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Chiefs' main man?

Pioli to KC looks more like a realistic possibility

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / January 12, 2009
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In the final home game of the Kansas City Chiefs' 2008 season, an announced crowd of 73,689 showed up at frigid Arrowhead Stadium despite the team's 2-12 record at the time. Some came with hand-written signs with a message for owner Clark Hunt: "We want Pioli."

What might have seemed like a long shot at the time - Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli running the Chiefs' football operation - is now looking more like a realistic possibility.

Once thought to be the Chiefs' leading candidate, now there is no doubt: Pioli is their man, according to an NFL source.

Perhaps more important, Pioli's interest in the Chiefs and a potential new career challenge has grown.

All that stands in the way is hashing out a contract agreement, or perhaps a late pitch from the Patriots (who lost offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to the Broncos yesterday as head coach), or a last-minute change of heart from Pioli.

All scenarios remained in play as of early last night, but as reported in yesterday's Globe, the intensity of talks between Pioli and the Chiefs has increased within the last 24-48 hours. Word out of Kansas City continues to be that the possibility of the sides coming together is picking up momentum.

The key has been the comfort level between Pioli, Hunt, and team president Denny Thum.

Because Hunt already has determined that his new hire will work closely with Thum, a longtime Chiefs employee who will handle mostly business matters, it is imperative that there be good chemistry between the two.

So as the 43-year-old Hunt prepares to make his first major hire since taking over the club from his late father, the venerable Lamar Hunt, he is in many ways a matchmaker. He must determine if the person he hires to run the Chiefs' football operation is a good fit with Thum.

Albeit in a short timeframe, Pioli and Thum have hit it off, according to the NFL source.

This might come as a surprise to some who have painted the 43-year-old Pioli as a candidate who would be seeking total control of all decisions, or someone who was interviewing for jobs in Cleveland and Kansas City but had little intention of leaving New England because he apparently was making such hefty demands.

Although Pioli can drive a hard bargain, and that setting of high expectations is part of what has earned him two Sporting News Executive of the Year awards, those suggestions seem to be well off the mark.

Browns owner Randy Lerner also cleared up one other misconception regarding Pioli - that he wasn't hired for the Cleveland job because he was looking for a mega financial offer.

"We talked for hours about football organizations," Lerner told the Akron Beacon-Journal. "Money never came into the conversation with Scott."

Asked if Pioli made exorbitant demands, Lerner told the newspaper "that's completely and utterly untrue."

With all this in mind, Pioli and the Chiefs look like a near-perfect pair.

Part of what makes the Chiefs job appealing is strong ownership. The Hunt family long has been loyal to its front-office employees, which is reflected in that former general manager and president Carl Peterson held that position for 20 years. Another aspect is that the new hire has a chance to grow alongside Hunt, who himself is learning about running the franchise.

From a personnel perspective, the Chiefs are expected to be approximately $30 million under the salary cap, a great spot to be in. They are in the midst of a significant rebuilding process and coming off a 2-14 season, so expectations are low, yet they still have some promising young players and own the No. 3 overall selection in the draft.

While questions remain at the most important position on the field - is quarterback Tyler Thigpen accurate enough to be the long-term answer? - the Chiefs are in position for a quick turnaround simply because they play in one of the NFL's worst divisions, the AFC West. So if Pioli is interested in finally stepping out on his own, it doesn't figure to get much better than this.

Time is now of the essence.

While Hunt has conducted a thorough, under-the-radar search, he now should be feeling some urgency to finalize plans because the new hire ultimately will determine the fate of coach Herm Edwards and his staff, many of whom were still in their offices this past Friday for year-end personnel evaluation meetings.

It's a tough spot for a lot of good football men, and Hunt would be doing the Hunt-like, classy thing by finalizing their status before the majority of jobs around the league are filled.

In turn, if Edwards and his assistants are fired by the new general manager, the Chiefs could move quickly to interview some of the top head coaching candidates who have yet to be plucked by other clubs.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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