a hundred miles an hour (sometimes) you unintentionally either hurt people or provoke people.”
That said, Pioli said he was happy to see the Chiefs rebound from a 2-14 season in 2012 to go 11-5 and make the playoffs this season. And while a couple of his draft picks had big years, including 2012 first-rounder Dontari Poe, Pioli insists he didn’t take pleasure in their turnaround for selfish reasons.
“It wasn’t about my draft picks, it was about the people I care about there,” Pioli said. “(Coach) Andy (Reid is) a friend of mine. There’s so many people there that when you spend time with them you want them to succeed, especially the Hunt family. I was just happy for the people in the organization and for Kansas City. The whole city deserves a winner.”
Pioli still lives in Kansas City,but acknowledged he won’t for long. His new job will reunite him with Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who spent six seasons in New England and was the Patriots’ director of college scouting when Pioli was director of player personnel during 2000-08.
Dimitroff, it turns out, was the one who initiated the push to bring in Pioli, despite the way his time with the Chiefs ended. Pioli, whose four-year record in Kansas City was 23-41 with one playoff appearance, was let go after a 2-14 season in 2012.
“Scott’s one of the best football men in this league,” Dimitroff said. “To have an opportunity for him to sit at the table and provide insight on so many levels, not only from all the successes he’s had, but also all he challenges he’s had, (it’s big). He can help mentor our young personnel people.”
For Dimitroff, Pioli offers a familiar voice to a front office that has lost a number of its top men, including directors of player personnel Les Snead and Dave Caldwell. Pioli is well acquainted with their successor, Lionel Vital, and said the familiarity will make his transition easier.
“We all worked together in Cleveland a hundred years ago, we were together in New England, that’s part of what we talked about,” Pioli said. “We know our strengths, we know our limitations. We know we can enhance one another. It’s going to be a really, good collaborative effort now.”
Pioli said he is unsure how much input he will have on the team’s decisions. But when asked Wednesday if his goal is to be a general manager again one day, he just smiled. He wasn’t about to stir the pot, especially after Dimitroff gave him a chance to return to an NFL front office.
“My goal is to win a championship with the Atlanta Falcons,” Pioli said with a chuckle. “That’s my goal.”