Controlling the message, but at a cost?

The Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos have more in common than their shared histories in the AFL and residency in the AFC West. Now, both are offshoots of the New England Patriots Way, with these clubs adopting many of the philosophies and practices the Patriots have used during their rise to dominance.

Both clubs made big moves in the offseason, which trace back to Boston. The Broncos hired coach Josh McDaniels, formerly an assistant on Bill Belichick’s staff, while Scott Pioli, who used to help Belichick manage personnel, was named general manager in KC. In these cases the teams were not just hiring bright, young up-and-comers, they were also changing the very identity of their franchises and the way they project themselves to the league.

The Chiefs and Broncos are now cloaked in more secrecy, with a single voice charting their direction for the most part. Much as Belichick commands all attention in New England (he is the face of that franchise even more than Tom Brady), so too are McDaniels and Pioli now most identifiable with their new clubs, bringing Belichick’s practices along with them. Tight lips are now the rule. McDaniels and Pioli enforce stringent regulations in terms of addressing the public and the media, and, in speaking to people around those teams, the culture is certainly more militaristic.

But will it work?

That’s the question some coaches and executives around the league are asking. Is adopting Belichick’s posture and stance a wise move, unless those doing so have the same knowledge and ability, and, ultimately, success, as their master? Will franchises and players fully buy in, and, in many cases, subjugate themselves, for guys who certainly played a role in the Pats’ dynastic performances, but who clearly were not The Man in New England?

The rest of the league is watching closely. There is a perception held by many people I speak to that Belichick’s influence and power in New England is so great that it cannot be overstated, and that plucking from his coaching/personnel tree can be dangerous. Not everyone can pull off his heavy-handed, “One voice” approach, and rebuilding a franchise is anything but easy. Oftentimes players are looking for reasons to jump ship as much as they are searching for provocation to truly give themselves over to a new regime, and while they may be willing to cut someone of Belichick’s or Bill Parcell’s age and pedigree ample slack, they might not be as eager to do so for less proven commodities.

The results of Belichick’s recent disciples have been spotty, though certainly the Chiefs and Broncos would be thrilled to come close to duplicating the success the Atlanta Falcons had last season with Thomas Dimitroff — part of the Belichick tree — as their general manager (although the vibe in Atlanta is a little less draconian than what some are experiencing in K.C. and Denver). Regardless of any approach, be it disciplinarian or laissez faire, ultimately it must be backed up by wins; going with a more hardline, single-voice approach seems to put a premium on winning sooner rather than later.

If nothing else, the closing of ranks around these teams will be an interesting sociological experiment. The stakes — in a business where turnover of rosters, coaching staffs and and front office personnel is so rapid — are obviously high. McDaniels and Pioli, in an era where teams are increasingly turning to younger coaches and execs, warrant an opportunity, unquestionably, and both have the means to further their reputations as potential stars in the league. But creeping out from Belichick’s prodigious shadow brings with it heavy expectations, and winning in his style and likeness is a standard difficult to attain.

– Jason La Canfora

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