Aghast Over Pendergast?

Maybe we don't want to question Scott Pioli, Todd Haley and the new Kansas City Chiefs. It feels wrong. We're not used to dealing with such highly successful football minds (we're used to highly mediocre football minds). Our first instinct is to accept what we're served on good faith.

But, as our buddy Jason Whitlock pointed out 11 days ago, maybe it's irresponsible to allow the new Arrowhead regime to exist without question. Maybe we're just asking for a repeat of history.

That's how I felt when the Chiefs announced Clancy Pendergast as their new defensive coordinator last week. We've seen this movie before, although admittedly it has a slightly different setup.

Eight years ago Dick Vermeil tabbed Greg Robinson to be his defensive coordinator. I won't pretend to remember the general reaction at the time, although if memory serves, Robinson was lavished upon in the media to some extent for his energetic coaching style during practice.

Eventually, no one cared about the calories Robinson burned during an average practice session. Instead, there was extreme outrage over Kansas City's terrible defense, and a bitter backflash following the infamous no-punt playoff perdition. Eventually Robinson tearfully resigned, you already know this story, roll credits.

Why didn't Vermeil see Robinson's utter failure coming? What clouded his vision, that previously appeared so crystal clear in St. Louis and Philadelphia? We'll never know, but a strong case can be made that the wrong choice at defensive coordinator prevented the Chiefs from winning a championship.

So the question is, what do Greg Robinson and Clancy Pendergast have in common? Besides a history of bad defense, they also have history with great offense.

You're likely already aware that Robinson won two Super Bowls with Mike Shanahan in the late ‘90s, and admittedly Denver's defense at the time contributed heavily to those championships. But you know what? When John Elway, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe are rolling up 30 points almost every week on the other side of the ball, sometimes defense gets a little too simple.

Denver's prolific offense routinely jumped out to big leads and made opposing offenses one-dimensional, allowing Robinson to send Alfred Williams, Neil Smith and Trevor Pryce screaming after the opposing quarterback with their ears pinned back. It wasn't difficult for Steve Atwater, Darrien Gordon and Ray Crockett, the veterans in Denver's secondary at the time, to capitalize on that pressure.

Sometimes winning makes a great deodorant, however. In this case, Denver's Super Bowl trophies covered up the subtle, yet ominous stench emanating from Robinson's defense.

The 1997 Broncos boasted the league's fifth-ranked defense, and yet somehow got away with allowing a whopping 4.7 yards per carry (30th in the league) and 4.9 yards per play (17th). The 1998 Broncos boasted the league's eighth-ranked defense, and yet somehow got away with allowing 4.9 yards per play (19th).

When Elway retired and Denver's prolific offense began to deteriorate ever-so-slightly, the right guard sport stick evaporated and Robinson's defense, even with many of the same players from the Super Bowl teams, began to stink a Mile High.

It probably wasn't a coincidence that the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, not known for their offense, scored three touchdowns in a wild-card playoff game against Robinson's defense. Baltimore would not score three offensive touchdowns in one game again until Week 4 of the following season. Not surprisingly, Shanahan fired Robinson after the 2000 season.

Now, maybe Robinson wasn't completely to blame. Certainly his players aged, and he wouldn't be the last scapegoat Shanahan ever found in Denver. But there's no denying the fact that Robinson was fitted for two Super Bowl rings in large part because he hitched a ride on the John Elway train. He was completely exposed in the following years and has not returned to the NFL.

Now that we've vaporized Robinson's skeleton once and for all, we have to wonder – is Pendergast similar, at all? Can we draw any parallels?

The obvious comparison is that Pendergast, like Robinson, has coordinated defenses while enjoying the luxury of a Super-Bowl caliber offense, quarterbacked by a Hall of Famer (or a potential one, anyway). The obvious difference is that Pendergast doesn't have any Super Bowl rings to show for it.

For five seasons in Arizona, all the Cardinals did was get worse, defensively. They allowed more points from one season to the next from 2004 to 2008, and mostly did nothing but lose football games until Ken Whisenhunt came along and knocked the rust off Warner's right arm.

Take a look at the 2007 and 2008 Cardinals. How can you not be reminded of the 2002 and 2003 Chiefs? Simply put, we're looking at back-to-back years of prolific scoring offense, held back by terrible, awful, downright putrid defense. No wonder Pendergast was fired, despite the fact his defense made a major contribution in the playoffs.

But surely we can't forget so soon that Robinson's defense made a major contribution to the 2003 Chiefs. During KC's 9-0 start that season, at times the defense was downright dominant. You remember it. We were all in shock when Ryan Sims, Dexter McCleon, Eric Hicks, and the rest of the misfits were pounding Drew Bledsoe into the turf, intercepting Brett Favre, and making game-changing plays week after week.

It didn't save Robinson's job, and perhaps validated a widely-held opinion that he should have been fired a year earlier. Maybe Whisenhunt did himself a favor by ridding himself of his own Robinson before a third season with his new franchise got underway.

But that's awfully harsh. The 2009 Chiefs have yet to blow a third-and-long play. Maybe all this worry is for nothing. Pendergast might not even have been Kansas City's first choice for defensive coordinator, because we know there were discussions with Romeo Crennel. Todd Haley's late hiring may have made it difficult to secure the best and most qualified candidate to be KC's new defensive coordinator.

But we can't sit here and act like there's no reason to feel a little scared about the direction of KC's defense at the moment. There is good reason to be concerned about the new defensive braintrust. The Chiefs fielded a dreadful defense a year ago, haven't been much better since Marty Schottenheimer resigned, and have essentially been a bad defensive football team for a decade now.

A major overhaul, the one that Gunther Cunningham and Herm Edwards failed to provide, is badly needed. The Chiefs now have an offensive-minded head coach, so the foundation for the new defense, the plan that will be followed, the orders that will be given, logically must begin and end with Pendergast, correct?

If you feel totally at ease with that scenario, ask yourself one question: While Scott Pioli and Todd Haley do sport championship rings, are they gleaming any brighter than the one Dick Vermeil was wearing when he phoned up Greg Robinson?

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