Keeler: Thanks to Dorsey, the Chiefs’ front office is putting together the craziest, tastiest microbrew KC has ever seen
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nature calls. And we’re not listening.
“I’ve gotta see a man about a horse,” John Dorsey says. The general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs smiles wickedly.
“Nobody’ll get that here. Who would get that?”
Blank stares. Nothing worse than a room full of blank scribe stares.
“A man about a horse,” Dorsey says, smiling broader now, because he knows he’s got us.
It’s a euphemism for, ahem, taking a leak. Or needing to skedaddle quickly for reasons, possibly unscrupulous, that are none of our bees wax.
Whit Sterling, the cynical gambler played by Kirk Douglas in the 1947 film “Out of the Past,” used that line once. And that’s our guy: Dorsey, one of the key axles on the Chiefs’ 9-0 monster truck that rolls into Denver for a mammoth matchup with the 8-1 Broncos on Sunday night, is a walking Wikipedia up close, raving about a stud linebacker from the Mid-American Conference one minute, quoting movie lines the next, never stopping to smell the roses.
“Are you kidding me?” Dorsey says. “My life never ends … I mean, this is the cycle we live in.
“There’s no way I ever do that. I go 1-0 every week. I will never be (complacent). I will never do all that other stuff.”
Dorsey is 53, still unbeaten in his first lap as an NFL general manager, a former backup linebacker — his 35 special teams tackles with the Green Bay Packers in 1984 is still the franchise’s single-season record — turned collegiate scout.
As the Chiefs make the turn from the front nine to the back seven (and beyond), their front office, the men behind the curtains, are an even more fascinating case study: Mike Frazier, the club’s statistical analysis coordinator, interned at Smith Barney and Wachovia. Brad Childress, the spread game analyst, helped revive football at the University of Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez and coached the Minnesota Vikings to a pair of division titles between 2006-10. Consultant Chris Ault invented the Pistol offense as the longtime coach/athletic director at Nevada.
“As Gene Stallings said, and I don’t know how long ago, but it was when I was at Northern Arizona and he was at the Arizona Cardinals, it struck me when he said it,” Childress says. “He said, ‘Let’s face it. The fun in this business is winning. It’s not the grind. It’s not the practices. It’s not the two-a-days. It’s not any of that stuff.’ And so, ultimately, that’s the goal. This has been a fun season from that standpoint.”
At the center of it all are Andy Reid and Dorsey, old Green Bay buddies, blending the Eagles Way and the Packers Way and the Holmgren Way and the Bill Walsh Way and tossing it into a loaded Chiefs pot that just needed a few different ingredients and the right kind of stirring.
“When you get, like we’ve always talked about from a thematic standpoint in terms of the locker room,” Dorsey says. “Once you get guys to embrace their teammates in the locker room, (to) understand that the fist is much stronger than the finger, everybody is pulling together for the same common goal.
“And then all of a sudden, you have a leader like Andy — you know, he’s a really good leader of men, he’s a good man. He treats the guys the way they’re supposed to be treated, as men. To me, that’s the most fulfilling thing, is to see those guys, when they came into training camp, they came in as teammates but now … to see them now as a group of young men, collectively working toward the ultimate goals. That’s what I’m most taking away from (it), but I’m still going week by week.”
It’s Broncos Week, Peyton Week, The Super Bowl Before The Super Bowl Week, with all the loud noises and pomp and circumstance that comes with it. And yet, while Denver, presumptive lead dogs in the AFC West, guided what the Chiefs’ braintrust did in terms of getting this beast back up on its feet again — namely, the common-sense idea that you can’t compete in a division with Peyton Manning without quality depth in the secondary and a quality signal-caller of your own — it didn’t necessarily shape it.
The Eagles Way, the Packers Way, at least as Reid and Dorsey practiced it, is about competing long-term, building something sustainable. Teams flash up and collapse below expectations every year in the NFL; great franchises are marked by their ability to stay competitive as franchises rise and fall around them, the ability to chase divisions and playoff berths every fall despite fluctuating quality of schedules and unpredictable natures of health and fortune.
In a league where Any Given Sunday is the law of the land, it’s hard, damn hard, for it to be your Sunday every stinking week.
“I’m not sure you necessarily (focus on Denver) as much as you want to try to accumulate as many good football players as you can at all positions. That’s kind of the way you go,” Reid said Monday. “Teams are so fluid; there’s so much change in this league. I don’t think you set yourself up necessarily that way other than trying to get what you need to compete within the National Football League. That’s kind of how you roll with it. It’s a little bit vague, but that’s really how you do it, (rather) than just say, ‘Listen, we’re going to get ourselves ready for one team.'”
And yet, here, it works, and works in historic fashion: The Chiefs are the first North American pro sports franchise to ever have the No. 1 pick in the draft and then open the very next season 9-0. From a media standpoint, access is still carefully screened, secrets still closely and fiercely guarded. The previous regime was a descendant of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, an offshoot of The Patriots Way, East Coast thinking with East Coast replies of “(naughty word) you and get outta here.” The new hybrid of Packers-Eagles-Chiefs thinking is to actually keep the scribes at a fairly similar distance, some days, but it’s framed with courteous, almost familial tone, buttered with a very Midwestern sensibility.
Plus when you’re 9-0, nobody complains much about candy wrappers in stairwells. Dorsey has bigger fish. And none bigger than the whopper that’s on the line Sunday.
“A lot of my bosses and former bosses and former mentors have told me, ‘Your first year in the transition to the GM seat, you should probably stay close to home and just make sure everything’s smooth,'” Dorsey says. “I’ve kind of done that, because I trust the people we hired that are out there evaluating players.”
Yeah, but a “statistical analysis coordinator”?
“All good organizations have certain guys like that,” Dorsey says. “The organization I left had guys like that. I know the Patriots have certain guys like that, to stay on the cutting edge. We’re in the 21st century and we have to combine old and new together to move forward. And I think that’s what it does for you.
“Because ultimately, like you see the nutritionists, too. Because it’s the old thing, ‘Garbage-in, garbage-out,’ the old computer thing. So if you can teach guys how to eat, take care of their body. It’s the old body-mind-and-spirit philosophy. If you take care of your body, mind and spirit all should work in cycle. So I think the nutrition plays a huge part of it.”
Free thinking — forward thinking, actually — plays a part. Sabermetrics and old-fashioned scouting. New school and old school. Same pot.
“‘Blended’ is probably the more proper way to use it,” Dorsey says. “Because I don’t think ‘Moneyball’ in the pure sense works in professional football. It doesn’t. There’s no way. But there are analytical systems in place that you can create yourself that help you ‘blend,’ as you say.
“Because the best way to put it is, I still want both. The school (where) you have to touch it, feel it, see it and see what it is. But it’s also — you would do your organization a disservice if you didn’t see if you could find modern tools that will enhance your ability to find players … you have to go in, and year-in and year-out, keep up with technology.”
Does that mean keeping up with the web sites, too, then? Football Outsiders? Pro Football Focus?
“No, I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Dorsey says, smiling again. “I just pay attention to if you win or lose.”
The life never ends. And long-suffering Kansas City faithful are hoping the party never stops.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.