Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli has made a number of key personnel decisions since his introduction as Kansas City’s front office leader 15 months ago. Towards the top of the list rests his decision to hire Todd Haley as the 11th head coach in franchise history. There have been a number of other “big moves” since the decision to hire Haley and there will likely be plenty more to come during Pioli’s tenure as general manager.
Perhaps one of Pioli’s more noteworthy moves specific to this calendar year is the unrestricted free agent signing of RB
At their core, the hiring of Haley and the signing of Jones represent Pioli’s overall acquisition strategy.
“One of Todd’s unique qualifications is the fact that he’s served with a number of organizations, four in particular that have turned their franchises around,” Pioli said way back in Haley’s introductory press conference on February 6, 2009. “We have a shared vision of what it takes to be successful in the National Football League.”
Apparently, Jones shares that same vision as well.
The Chiefs represent Jones’ fifth team since he entered the NFL in 2000. Of his 10 NFL seasons with the four teams before the Chiefs, Thomas enjoyed it most when he’s been there to see a franchise turn the corner.
“When I went to the Bears in 2004, I loved it,” Jones said of the Chicago team that finished with a 5-11 record. “The next two years we went to the playoffs.
“Then I went to the Jets and we were 4-12 the first year,” Jones continued. “The next two years we didn’t make it to the playoffs and then last year we made it to the AFC Championship Game.”
The pride that Jones exuberates when talking about his experience in playing for what were widely considered as bad teams doesn’t begin and end with a single season. Jones takes a great joy in seeing the finished product once the big picture comes into focus. There is a sense of ownership and accomplishment in seeing a turnaround, first-hand.
“I love coming to teams where they have a great nucleus of guys and guys that have actually struggled, because when you struggle through tough seasons, it makes you stronger as a football player, stronger as a person and it builds character,” Jones said. “So for me to come into a situation like this and like I said, talking to Coach Haley, Coach Weis and Coach (Maurice) Carthon, you can just tell that they’re committed to winning. They’re committed to bringing guys in that are going to help them win because that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, winning football games.”
Jones will play for a coach who has also seen first-hand turnarounds of once dismal football records. From Haley’s first season of NFL experience in 1995, he’s experienced the same feeling of accomplishment as Jones throughout his coaching career.
Haley’s been part of lousy Jets, Bears, Cowboys and Cardinals programs. In each stop, he’s been there to see the team battle back and prosper. In each situation, prosper has been defined by Playoff appearances. A number of those successful seasons have naturally churned out division titles as well as conference championship appearances in the process.
“You can feel the energy in a building when you get there,” Jones said of Kansas City’s football headquarters. “I’ve been around long enough to know that. And change for me is nothing new. This is my fifth team.
“Just the energy in the building and just the fact they’ve struggled, they’ve been through their struggles and everyone here is ready to turn it around and start winning some football games and that’s what I want to be a part of,” Jones continued.
During his first season in Kansas City, Haley sometimes reflected on the rough patches in which he had experienced and overcome in previous coaching stops.
“I’m grateful for my past experience having been places that have turned around a lot of losses,” Haley said last season. “(It goes) all the way back to the New York Jets who were 1-15, 2-14 back-to-back to 9-7 to 12-4. I was there. I got to see it and be part of it.”
Jones offered similar reflections during his first meeting with the local media on Monday morning. Known around the league as an incredible locker room presence, Jones has seen turnaround begin right there. He believes that off-the-field relationships translate into on-field success stories.
“It was about the team just coming together, I think that was the most important thing,” Jones said about the turnarounds he’s been involved in. “You can have a lot of good players on a team, but if there is no chemistry, in those close games, you’re not going to be able to come together and find a way to win.”
Jones’ assessment makes a lot of sense in relation to Kansas City’s on-field fortunes of the past two seasons. In 2008 the Chiefs were 0-3 in games decided by three points or less, with two of those losses occurring by one point and one coming in OT. In fact, eight of the Chiefs 16 games were decided by seven points or less that season. Unfortunately, Kansas City posted a 1-7 record in those eight games.
Most recently, the Chiefs were 1-2 in games decided by three points or less in 2009 and once again eight of the Chiefs 16 games were decided by seven points or less. The Chiefs also finished poorly in that category once again with a 2-6 record.
Close calls are one area that Jones pointed at improving for next season.
“I think with the guys here, we have some guys who have had success in this league and we have some guys who haven’t had success,” Jones said. “When you mix those together, when you mix losing experience and winning experience together, somehow you can find a solution to win all the time.
“With those teams, guys that they brought in piece by piece just started bringing leadership qualities and work ethic to the team,” Jones continued. “The older guys took the lead and the younger guys followed. I think a lot of the guys that they brought in this off-season, I think you can kind of see that happening here.”
Close games, blowout games, high scoring affairs and shutouts; Jones doesn’t care. He just wants to win. That’s what he was brought here to help do.