It takes a herculean effort to lead a football team from the conference cellar to the playoffs in two years. But that's what Scott Pioli has just accomplished.
It wasn't easy. When Pioli took over as general manager in 2009, the Chiefs were coming off a season in which they finished an AFC-worst 2-14 and had massive problems on both sides of the ball. This was no quick fix — this was an all-around rebuilding project.
Pioli knew all about turning organizations around, though. Working next to Bill Belichick in New England, he transformed the Patriots from an average team into the league's most dominant franchise, winning three Super Bowls in four seasons.
Now he is doing the same in K.C. After laying the groundwork during his initial campaign there by hiring head coach Todd Haley and trading for QB Matt Cassel, Pioli upgraded the team across the board in 2010 to help it finish 10-6 and win the AFC West, earning him his third Pro Football Weekly/PFWA Executive of the Year honor.
"We started to get the feeling that things were starting to change in the offseason," Pioli told PFW, saying that a preseason game against the Eagles and the Week One victory over the Chargers solidified his belief that this team was different from the one that won four games in '09.
According to Pioli, the 2010 turnaround began when he and Haley revamped the coaching staff by hiring Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, two championship coordinators whom Pioli worked with in New England. Their influence was certainly felt: Both the offense and defense ranked in the top half of the league after finishing near the bottom the year before.
On the field, the GM made a splash in free agency by signing RB Thomas Jones, who was fresh off a career season with the Jets. But the less-prominent additions of C Casey Wiegmann and OG Ryan Lilja also turned out to be critical to the club's improvement.
"They were certainly unheralded but solid additions to the football team," Pioli said.
What might turn out to be Pioli's most important act of the offseason came on draft weekend, though. It was then that he bolstered the roster for both the present and future by snagging playmaking S Eric Berry, a skilled pass catcher in TE Tony Moeaki and special-teams standouts Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas. For this impressive haul, Pioli said that assistant GM Joel Collier, director of college scouting Phil Emery, director of pro personnel Ray Farmer and the entire scouting staff deserve credit.
"Yes, I have to make decisions, but I can't make decisions without the input, help and organizational skills of those people," the GM said.
Pioli's work didn't stop once the season began, as he made sure that key cogs such as RB Jamaal Charles and ILB Derrick Johnson stayed put by signing them to contract extensions.
While this past campaign was a big step in the right direction for the franchise, Pioli knows that a lot of work is ahead for K.C. to achieve its ultimate goal: a championship.
Considering his track record, Chiefs fans have reason to be excited.
Pro Football Weekly's annual awards issue (dated Jan. 23) is on sale now, featuring All-NFL, All-Conference and All-Rookie teams, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Executive of the Year and Assistant Coach of the Year — all selected by PFW editors and contributors along with members of the Professional Football Writers of America — as well as a Golden Toe Award selected by PFW editors only. The print edition also contains a preview of the draft outlook for the first four teams to make selections in April, as well as previews of the two conference championship games. The print edition is available at retail outlets around the country and also online at PFWstore.com , where you can purchase a print copy or an electronic (PDF) version.