View Full Version : Chiefs Chiefs’ new GM Pioli has been preparing for this moment

01-14-2009, 07:37 AM
Chiefs’ new GM Pioli has been preparing for this moment
The Kansas City Star

T he old coach walked into the reception hall and had to look twice. The faces in the crowd made him take stock.

Frank Green ran a little football program in New York state, in the kind of town where the school kids remain friends after 30 years, people marry their first loves, and high school coaches never lose touch with their players.

On this day in 1999, Green drove to New Jersey for the wedding of one of the best blockers he’d coached. Scott Pioli led Green’s team to a county championship in 1981, and now he was getting married at a country club in New Jersey. One of Bill Parcells’ favorite golf destinations, Green had heard.

Then Green walked in and saw Parcells, the father of the bride. He looked two seats down and saw Bill Belichick, one of the groom’s mentors and a longtime Pioli confidante.

“A little overwhelming,” Green says now.

It was a year before Pioli and Belichick went together to New England and built a football dynasty, and nearly a decade before the Chiefs on Tuesday announced Pioli as their general manager. In the years after the wedding, Pioli forged his name as one of the NFL’s top minds, helping Belichick win three Super Bowls in their first five years in New England. Pioli had gambled his future on a partnership with Belichick, and now he was marrying Parcells’ daughter — a woman from Wichita, but whose name was Dallas.

On Pioli’s wedding day, Green noticed how prominent a role football seemed to play. It was a look into Pioli’s world, when even on the most personal days, the game had a firm grip on Pioli’s life.

Green settled in and tried to adjust to his unusual surroundings, an atmosphere that Pioli had begun to accept as normal.

“It was a sign that Scott Pioli had made it,” Green says, dazed still by Tuesday’s news. “It’s a little bit like fate. That seems like a good way to put it.”

• • •

“I’m sorry, Scott,” Pioli’s boss told him. “I just think that’s a big mistake.”

It was 1992. Murray State coach Mike Mahoney sat across a desk from his young line coach and gave him the brutal truth. Coaching is an unforgiving business, Mahoney explained to Pioli, but it’s nothing like being a scout. And that was the job Pioli was talking about taking.

Mahoney says now that he knew Pioli was destined for big things, but the coach also wasn’t ready to turn loose of his best recruiter. Pioli was Mahoney’s bulldog. They’d ride together on recruiting trips, Pioli filling Mahoney in on prospects’ most closely guarded secrets — information that can be the difference between a commitment and a snub; information that Pioli seemed to have a knack for delivering.

If the player didn’t want to leave his girlfriend, Pioli knew it. If the mother worried about her son leaving home, Pioli knew it. By the time they opened the car door, Mahoney knew what he’d have to say to steer the player toward Murray State.

“That’s what a good assistant does,” Mahoney says now. “We got a lot of good kids back then.”

Mahoney said Pioli’s work ethic and networking helped him stand out. Building relationships always seemed natural for Pioli, a skill his high school coaches say made him a natural leader.

“He was a team man,” says Ray Ruckdeschel, Pioli’s line coach at Washingtonville Central High in southeast New York.

Pioli laid the foundation early for his most valuable connection. His best friend at Washingtonville Central was a teammate named Matt Spencer. While Pioli was in college at Central Connecticut State, Spencer dated a woman named Cindy Leone. Leone worked security at the New York Giants’ training camp in New Jersey. The Giants’ defensive coordinator at the time was Belichick, who told Leone to tell Spencer to tell Pioli he’d be happy to meet with him and talk football with the ambitious youngster.

They did, staying up late one night discussing the nuances of the game. Belichick was taken with Pioli from the start, Mahoney says. When the Cleveland Browns hired Belichick as their head coach in 1991, Belichick wanted a motivated addition to the Browns’ scouting department.

A year later, Pioli stood outside his office for a long time before taking a seat inside. Pioli was nervous but had his mind made up: He was going to work for Belichick in Cleveland.

Mahoney says he reminded Pioli that he was a promising young coach, and that once you leave the coaching track, you’re out for good. Besides, Mahoney says he told Pioli: He was making good money for a coach his age — $18,000 a year.

Pioli told Mahoney that he wanted to go into the personnel side of football. He told his boss that with hard work and some luck, he might be the general manager of an NFL team someday.

Mahoney looked Pioli in the eye and wished him luck, thinking then that he’d need more than luck to climb a ladder that tall.

“I tried my best to talk him out of it,” Mahoney says. “His mind was pretty much made up. That was the path he wanted to go. But there was no doubt: He was starting at the bottom.”

• • •

Pioli followed Belichick to Cleveland, and then he kept following him. He also kept familiarizing himself with the NFL’s side roads: the salary cap, the intricacies of the draft, the impossible task of mastering the draft.

Belichick and Pioli seemed to be a package deal. Belichick went to New York as an assistant to Parcells’ Jets staff, and Pioli came, too. Pioli kept climbing that ladder, kept networking the way he always had. He got to know Parcells, too, learning the game’s finer points and the kinds of players who separate good teams from great ones.

Those close to Pioli say he is a tireless worker, some workdays lasting upwards of 20 hours. If there was an extra assignment left over from a less motivated coworker, former Murray State coach Mahoney says, Pioli would pick it up himself and do what he could before shutting the lights off for the night. Nothing could come between Pioli and football — nothing except Dallas Parcells.

“Just a beautiful woman,” says Green, Pioli’s high school coach. “It’s part of the Scott Pioli dream.”

The story goes that Pioli had no idea Dallas was Parcells’ daughter until they had become a couple. The meticulous, detail-oriented, thorough executive whose job it was to make connections and how they’d affect the Jets, had ignored one of the most obvious connections in the building: He was dating his boss’ daughter.

Pioli finally told Parcells, and the coach gave Pioli his blessing. They married in 1999 at that country club, a who’s who of NFL faces gathering in the foyer while the couple exchanged vows. Parcells, who was a linebacker and an assistant for Wichita State in the 1960s, and Belichick were there. So was Cindy Leone, who had introduced Pioli and Belichick years earlier. She was married now to Pioli’s best man, Spencer, who’d played with Pioli at Washingtonville Central High.

“As fate would have it,” Green says now.

A year later, Belichick came to Pioli to discuss another move. Belichick was going to New England, and the coach wanted to make Pioli his right hand — the assistant director of player personnel. Other than Belichick, the 35-year-old Pioli would become the most powerful football man in the organization.

In less than a decade, Pioli had done it. He would be at the top of a franchise, and what made it better was that he was going with the man who’d made it possible eight years earlier.

Together, they’d build teams and shape the organization. Pioli and Belichick were the decision-makers, just the two of them staying up late and talking football, same as it had been years earlier when Belichick humored the eager Pioli at Giants training camp.

“They always had a connection,” Mahoney says. “Whatever it is, I don’t know. But they had something, and it worked.”

• • •

Five years after Pioli followed Belichick to New England, Pioli called some old friends and asked if they’d meet him in Jacksonville, Fla. The flights and hotel rooms were paid for; so were the Super Bowl tickets for three of Pioli’s high school coaches and their wives.

The Patriots had won a pair of Super Bowls earlier in the decade, and Pioli wanted some of the original football men in his life to be there if New England made it three. Before the game, the coaches — Green, Ruckdeschel and former Washingtonville Central JV coach Ray Jarosz — walked down the steps toward the field. Pioli noticed them and jogged in their direction.

“He was in a shirt and tie — Mr. Sophisticated,” says Ruckdeschel, with a laugh. “The VP of personnel, here he came running, sprinting, waving his hands — acting just like the same kid he was in high school.”

Each offseason, teams would call Pioli and ask if he was interested in running their organization. And every year, Pioli would decline. Maybe it was because Pioli had helped build the Patriots into the NFL’s model franchise. Maybe it was because Pioli was one of the highest-paid and most secure executives in football. Or maybe it was because he just wasn’t ready to snap the bond he and Belichick forged nearly two decades earlier.

Something was different this offseason, though, and those close to Pioli knew it. He was pushing 44 and had been with the Patriots for nine seasons. Friends say he was ready to try his luck running an organization himself; ready to test himself without assistance.

Green, the former Washingtonville Central coach, is retired now, but he stays in contact with some of his old favorites. Pioli is one of them. They e-mail occasionally, but Green says he doesn’t saddle Pioli with questions about whether he’d leave New England.

“He didn’t need more pressure,” Green says.

Green says he sent a note early last week to his old blocker after hearing he had interviewed for Cleveland’s vacant GM position. It was Pioli’s first interview since joining the Patriots. Green says he’s eager to see how Pioli does without Belichick at his side; whether all that success was Belichick or Pioli — or Belichick and Pioli. Green says he doesn’t know how Pioli will do now that he’s alone for the first time in his career, but ready or not, he’s on his own for the first time in nearly 20 years.

“I’m sure he agonized over this,” Green says. “Scott has a great sense of allegiance.”

Green typed that e-mail last week and sent it. It wished him good luck.


01-14-2009, 08:14 AM
Cool article.

01-14-2009, 10:35 AM
Cool article.

I thought it was the best read..

01-14-2009, 11:01 AM
My basketball coach in middle school coached Pioli too. Pretty cool. Great article by the way

01-14-2009, 11:11 AM
Drum fill i've been waiting for this moment for all my life

beach tribe
01-14-2009, 11:23 AM
Wow. This is great. I haven't felt like this since the 90s.