I’ve been making fun of Scott Pioli’s team speed comments for about a month now, but its all been in good fun. Pioli’s statements are no different from what any GM says after any draft. Draft small guys? You got faster. Draft big guys? You got stronger. Signed Rick Ankiel? You got more athletic. And so on. GMs of losing teams have a pretty short shelf life. An unfortunate consequence of that is that self-preservation becomes a big part of their job. They always have to be ready to defend their decisions, or at least to paint them in a positive light.
It’s not rocket science. None of this is even new. I remember in ’96 the Chiefs drafted Jerome Woods, Reggie Tongue and Donnie Edwards and said their defense was getting faster. That actually sort of worked out, too. The next year they inserted Donnie Edwards into the starting lineup at middle linebacker over Tracy Simien. Simien had been a solid player for a few years, so the move raised a few eyebrows. Edwards, as we all know, ended up being awesome. Most Chiefs fans probably don’t even remember who Tracy Simien is.
I’m not saying the same thing will happen this time. I’m just saying, teams always say their draft picks are part of some grand strategy. The reality is GMs are never quite sure who they’re going to be able to draft, and they’re just trying to get the players who are highest on their board. If that ends up being 2 defensive backs and a receiver in the first 2 rounds? Then yeah, you talk about team speed. Nothing groundbreaking. The only reason I’ve been talking about it so much is because I think its hilarious how Beast Nation took the ball and ran with it. I bet if Scott Pioli drafted a toilet and said he wanted to improve Arrowhead’s bathrooms they’d be totally psyched. Within a week there’d be articles all over the blogosphere about toilet quality being the key to super bowl success.
Team speed is a cousin to the Sasquatch. It isn’t real, we don’t need to worry about it. If I were a betting man (which I am, and I usually lose) I’d put money on Pioli’s team speed comments being post-draft spin, not a reflection of an actual strategy.
If you want real insight into their draft strategy, look no further than the focus on character. Team speed sounds fun, but it was character they were really after. Virtually all of their picks were team captains in college, and most of them also won their team’s various hustle and perfect attendance awards*. If there is a big picture, this is it. Pioli and Haley want character guys. They want players who will work hard, follow orders, and buy into the system (shudder). Our leaders believe in a strong centralized government, and they want citizens that will promptly pay their taxes.
*Javier Arenas actually won his team’s “love to practice” award. Yikes. Arenas, the deck is stacked against you ever being a Big Matt favorite.
Scott Pioli thinks that if he follows certain steps, the Chiefs will achieve success. He has seen these steps work in the past. You could make the argument that these steps are all he knows.
Yes, I’m talking about the Patriot Way. This might sound like an old song, but it still rings true. I’ve been saying for a while now that Pioli is a tough nut to crack. I’ve been consistently unable to predict his draft picks or his level of free agent activity. But in one respect, he has been remarkably transparent: he wants to do things exactly the way they were done in New England.
And you know, maybe it will work. Ultimately its the players, not the “way”, that determine a team’s success. Men like Scott Pioli might think otherwise, but they’re fooling themselves. It is the players that win the games. If these character guys are good players, then the strategy will have worked, regardless of the hows and whys. I just hope Pioli isn’t on a quest to find his Willie Bloomquist. I mean, if Rudi were in the draft this year we probably would’ve used a late-rounder on him.
My ideal GM would be intelligent, open-minded and aggressive. I don’t know that Scott Pioli is any of those things. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good GM. There’s more than one way to skin a Lombardi Trophy. Ours is imitation. If it works, I’m fine with that. If drafting all these character guys eventually creates a team that really does come together and overachieve, Scott Pioli will be due a serious tip-of-the-cap.
And in terms of the immediate future, here’s a guarantee: I will get a Chiefs tattoo if we can somehow make it to the playoffs this year. Any and all suggestions will be considered.