KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The worn-out notebook with the blue cover that Scott Pioli drags out of pile of paperwork on his desk is from 1994. The handwriting inside of it, mostly scouting reports on college players from a bygone era, is tiny and deliberate.
It’s the few pages toward the front, though, that are the most interesting.
That’s where the current Chiefs general manager, back then a young front-office assistant for the Cleveland Browns, has given himself a withering self-assessment – several pages of improvements that he’s made over time, and things he could be doing better going forward.
It’s not unlike the scathing critique Pioli has been putting himself through this week.
The Chiefs are mired in 1-5 rut to start the season, and most of the blame for it has fallen on Pioli, the disciple of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick who has struggled to endear himself to increasingly hostile Kansas City fans weary of losing.
“Clearly there are things we need to fix, things we need to change, things we need to improve upon,” Pioli said during an interview with The Associated Press, “and it starts with me.”
The Chiefs haven’t just been losing, they’ve been getting blown out. Four of their five losses have been by two touchdowns, and their lone victory required a franchise-record comeback. They’re off this week before facing Oakland on Oct. 28.
“We’re all frustrated,” Pioli said Wednesday, sitting in his office overlooking the Chiefs’ practice fields. “It’s not what any of us came out of the gate expecting.”
Naturally, it’s made Pioli’s job status the topic du jour.
Pioli said he’s not concerned about his future with the organization, even after a group of fans paid for a banner to fly over Arrowhead Stadium calling for him to be fired. Pioli said the biting criticism comes with the job, and that he deserves most of what’s coming his way.
“Everyone has to do their job better in this thing, starting with me,” he said. “I’m in charge of the football operation and there are things we need to get fixed.”
What are they, exactly?
“I’m not going to get into specifics,” he said. “I mean, it’s on display every Sunday.”
The job done by coach Romeo Crennel, the porous defense, the lousy quarterback play, the lack of impact players, shallow depth across the board – all of it appears to be fair game.
Pioli admitted changes are necessary, though he said “getting into the specifics publicly is not in anybody’s best interest right now.” The former NFL executive of the year did say he remains confident in Crennel, who has appeared to struggle as he juggles duties as the team’s defensive coordinator.
Pioli didn’t sound nearly as confident in his quarterback situation.
One of his first significant moves in 2009 was trading for Matt Cassel, who’d been impressive as a fill-in for injured Patriots starter Tom Brady. Pioli proceeded to sign Cassel to a six-year, $63 million deal – one that has tightly tied the GM to the starting quarterback.
Cassel has struggled mightily the past two seasons, and could lose his job to backup Brady Quinn next week against Oakland. Cassel is expected to be available after sustaining a concussion in a game against Baltimore, but Crennel said the starting spot is open competition.
“There’s a lot of issues,” Pioli admitted, “and that position is one of them.”
Pioli went on to say it’s not the only issue, even though in a league increasingly dependent on consistent quarterback play it may be most critical. Pioli has been reluctant to use early draft choices on a quarterback, and the Chiefs haven’t selected one in the first round since 1983.
Pioli admitted that he’s made other mistakes in four years on the scene, though he refused to discuss any of them in detail. He did say that they encompass all facets of his job.
“They’re in compartments, you know what I mean? There are mistakes I’ve made in terms of not understanding well enough the role of the general manager in Kansas City from a public standpoint. I’ve made some personnel-decision mistakes,” he said. “There’s been a lot of mistakes.”
Pressed again on whether that has put his job in jeopardy, Pioli slowly shook his head and said, “This isn’t about me. This is about me doing my job.”
“Do you know how many people are counting on me to do my job, and do my job well?” he asked. “I’m talking about coaches, coaches’ families, employees and their families, and all the fans, people who are emotionally and financially invested in this thing. I don’t have time to worry about me. I have to concern myself with fixing the team and making the team better. That’s the job.”
Pioli said he hears what people outside the organization are saying, dissatisfied fans who pay for season tickets and the media that dissects every play. It’s impossible not to hear it in Kansas City, where the Chiefs have been woven into the fabric of the community for decades.
Pioli also understands that the discontent has festered for years. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1993, and are heading toward their fifth losing season in six years.
That’s why he brought in that ragged, old notebook to show his players recently.
Perhaps it’s time for everyone in the organization to take a moment for introspection, just like Pioli did all those years ago in Cleveland, and just like he’s been doing this week.
“All you can be concerned about is the task at hand,” Pioli said. “Right now the task at hand isn’t my job. This isn’t about me, you know what I mean? That’s one of the things I’ve promised myself. You do the best you can, suck it up, tough it out, work as hard as you can, and then things will take care of themselves, however they’re meant to be.”