By Dan Pompei
There is no chapter in the general managing textbook about how to build a team like the one that is currently the envy of the NFL. The undefeated Chiefs are a hodgepodge of players who were brought to Kansas City for different reasons by different people.
Someone forgot to tell new general manager John Dorsey that he was supposed to raze the structure before rebuilding it, so he just started building on top of it.
Who built the Chiefs? Sure, this is Dorsey's team and Andy Reid's team. And personnel director Chris Ballard has had a hand. Then there was Scott Pioli, and his lieutenants Phil Emery, Ray Farmer and Joel Collier. And his head coaches Romeo Crennel and Todd Haley. Fifteen of these Chiefs came through the door when Pioli people were running things. And significant contributions -- in the form of nine players -- also came from Carl Peterson and his crew, especially Bill Kuharich, Chuck Cook, Herm Edwards and Dick Vermeil.
Including the kickers, 71 percent of the starters on the Chiefs were acquired by previous regimes. That isn't to say Dorsey has been sitting on his hands. He has acquired 32 of the players on his 53 man roster, including 16 through free agency, seven by waiver claim and three in trades.
Many new NFL regimes want a start-over, even if it means throwing away the baby with the ice tub water. They want to build a power with handpicked parts, kind of like the Packers did when Dorsey worked under Ted Thompson. But Dorsey isn't Thompson. He's probably more like Ron Wolf, who was the mentor to both men.
"There were some good players here," Dorsey said. "Bill Kuharich and Scott Pioli added some nice pieces. Sometimes when you have a new regime come in, maybe the scheme or the overall circumstances are more fitting to the players."
The good players didn't win before. In the previous four years, the Chiefs' winning percentage was .359. That's where Reid comes in.
The Chiefs did not go from 2-14 to 7-0 because of the players they acquired as much as because of the coaches they acquired. Reid, who guided the Eagles to more divisional round playoff appearances than any other team during his 14-year stay in Philadelphia, was the most sought after head coaching prospect in the offseason. Along with his coordinators and position coaches, Reid has found ways to bring out the best in players and make the sum of their parts greater than their individual abilities. It is one thing for a coach to cultivate a player who fits his system perfectly. It is another for him to do whatever is necessary to his system to make the player excel.
Among those playing the best football of their lives are linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, defensive tackle Dontari Poe and safety Eric Berry. Reid and Dorsey credit the scheme of new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton for allowing Hali and Houston to play to their strengths.
It's not as simple as using sound techniques and assignments, though. It's more holistic. In the cases of Hali and Houston, for instance, the players clearly are buying in -- both to the defensive system and the program. "Sometimes you can change a culture and get people to believe in common goals and a collective spirit," Dorsey said. "The fist is more powerful than the fingers type of thinking. Good things happen when everyone works for the same goals.
"Then you get good teaching and leadership. You have to learn new schemes -- that's where the position coaches and coordinators come in. The leadership is from Andy. Guys play for him because he treats them like men and is honest."
Dorsey made two high-stakes moves, trading for quarterback Alex Smith and choosing offensive tackle Eric Fisher first overall in the draft ahead of offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and others. Smith has been a fine caretaker and game manager, though not a difference maker. Fisher has been feeling his way.
But most of Dorsey's transactions probably didn't even make Sportscenter. He figured he only would need a hard hat, safety goggles and jackhammer to address the back end of his roster, which he rehabbed with players such as cornerback Marcus Cooper (a waiver wire cornerback who has three takeaways) and Sean McGrath (started five games at tight end for the Chiefs after being let go by the Seahawks).
Until the first week of the season, the Chiefs were first in line in waiver priority based on their record last year, so Dorsey approached final cutdowns like a mini draft. "We could get anybody we wanted, and we knew that going in," Dorsey said. "We claimed seven guys in one day. That's something you do only in your first year."
Rather than be put off from the dust kicked up by the untimely roster tumult, Reid took out the shop-vac and went to work.
Dorsey and Reid didn't create problems, or make moves for the sake of the feel good. They took what was given to them and enhanced it. What a concept. What a team.
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Dan Pompei has covered more than 500 NFL games, including 26 Super Bowls. He is one of 44 members on Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors board and one of nine members on the seniors committee. He was given the 2013 Dick McCann Award by the Pro Football Writers of America for long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football. Follow him on Twitter @danpompei.