For the loser, the pickings are typically slim. The Kansas City Chiefs, for all intents and purposes, should have felt the same limitations as everyone else.
With a league-worst 2-14 record last year, the Chiefs cleaned house from the top down. From the general manager to the coaching staff, the team was ready, once again, to remake its leadership core. It was expected after a miserable season marked by injuries, poor performances and personal tragedy. Getting rid of the problem is only one part of the equation, however. A team must replace them with someone.
Coming off such a lowly string of seasons, most teams are in a frustrating position when it comes to leadership selection. This should not be surprising since you see it every year in the NFL. As the dregs announce their regular turnover in the media, the attention eventually turns to the hires they make. The results, most of the time, are not that inspiring.
Like anything in life, the teams who performed the worst in the NFL generally have a lower threshold of potential candidates for head coach and general manager than most. After all, why would a proven head coach or a proven team architect want to commit to a less-than-desirable situation? In the end, losing franchises must go in one of two directions: hire a retread or take a risk.
1. Hire an uninspiring retread
When a team has hit the basement in the NFL, their negotiating position is typically limited. This forces some teams to hire a lackluster coach who has already been fired from another team -- even recently. The Cleveland Browns pulled that move when they hired Eric Mangini as head coach after the New York Jets had let him go. The Bills have followed this route a couple of times recently with both Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey. Remember the Denny Green failure in Arizona?
2. Take the new-guy risk
The other move a team can make is to take a flier on a brand new guy without head coaching experience at the pro level. Whether it's the hot coordinator or a college coach, this is the route that teams take most often. This offseason, a litany of teams rolled the dice with an interesting set of coaches. The Bears fired Lovie Smith to dip into the CFL and grab Marc Trestman. The Bills brought in Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone. Other teams went the assistant route like the Jaguars (Gus Bradley), Cardinals (Bruce Arians) and Chargers (Mike McCoy).
The latter is the best way for a losing team to spark the fan base and create a sense of momentum, but it's also a variable the general manager and owner must live with. To that end, the best teams, when taking such risks, make calculated gambles with the best chance of success.
Two franchises stand out this offseason for bringing in the hires they clearly wanted to get from the beginning. The Philadelphia Eagles technically took a new-guy risk, but Chip Kelly was the prize for many teams. The former Oregon coach toyed with the idea of returning to the collegiate ranks after a round of interviews, but ultimately the Eagles landed their man and likely the coaching hire of the offseason. While Kelly is a new guy, the Eagles clearly made a move on another level from most teams making such a change.
The other team is, interestingly enough, connected to the Eagles, as the Chiefs hired longtime Eagles head coach Andy Reid. While Reid's final season in Philly was a forgettable one, most believed that Reid was tired after a tumultuous season, which included the tragic death of his son, and needed a change of scenery. Some believed Reid might even sit out a season. Clark Hunt had other plans.
In perhaps the most impressive hire of the offseason, the Chiefs landed a coach with 130 regular seasons wins on his resume with another 10 in the playoffs. Seven division titles, one Super Bowl appearance and a league-wide respected mind for his offensive schemes. If Reid could find the coaching spark once again, the Chiefs would win the coaching sweepstakes.
It's that last line that doesn't quite make sense. Not only were the Chiefs the worst team in the NFL in 2012, but it was just another year to add to a frustrating losing streak that goes back quite some time. Going back to the 2007 NFL season, the Chiefs have won 29 games and lost 67 games in the last six seasons. That's a .302 win percentage if you need to see the numbers differently. While there was a playoff appearance in 2010, the Chiefs have lost at least 12 games in four of those six seasons. That's a sour run by any franchise's standards.
Despite coming off of a two-win season, Reid signed on. So did general manager John Dorsey, a respected personnel man with 23 years of experience, including several as the Green Bay Packers' director of college scouting. Together they easily form the pair-most-likely-to-succeed in this year's class of new NFL decision-makers. Not only did Reid not sit out a season, but he landed with the worst team in the NFL. How does that happen?
It was the same question asked just a few seasons ago when the Chiefs struck gold with another hire: Scott Pioli. While the results were disastrous and Pioli was ultimately fired after four seasons, it's easy to forget that the former New England exec was once the hottest commodity in the NFL. Several teams over several offseasons tried to lure Pioli away from Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but it was the Chiefs who ultimately came away with the prize.
Luckily for the Chiefs, they have a well-respected family owner in Clark Hunt, who was handed the team from NFL icon Lamar Hunt. They also boasted a passionate fan base, the ability to play in Arrowhead Stadium and a fairly talented roster for a league-worst team. In the end, the Chiefs had a better platform to offer a new coach than most teams in similar positions.
Whether or not it works out for Andy Reid, John Dorsey and the Chiefs, it's notable that KC could once again land a name at the very top of the list. It's the sort of transaction that only privileged teams are generally able to make and it speaks to the tradition of the team, the state of the roster, and ultimately the acumen of an owner who gets his man time and again.