Bad Franchises are fun. Sometimes, at least for outside observers, they’re even as much fun as the great ones — they have a quality that is the opposite of cachet; they convey to their fans and players and the rest of the league that nothing they do will be done right. From playing football to signing players to play football to creating an environment in which a professional sports team can play football in front of paying spectators, a Bad Franchise will bungle and maim every one of its decisions, actions, and reactions. (The Charlotte Hornets are the NBA’s current Bad Franchise, the Houston Astros, the MLB’s.)
We’re at the point in the NFL season in which teams’ true ability levels are becoming evident, and it’s a somewhat unusual year in that the league doesn’t have a consensus number-one team. Atlanta has the best record, but they’ve won a few games against inferior competition that they easily could have lost; the Texans have looked tremendous in six of their seven games, but got shellacked by Green Bay; the Packers, 49ers, Giants, and Bears have all had bad losses. However, one thing is completely clear, and that’s the league’s worst team, the current epitome of a Bad Franchise in professional football: the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs are one of three one-win squads in the NFL right now, alongside the Panthers and the Jaguars. What sets them apart, though, is the degree to which they have lost those seven games. Other than a three-point defeat by the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City has lost by 16, 18, 17, 28, and 10. And most of those games weren’t even that close: 28 of KC’s 120 points have come in garbage time.
What makes Kansas City so terrible? It starts in the front office. Scott Pioli, KC’s general manager, came over in 2009 after a stretch running the Patriots with Bill Belichick that counts as one of the most successful runs of any team in football history. Whatever. He’s been a disaster with the Chiefs, reportedly running the organization like some Midwestern football Gulag. Unlike when he was in New England, Pioli has total control of personnel in Kansas City, and what he’s done with this coach-wise is hire and fire noted psychopath Todd Haley and replace him with Romeo Crennel, who looks like a cartoon bear and went 24-40 in four seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. So far this season, the most notable thing Crennel has done is admit that he didn’t know why Jamaal Charles, far and away the Chiefs’ best offensive player, only received five carries in a loss to Oakland. He just didn’t know.
Pioli’s most significant acquisition since taking over the Chiefs has been Matt Cassel, arguably the league’s worst starting quarterback. At the time he was signed, Cassel was at least a plausible NFL player: Even though he’d only started 15 games over eight seasons as a collegiate and pro QB, he’d played well when given the chance. But Kansas City gifted him a plush six-year deal, guaranteeing him $28 million, and he’s been a dud, with a solid 2010 sandwiched between two seasons of mediocrity. Despite having a 30-year-old QB (i.e. one who was unlikely to suddenly get a lot better) with a mixed-to-bad track record, Kansas City’s backup plan going into this year was the perpetually crummy Brady Quinn. Cassel has melted down, and Quinn was an inadequate replacement before being sidelined with a head injury.
In the NFL, the great franchises of the last decade — the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots, the New York Giants — have been distinguished by three factors: great coaches, great quarterbacks, and the ability to unsentimentally reload their supporting casts when players get too old. Pioli has nailed the mean-bastard part, but flopped twice on finding a coach and been too stubborn to admit a mistake at quarterback. And he hasn’t put together a good-enough supporting cast to make his ruthlessness useful. But the Chiefs organization has kept him around — he was even rumored to be in line for an extension this year before the Chiefs were beaten down in Week 6 by the Buccaneers.
That discussion of extending Pioli sent Chiefs supporters — one of the league’s most fervent fan bases — into general hysterics, and it should have. Being a fan of a Bad Franchise is much worse than being a fan of a bad team. Having an owner who’s hyperactively involved in personnel decisions and too quick on the firing trigger isn’t ideal, but at least Jerry Jones, for example, is TRYING to find good players and coaches (and occasionally succeeding). Bad games and seasons always end on schedule, but the reigns of delusional owners who inherited franchises from their parents can go on forever.