That Bill Belichick tree is beginning to look like a mighty New England maple in the middle of winter.
A day after Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was announced as head coach of the Denver Broncos, Scott Pioli became the latest of Belichick's disciples to depart Foxborough, agreeing to become general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, who will formally introduce him today.
The Chiefs stated that Pioli will have final say over all football operations and report directly to team owner Clark Hunt.
"We are very excited to welcome Scott to the Chiefs," Hunt said in a statement. "With his proven track record of success, Scott is the finest player personnel executive in the NFL, and we look forward to his leadership in building a championship organization."
Pioli's departure leaves a huge void in the Patriots' front office. At nine seasons, Pioli and Belichick were the longest-tenured personnel director/head coach tandem in the NFL.
The 43-year-old Pioli twice was voted The Sporting News's George Young NFL Executive of the Year, which is selected by NFL executives, and his partnership with Belichick produced six AFC East titles, four AFC championships, three Super Bowl titles, and the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history.
Of the Patriots on the current roster, only linebacker Tedy Bruschi and running back Kevin Faulk predate the arrival of Pioli in New England.
As coach of the Cleveland Browns, Belichick gave Pioli his start in 1992, hiring him as a pro personnel assistant.
"To sum up in words everything Scott Pioli has meant to this organization and to me personally would be difficult, if not impossible," said Belichick in a statement. "From the day I met him, he has demonstrated a passion for football and respect for the game that is second to none.
"It has been extremely gratifying for me to follow Scott's career ascension from the bottom of the totem pole in Cleveland to his place as a pillar of championship teams in New England. 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."
The likely choice to replace Pioli is Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio.
ESPN reported yesterday that Caserio would replace Pioli as vice president of player personnel. However, as of early last evening, the Patriots had not notified Caserio of any promotion, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. If Caserio is indeed promoted, it could happen today.
The 33-year-old Caserio, who played quarterback at John Carroll University (throwing passes to McDaniels), has been with the Patriots in one capacity or another since 2001, when he joined the team as a personnel assistant. He was an offensive coaching assistant in 2002 before returning to the personnel department as a scout in 2003.
In 2004, Caserio was named director of pro personnel. He held that title until he came out of the front office to serve as wide receivers coach in 2007, before going back upstairs as director of player personnel in 2008.
Pioli inherits a Chiefs team that went 2-14 last season as it undertook a rebuilding program under coach Herm Edwards. Kansas City had 15 rookies on its opening-day roster and started six of them in its 17-10 season-opening loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium Sept. 7.
Pioli previously had turned down opportunities to interview for other jobs, with the Seattle Seahawks in 2005 and New York Giants in 2007.
But this offseason, Pioli interviewed for the Browns' general manager job Dec. 31 and then went ahead and sat down with Hunt in Dallas, where Hunt is based, for a lengthy interview Jan. 5.
Five days later, the potential marriage began to pick up momentum. A crucial aspect was the chemistry between Pioli and interim Chiefs president Denny Thum, a longtime team employee.
Hunt had previously stated that Thum would handle mostly business matters, with the new hire focused more on football. This was a change for the Chiefs, as former general manager Carl Peterson, who resigned after 20 years with the team, also held the titles of president and chief executive officer. Peterson used to handle both business and football matters.
In dividing the job, Hunt said he wanted a football man who would be a "fresh set of eyes" and "shrewd evaluator of talent."
That's exactly what Hunt got, according to Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
"Scott is a great evaluator of talent," said Kraft in a statement. "He is thorough in his evaluations, extremely organized and has done a tremendous job mining all possible resources to help Coach Belichick and his staff field the players needed to win consistently."