What we're hearing about the Pioli situation in Cleveland and Kansas City. It's not about the money anymore.
For the better part of a week, Patriots Insiders have been telling readers that Patriots VP of Player Personnel Scott Pioli to Cleveland is a win-win for the organization and the Patriots front office executive. One of the first reports included an indication that by taking the Cleveland job, if nothing else, Pioli would significantly increase the taxable income line on his 1040 next year by a power of 10. If money were the only reason Pioli was interested, he would be standing behind a table on the shores of lake Erie right now with an orange and brown logo on the wall behind him. But money isn't the only thing Pioli's looking for. And that's the reason for the holdup in a deal being struck.
After speaking with sources familiar with the negotiations between Pioli and the two clubs he's currently talking to, there are really only three viable options for Pioli: 1) Stay in New England. 2) Take a GM or President role in Kansas City, or 3) Take what Cleveland is offering if they don't pull the offer and pursue plan C.
Option 1: Stay Put In New England
For the Patriots VP of Player Personnel, option 1 is starting to look more likely than ever.
At the beginning of his job search process, Pioli was a sure bet to depart the friendly confines of Foxboro. No longer. Though he was expected to interview with representatives from Kansas City for the position left vacant from the resignation of Carl Peterson, word is that opening isn't what Pioli is looking for. The ideal situation, from what we're told, is a position that gives him control over all of the football operations, not just responsibilities of a GM. If Pioli was only looking for a GM role, he could have had that from a number of teams last year. No, Pioli is looking for the keys to the car before he spends his time working on restoring the old beater to hot rod status. The problem is, no one wants to give him those keys unconditionally.
Reports surfaced this week citing unnamed sources that Pioli has pegged the coach of his dreams in Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. Should Pioli land a front office position, the reports indicate that Ferentz would be his man. According to Ferentz, he hasn't spoken to Pioli recently so he's not sure where those reports are coming from. Ferentz claims to be content just coaching Iowa.
"We're good friends. I've got tremendous respect for Scott as a football guy," Ferentz told the assembled media after Iowa's bowl game Thursday.. "He's just a tremendous person. I caution everybody: Don't try to predict what Scott is going to do, either. He's got a great job right where he's at."
Ferentz's statement that Pioli has a great job where he's at serves two purposes. One, Pioli can stay with the Patriots to no surprise of the Iowa coach. And Two, it might up the ante for Cleveland by implying that Cleveland may not realize that Pioli doesn't have to leave New England just because the Browns need him.
The negotiations between the Browns and Pioli have not gone well thus far. Patriots Insider was told by someone with knowledge of the negotiations that Pioli is unhappy with the process. Cleveland has moved forward with interviewing head coaching candidates before agreeing to terms with their new GM, a move Pioli (and other GM candidates) clearly has concerns over. If the Browns are serious about wanting someone to take control of their football team to rebuilt it following the Patriot model of success, hiring - or even interviewing -- prospective head coaches is the job of the GM, not the owner or his advisers. If -- as the source indicated -- Pioli is really as upset about those interviews by Cleveland's owner, then the whole deal to bring Pioli on board could be in jeopardy.
In New England, the Patriots aren't ones to meddle in their football operations as owner and CEO Robert Kraft has mentioned on numerous occasions.
Kraft's confidence in what Pioli does with Belichick is typically a hands off approach, especially when it comes to acquiring talent via free agency or through the Draft.
"As far as when they picked, who they picked, I have a lot of confidence and trust in Bill [ Belichick] and Scott [ Pioli] and their understanding of value and what's in the marketplace," Kraft said after the 2008 Draft. "And also their understanding of our staff and what's happeningwe just don't do things for this year."
Kraft's confidence in Pioli and his working relationship with Belichick may be too much of a comfort zone to leave if the right opportunity doesn't come along. Pioli isn't about to give it all up just to strike out on his own.
Option 2: Kansas City
The Chiefs would really like to have Pioli become a member of the organization. According to one team insider, the Chiefs are not about to hand Pioli any level of control like what he's asking for from the Browns. If Cleveland has a friendly rather than a competitive relationship with Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, they could see though the move by Pioli to explore his options.
"He's just doing it (interview with Kansas City), to up the ante in Cleveland," the source told Patriots Insider this afternoon. "He (Hunt) isn't going to give Pioli control of the whole thing."
The source spoke of the Chiefs needs for change in the front office after two decades of management by Peterson, but that the change wouldn't be nearly as drastic or dire as the one in Cleveland if Pioli gets what he wants.
"He (Pioli) isn't going to get that (total control) here," the source continued.
If Kansas City isn't the destination for Pioli, then why go through the process of an interview? Because Hunt is friends with Patriots President Jonathan Kraft and according to this source Kraft has been involved in getting Pioli to go through with the interview.
The elder Kraft, Robert, is friendly with Browns owner Randy Lerner, but reportedly not as close as Jonathan is with Clark Hunt. Leading to another unusual situation. Why are the Patriots involved in promoting Pioli to one club vs another? (see option 1).
Option 3: Cleveland
The final option, the one that has dominated the news all week is Pioli taking the best offer he can get from the Browns and setting up shop in Ohio.
John Taylor and Lane Adkins have been sharing updates on the negotiations between the Browns and Pioli at TheOBR.com. From the meeting in New York, to the offers believed to be on the table for the Patriots exec, TheOBR has illustrated why the Browns overtures to Pioli haven't culminated in his signing.
It's believed that Pioli wants the job in Cleveland, but his demands for total control are putting off Lerner. The Browns are gun-shy about handing the keys to the entire operation to one person (Pioli) and allowing him to bring in his own head coach, a college coach (Ferentz) at that. After suffering through the reign of new head coaches, Cleveland hasn't had the type of success they've hoped for with first time coaches (Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel) or first time full blown front office types (Davis, Phil Savage). From what we hear, that part of Pioli's demands has rocked the boat.
The Browns plan B (Actually C if you include their failed pursuit of Steelers coach Bill Cowher), was to interview Falcons president Rich McKay for a role as GM. According to Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com, McKay told the Browns he's not interested in the interview which was reportedly set for today, until the Browns are done with their pursuit of other candidates (namely Pioli).
The withdrawal of McKay has dealt the Browns candidate search another blow. Although Pioli was reportedly asked to give the team a decision before the McKay interview, now that there isn't a McKay interview, the deadline for Pioli has been lifted. It's believed the Browns backtracked a bit off their demand for an answer when the McKay situation deteriorated.
There's no official deadline for Pioli to take Cleveland's revised offer after the Patriots exec submitted a list which, according to the Boston Herald, was filled with a list of demands that "were impossible for any team to meet."