A few weeks back a reader asked me why I wasn’t offering unconditional, unwavering support to Scott Pioli and Todd Haley. The answer was simple: it’s not my job. I’m not the company mouthpiece–Bob Gretz gets paid handsomely to fill that role. My job is to observe and critique their performance. Today I’ll be exercising the latter.
Sports fans grow more and more accustomed every year to hearing football players bitch. To a certain extent, they’ve earned the right. They possess God-given natural abilities that the rest of us don’t. Moreover, the ones that make the most money also possess the kind of discipline that (most of) the rest of us don’t, and it’s that application of discipline that separates the elite (Marshall Faulk) from the expendable (Trung Canidate). Add to that the finite and often fickle nature of their career span (10-15 years depending on position, barring major injury or perceived ineffectiveness by a shortsighted coach), and maybe it’s just not that reasonable to expect that they keep their helmets on and their mouths shut.
When it comes to opening their mouths, different guys handle their business in different ways. Some players complain to the media about everything (Tony Gonzalez). I’m accustomed to that, and I’ve learned to turn a deaf ear. Athletes who demonstrate superior ability, discipline, and leadership get a free pass. Other players complain to the media about nothing as if it were everything (Larry Johnson). For these guys, there never are quite enough buses for them to throw their coaches and teammates under. I have considerably less patience for the angry missives of players who have nothing to rage against except themselves.
Then there are players who keep to themselves, regardless of the circumstances. They’re the pack mules of the team–they carry the biggest load, require little sustenance, and never complain. Some of them are team leaders on the field and/or in the locker room, but to the press they say little to nothing. The word ‘I’ is missing from their vocabularies. The more of these a team has, the better it functions. The show horses might be the main attraction, but the mules are the ones that get the job done.
So what happens when one of the pack mules actually does complain? I tend to listen, and typically I put a lot of stock in what they say. When Scott Fujita makes a statement about the Chiefs’ front office like he did after the New Orleans game, he has my attention.
As of late last night, Brian Waters has my attention.
For those of you who aren’t yet in the know, Waters has made it known that he wants to be traded or released. He wants this not because he feels the team doesn’t have potential or because he dislikes the community. He wants this because he feels slighted by Pioli and Haley. Haley (allegedly) addressed him briefly and flippantly, and Pioli (allegedly) won’t give him the time of day at all. I understand that both men are very busy in their new positions, and had this same declaration been levied by, for instance, Demorrio Williams, I wouldn’t bat an eye.
But Brian Waters is different. He’s the second best player on this team and the only true team leader since Trent Green, Will Shields, and Eric Hicks departed. He plays for the same amount of money that Ryan Lilja does, which is $4 million less than Alan Faneca. He doesn’t throw temper tantrums, doesn’t hold out for more money, and doesn’t (at least until now) publicly criticize any facet of the organization. In the age of prima donnas and self-appointed second comings, a certain level of respect is intrinsically due to a pack mule with four Pro Bowls.
Haley has a history of being, as one reporter put it, aloof. His recent clashes with Anquan Boldin and similar clashes a few years back with Terrell Owens are well documented. I couldn’t care less. This isn’t a diatribe against aloof coaches. Sometimes aloof coaches get great results (see: Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin). But even aloof coaches should understand that bonds need to be formed with certain veteran players, and in Kansas City there is no greater need for that than with Brian Waters–not even with Tony Gonzalez.
If the reports are a reflection of reality, amends need to be made. Brian doesn’t strike me as a man who suffers from an excess of pride or an overabundant sense of self-worth. A simple acknowledgement by the incoming administration that they recognize his contributions is likely all he needs, and for the rare player at a non-skill position who can actually win games for a team, that’s not a tall order. Scott and Todd, it’s time to dig out the rolodex and flip to the W’s. Six years ago Kansas City had the best offensive line in NFL history. In the interim fans have watched four of those five pieces be stripped away strictly by the behavior of Carl Peterson and the reputation of Herm Edwards. Don’t let the behavior of Scott Pioli and the reputation of Todd Haley strip away that last piece. Fix this while it can still be fixed.