Finding A Winner

At 1:00 PM Central Standard Time on Friday, February 6, 2009, we were introduced to the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Todd Haley. What we saw sitting on the dais was the beginning of the remedy for an organization in previous disarray. It was an injection of fresh thought from the triumvirate now in charge of the future of the organization.

No one really knows whether or not this was a master stroke by our new general manager, but what we witnessed was the decision by Clark Hunt to embrace a true new beginning. Hunt had only heard about what his father accomplished in the early days of the AFL as a 27 year-old owner with a relatively young head coach of 36, but no one can argue the success Lamar Hunt's new thinking brought to a dated business model, the old NFL. Now Clark Hunt, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley can get down to the business of resuscitating an ailing franchise in need of a fresh perspective.

Trying to find a winner in a forest of mediocrity could be the challenge of the decade for the Chiefs. "Winner" is a broad term in this context. Finding the path to success crosses personnel and ideas. We've seen the first effort on both points.

Pioli has found an up and coming head coach in Todd Haley who, I'm sure, is brimming with new and imaginative schemes that may well be the impetus to winning. Rather than trying to figure out what the exact problems have been with the Chiefs, let's look to New England and the "Patriot Way" for the discovery of a winner.

First, let's identify what elements must be in place for a winning professional sports organization to emerge. In order to experience success in any business, three elements have to be considered. The first is leadership. In order to develop a winning mentality, an effective leadership group must be in place. That can include ownership, administrative staff, operations staff as well as coaching staff.

By definition, each part of the leadership group would seem to be automatic leaders, but not so fast. The individuals comprising each segment of the leadership group can't be selfish when it comes to ideas. Each person assigned a given task in the leadership group must work cohesively for a common purpose and limit differences to facilitate effective debate and problem resolution.

The second element is creativity - taking the collaboration established within the leadership group and coming up with unique and original ideas that mesh with the organizational goals.

The third element is talent. Without it, you won't make much progress regardless of how "good" your ideas are. Talent doesn't just show up on the field, it takes root in the administration and football operations, too. When a team lacks any of these elements, the problem becomes identifying which dynamic is the main offender. Because the single most difficult task for a professional football team is talent identification in all three segments of the organization, that's where we'll start.

Nine years ago Patriots owner Robert Kraft hired a reasonably successful (two Super Bowl rings as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants) defensive assistant from the New York Jets, one Bill Belichick, as head coach. Belichick's entire tenure in professional football was almost solely on the defensive side of the ball. He was head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to 1995, but aside from that period his experience was in assembling winning defenses.

One thing that stands out in the history of Belichick's term with the Patriots is his uncanny ability to identify talent in both free agency and the draft. He also benefited from a talented player personnel department. As we already know, Scott Pioli was a major player in that success.

Pioli joined the Patriots with Belichick in 2000 as a pro personnel executive and was promoted to Vice President of Player Personnel in 2002. During that time period, Belichick and Pioli were responsible for signing free agents such as Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, Heath Evans, Jabar Gaffney, Junior Seau, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Coupled with that was great draft success in the form of Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins and Ellis Hobbs. Not only are all of these players still in New England, most have been to multiple pro bowls.

So we've established that a wise owner hired a top flight head coach prospect that brought with him a top flight personnel man. Together they created what most believe to be the most dominant dynasty of the NFL's modern era. Seems pretty simple, eh? A perfect storm of execution from a master plan for success. It almost appears magical.

What some overlook is the football wisdom that has led to New England's success, or what is commonly referred to as the "Patriot Way." There isn't a single individual solely responsible for their success, but rather a unique combination of intelligence and chemistry that was present during the most exceptional period of their franchise.

Let's talk about leadership. We know Belichick has the final say over personnel in New England, but as Pioli has stated, they would agree or disagree on personnel, make a decision and move on. The theme that seemed to pervade Haley's introductory press conference was making sure that the decisions he made with Pioli would be made to "get it right."

In business, success is determined by how effective relationships develop and how those relationships are leveraged for maximum return on investment. When all the key players display symmetrical thought at their opening press conference, it's logical to conclude they are all coming into this period singing from the same sheet of music. Hunt is a smart businessman and to allow his key personnel to make the necessary decisions that will dictate the success of the franchise is a display of leadership. It's no different than when Kraft delegated that responsibility to Belichick, in quiet harmony with Pioli.

The final element is creativity. Both the Chiefs and the Patriots have historically benefited from creative personnel. Hank Stram developed the "I Formation" and the moving pocket while Belichick has a pair of defensive game plans from the Super Bowl in the Hall of Fame. That isn't to say we won't see more of the same type of success both organizations have enjoyed in the past but it'll be interesting to see how this new generation of owner, personnel man and coach come together to create new chapters in the history of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The question now becomes, can the Chiefs duplicate this formula for success? If you look at the last few weeks, a pattern has begun to surface. You can actually feel the deliberate process that the last two major decisions came from. That feeling is the start of the "Chiefs Way."

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