Cedar Rapids, Iowa News, Sports, and Weather
(Originally printed in the Gazette in August, 2011)
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli left the Chiefs' practice field at Missouri Western State University in a hurry.
Pioli briefly answered questions from media about the Chiefs' personnel and the preparations necessary for the team's first preseason game. But as he walked away, he was struck by a handful questions about his relationship with Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz.
Pioli kept walking en route to his team meetings but hardly contained his admiration for Ferentz, a man who first denied him a graduate assistant job at Maine in 1990. Pioli laughed and said, "I still haven't gotten over it."
Three years later, Ferentz twice interviewed with then-Cleveland Browns Coach Bill Belichick for the team's offensive line position before earning the job. Ferentz's first interview was in February 1993, and he met Pioli once again.
"Scott was the guy they said, 'OK, take this guy back to the airport,''" Ferentz said. "I was a candidate for a job there. He was just a young intern; I was a young coach. I thought I bombed miserably. He reassured me, 'No, you didn't do that bad. Bad, but not that bad.' That was how our relationship began."
Pioli remembers the situation differently because of his Maine rejection.
"The next time I saw him was when he came in for his (Cleveland) interview," Pioli said, laughing. "I told him I was going to drive him off the road."
Pioli started his pro career with the Browns as a scouting assistant in 1992, then moved to a pro personnel assistant in 1993 where he "started with a desk out in the hallway, and next thing you know, he moved in," Ferentz said. Pioli stayed with the Browns/Baltimore Ravens organization through 1996, when he advanced to pro personnel coordinator before joining the New York Jets. Ferentz worked with the Browns/Ravens organization through 1998 and eventually became the team's assistant head coach before leaving for Iowa.
As the two went their separate ways, they still remained friends. The respect is mutual and genuine. Pioli scouted former Iowa quarterback Rick Stanzi on a trip to Iowa City last fall. Ferentz said he shared "greater detail" about Stanzi with Pioli and 10 or 12 teams during the scouting process this offseason. Pioli eventually drafted Stanzi in the fifth round in April.
"Scott typically comes through at some point in the season like a lot of GMs do," Ferentz said. "It's not like it was anything out of the ordinary. I'm always amazed at what he sees about everything and everybody that he'll share with me at some point. I don't know that our conversations were that much more extensive.
"He values what we say, but he likes to do a lot of work on his own. He and his staff are very thorough, very professional."
Chiefs Coach Todd Haley attended the same high school Pittsburgh's Upper St. Clair as Ferentz. Haley and Pioli scoured Stanzi's background and delved into Stanzi's "preparation habits and his work ethic" based on their conversations with Ferentz and what they observed in Iowa City.
"I think we have multiple guys on our staff, myself included, that have real good familiarity with their head coach up there at Iowa," Haley said, "and much like some of the other colleges that you feel comfortable about guys coming into the league and having a chance to succeed from a being ready for the NFL standpoint. They're well-coached guys up there in Iowa."
Pioli and Ferentz's relationship runs deeper than just player development. Pioli is known as one of football's shrewdest talent evaluators. Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and ESPN.com all ranked him as the NFL's top personnel executive of the last decade. Pioli was New England's vice president of player personnel from 2000 through 2008 before he became Kansas City's general manager in 2009.
In New England, Pioli hired Ferentz's son, Brian, as a scouting assistant in 2008. Brian Ferentz now is in his third season as an assistant coach with the Patriots. When the interview subject turns to his thoughts on Ferentz and his family, that's when Pioli's demeanor quickly shifts from whimsical to deliberate.
Pioli stopped walking, turned and became more serious.
"The thing about Kirk is he's one of the finest human beings I've met in my 25-plus years in this business, in this game," Pioli said. "He's a great family man. He's got an incredible wife and his five kids, I've known them all since they were young.
"His ability to prepare people is the fact that he cares about his kids, how he cares about his players. He understands things in the big picture of football and the big picture of life. I think he does a great job of preparing kids and getting kids to trust him because he's so genuine. He's one of those people when you look at football and you see how he does things and how he does his job, it makes you proud to be in the same industry because he's a first-class act."
Pioli makes another quick joke, then is whisked away by a team media relations staffer to another training camp meeting. But before he reaches indoor football facility, Pioli turns around one more time, walks backward and shouts at the reporter.
"Any time you need something to print about Kirk, let me know," Pioli said. "I never have a problem talking about Kirk Ferentz."