Two things worthy of mention happened to the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday. One was the remedy to the embarrassment the franchise had become in the last two years. One was a painful reminder of that embarrassment. The former, of course, was the hiring of (now former) Patriots Vice President of Personnel Scott Pioli to the vacant General Manager position. The latter–an event many Chiefs fans may have missed in the wake of the former–was former Chiefs center Casey Wiegmann being selected to his first Pro Bowl. With the Denver Broncos.
Wiegmann was unceremoniously dismissed following the 2007 season, with no regard to his 111 consecutive starts for the team. In seven seasons he missed only one game due to injury–his first.
He was dismissed despite having a remarkably inexpensive contract for a veteran of his pedigree ($2.5 million). The Chiefs had over $30 million in cap space.
He was dismissed despite the fact that in all but two of his seven seasons the team’s starting tailback gained over 1,400 rushing yards. The two exceptions were 2004, when starter Priest Holmes was injured after eight games, and 2007, when starter Larry Johnson was injured after eight games. Prior to his arrival, the team had not produced a tailback with over 1,000 yards since Christian Okoye in 1991.
That seems important. Coaches and GM’s aren’t supposed to overlook stats like that.
That isn’t to say that Wiegmann is solely responsible for Holmes’s and Johnson’s success. Both were exceptional runners in their prime. Furthermore, Wiegmann’s fellow linemen in his first season were first round picks Victor Riley and John Tait, perennial Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer Will Shields, future Pro Bowler Brian Waters, and quality stopgap Marcus Spears. In 2002 Riley was supplanted by perennial Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer Willie Roaf. Even mediocre tailbacks could thrive behind that line. Derrick Blaylock proved that. The only tailback that seemingly couldn’t produce behind that line was Mike Cloud.
At the same time, don’t discount Casey’s contributions. Shields was already entrenched in that line long before Wiegmann showed up. So was Riley. Pro Bowler Tim Grunhard was playing center, and 1st Team All-Pro left guard Dave Szott rounded out the interior. 12-year career starters Jeff Criswell and Glenn Parker were there for a while too. These were quality players by anyone’s standards, and they were blocking for backs like Kimble Anders, Barry Word, and Hall of Famer Marcus Allen. But it wasn’t until Wiegmann and Waters joined Shields in the middle that the production increased so dramatically and remained so consistent.
Yes, it was the tailbacks. Yes, it was Al Saunders and the new scheme. It was also Casey Wiegmann.
Wiegmann was dismissed for one reason and one reason only: his association with Dick Vermeil. It wasn’t his size–Adrian Jones and Wade Smith both weigh in shy of 300 and Rudy Niswanger tips the scales at a whopping 301. It wasn’t his inability to adapt to a new coordinator’s requirements–he had worked with offensive coordinator Mike Solari since 2001, and replacement offensive coordinator Chan Gailey always favored smaller, more athletic centers (see: Mark Stepnoski–five Pro Bowls, despite weighing less than 270). It wasn’t even his age–Damion McIntosh and Wade Smith are hardly spring chickens, and don’t even mention the geezer tight end.
It was simply that he was Dick Vermiel’s player. The same fate befell Trent Green, Todd Collins, Sammie Knight, Tony Richardson, and a slew of other players who represented the old guard. Their age played a minor role at best in their dismissals. It made no difference that they were still posting Pro Bowl caliber performances. It made more sense to Herm Edwards to champion lesser players that Vermeil had relegated to background roles. It made more sense to award starting jobs to an unproven crybaby with a burgeoning police record and a career backup whose greatest accomplishments were (1) carrying a clipboard in a Super Bowl for Tom Brady and (2) not carrying a clipboard in a Super Bowl for Dan Marino. It made more sense to empty an already bare cupboard and refill it with scraps from the bottom of the unrestricted free agent and undrafted free agent bins. Yes, Devard Darling was clearly a superior player to Eddie Kennison, right? Eddie Drummond over Dante Hall? Absolutely! A tight end who doesn’t block and a converted middle linebacker over a three-time (now four) Pro Bowl fullback? Where do us loyal fans sign up?
Actually we sign up at open tryouts. Hey, it worked for E.J. Kuale–he played four preseason games in an NFL jersey after riding pine in college. I’m pretty sure I could at least be a long snapper or something. Maybe I should have shown up too.
So now, in this post-Casey Wiegmann, post-Carl Peterson, and likely post-Herm Edwards world, will Scott Pioli and his prospective new head coach blow up the roster the way Herm did? History says yes. Pioli worked under Bill Belichick in New England and in Cleveland before that. Belichick has a history of blowing up rosters–in both stops he cleared 80% of the roster in three years or less. Most Chiefs fans will agree that there’s a fair portion of this current roster that needs to be blown up. Between the final active roster and injured reserve I count 11 players I want gone and another 12 to whom I am wholly indifferent.
By the same token, I count 10 players who are on the fringe that I don’t want to see go, yet all are likely candidates for dismissal: Jackie Battle, Mark Bradley, Quinn Gray, Jason Babin, Rocky Boiman, Donnie Edwards, Patrick Surtain, Maurice Leggett, Jon McGraw, and the guy I have championed since the middle of his rookie season…. Herb Taylor. There’s also the issue of retaining certain coaches, which is typically something that new GM’s and new head coaches don’t do. While I fervently believe that Pioli’s first move should be to fire Mike Priefer (my apologies to my readers for not including that in my last article), I am equally rooted in my belief that Chan Gailey should stay. I’d like to see Eric Price and Jon Embree retained as well.
My hope now is that the new regime won’t make a point of dismissing players and coaches strictly on the grounds that they’re not their guys. Personnel should be dismissed for one reason and one reason only: failure to perform. Anything less substantial or more self-serving should find no home at One Arrowhead Drive.
Besides, these players and coaches aren’t Herm’s guys. Wiegmann and his crew were Vermeil’s guys because in five seasons there was never one moment when anybody other than Larry Johnson believed that Dick Vermeil wasn’t the right coach to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a championship. Herm, on the other hand, has lost this locker room two years in a row. Even young players, who should be fighting for any recognition they can get, stopped trying. Thomas Edison said success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I don’t think he ever played football, because losing that 10% sure as hell seems to negate a lot of the 90%.
Scott Pioli, you’ve just spent the past week doing a lot of inner reflection. Do a little more. Reflect on the inner workings of this team as it stands right now. There are players here that believe in each other a lot more than they believe in themselves. There are a select few coaches that have fairly earned the respect of their players as well. Over the next eight months you’ll be required to thin the flock. Thin it wisely. You may see nothing but rough now, but if you look closely I’ll bet you’ll find some diamonds.