OTC: Star’s Kent Babb Blows Cover Off Pioli’s Arrowhead / TBP & Fescoe Shrug At Story

Todd Haley Todd Haley of the Kansas City Chiefs looks on in pregame prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 4, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.“Todd Haley walked into the public relations office at Chiefs headquarters on a Thursday in early December. Four days before he was fired as the team’s coach, he wanted to talk about what life was like inside this organization. But he didn’t know who else might be listening. Looking up toward the ceiling, he darted into a back hallway before hesitating. Then he turned around, going back through a door and stopping again. Haley suspected that many rooms at the team facility were bugged so that team administrators could monitor employees’ conversations. Stopping finally in a conference room, Haley said he believed his personal cellphone, a line he used before being hired by the Chiefs in 2009, had been tampered with.”
Kent Babb, Chiefs beat writer, Kansas City Star
GH: This was the lede for Babb’s front-page story in Sunday’s Kansas City Star. When you write a story, an article or a column, one goal should be to capture the reader’s interest immediately with your lede. Babb accomplished his goal and more with these
riveting sentences. Read on.

“That also makes you think, what’s the hell’s wrong with Todd Haley? That’s the first
thing I think of.”
Steven St. John, 810 AM
GH: Babb’s story created a flood of comments on Twitter from members of the media across the country. Almost every one of them that I read was complimentary to Babb’s work on this article. Some effusively so. St. John and Nate Bukaty though were far from impressed by Babb’s article.

“Interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees suggest that intimidation and secrecy are among the Chiefs’ principal management styles — and that Haley wasn’t the only one with paranoid thoughts.”
Kent Babb, Kansas City Star

“A common notion is that employees are constantly being watched. When they arrive and
leave, where they’re going within the building and who they’re talking to. Indeed, the technology exists at the Chiefs’ offices, as it does in many corporate settings, to monitor phone calls and emails. But here, some staffers even hesitated before using their cell phones or speaking inside the building, because, like Haley, they suspected that conversations were monitored.”
Kent Babb, Kansas City Star

“I’ll be honest with you though, this is a time when I have to remind myself that I hear
a lot of things that a lot of people who don’t have access to out information. Did
any of this really surprise you?”
Steven St. John, 810 AM
GH: I was stunned at SSJ’s cavalier attitude to the allegations laid out by Babb’s sources. But maybe I shouldn’t have been. Scott Pioli had graced The Border Patrol with his presence the week before with an interview. Pioli did the same for Bob Fescoe at 610 Sports. Read on.

“You know what. You’ve got to adapt to your bosses. If Todd Haley was my head coach, I’d
probably have his stuff bugged too.”
Bob Fescoe, on the Chiefs employees who complained about the actions of the Pioli regime, 610 AM
GH: I found it very interesting that both The Border Patrol and Fescoe staunchly defended the side of Pioli and the Chiefs while discussing Babb’s article. Maybe it was simply coincidental that Pioli was a guest on their shows only a few days before. Maybe not.

“We’ve had a couple of tweets and a couple of phone calls asking if we’re going to talk
about the article that was in The Kansas City Star by Kent Babb.”
Steven St. John, at 8:30 AM Monday, two-and-a-half hours into their show, 810 AM
GH: SSJ and Bukaty did not even address Babb’s story until the 8:30 AM hour. This shows either an incredible lack of understanding of what is the hot local subject of the day or their willingness to allow their biasness to weaken their show content.

“There’s always two sides to every story.”
Steven St. John, 810 AM
GH: SSJ made this comment in a way that made me think Babb’s story ignored any alternative opinions to Haley’s and some fired Chiefs employees’ thought s that Pioli is bugging phones and offices and an overall pain in the ass for which to work. But Babb did an excellent job in his story of providing balance. Read on.

“Everybody has a style and it’s your job to figure out that style. I didn’t have any problems.”
Mike Davidson, who left the team last year after 22 years as equipment manager, Kansas City Star

“I remember the same feelings and people saying the same things. I was a young kid working in the equipment department, and everybody was talking about how everybody was worried about getting fired. … Any time there’s change, that’s just the feeling
that people have.”
Allen Wright, Chiefs equipment manager since 1988, Kansas City Star

“In some instances you could say that [Pioli] is a micromanager to a degree. I think he
likes to know what information is and what you’re doing. … Scott wants to know,
like as a math teacher, ‘How did you get to your problem; how did you get to
the answer of the problem?’ ”
Ray Farmer, Chiefs’ pro personnel director, Kansas City Star

“Donovan denied that conversations are monitored or that the building is bugged. He said
that in cases of suspected policy breaches or criminal activity, phone logs
have been requested. ‘I’m not going to say that we’ve never done it, but it’s
not something we do,’ Donovan said. ‘It’s not how we operate this business.’ ”
Kent Babb, Kansas City Star
GH: Donovan’s above comment needs more explanation. In the very same sentence, he discounts his comment that the Chiefs have not bugged the building and are monitoring their employees. Either you do or you don’t.

“Pioli pored over former president Denny Thum’s call log, a former high-ranking employee
said, before Thum was asked to resign in September 2010 after 36 years with the
team. Thum declined comment when reached by telephone.”
Kent Babb, Kansas City Star
GH: The firing of long-time Carl Peterson ally Denny Thum alone would likely make a great book. One we will probably never get the chance to read.

“The vast majority of the stuff in this article was, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard that before. I
read it and thought, yeah, we’ve heard that, we’ve heard that. We’ve all heard that before. To me, I look at it and I say, football coaches are just paranoid. Now the house is getting cleaned and everybody is saying the guy who fired me is a jerk.”
Nate Bukaty, 810 AM
GH: Bukaty was just as adamant as SSJ that Babb’s story was not news. Are these guys this blind to what makes for good talk radio? If Kevin Kietzman waits until 4:30 PM to address Babb’s article, I will know that the Mayans were right.

“During his first year, Pioli noticed a candy wrapper in a back stairwell and waited to see
how long it took to be picked up. About a week passed, and it remained in the stairwell. He placed the wrapper in an envelope, and during a meeting of department heads, Donovan, then the team’s chief operating officer, brandished the wrapper as evidence of the attention to detail that Chiefs employees had grown to ignore.”
Kent Babb, Kansas City Star
GH: This nugget from Babb’s article has legs. If the Chiefs fall on hard times next season, expect to see Arrowhead being dotted with signs that reference Pioli’s fascination with discarded candy wrappers. Bob Fescoe is already referring to the article as Candy Wrapper-gate.

“Since Scott Pioli was hired as general manager in January 2009, life for many inside the
Chiefs’ front office has been marked by massive staff turnover, fear and insecurity about how closely they are watched. Numerous current and former staffers paint a picture of constant worry — and, in a few cases, of alleged age discrimination.”
Kent Babb, Kansas City Star

“Pioli, who was not made available by the team for this story, has said in the past that
the changes were about ending a period of entitlement and emphasizing
Kent Babb, Kansas City Star
GH: This was a big miss by Babb. How could Babb NOT get a quote from Pioli for this story? It sounds like an excuse to say Pioli was “not made available by the team for this story.” Were the Chiefs supposed to serve Pioli up on a platter for Babb? No excuses for not having him quoted in this article – he lives in KC and was on at least two
local radio stations last week and TV 41. Camp out in their parking lots if you have to – but get a quote from Pioli for this story.

“It’s not true at all.”
Clark Hunt, on Chiefs employees who felt they were being watched and their communications monitored, Kansas City Star
GH: Hunt allowed himself to be quoted for The Star’s story. So why didn’t Pioli speak? Was he too busy scouring the hallways for candy wrappers?

“I think [Todd Haley] was THE source for this article. Kent Babb had a very good
relationship with Todd Haley for a long time.  I think most of us have known that for quite a while. So yeah, I think he was the source.”
Nate Bukaty, 810 AM
GH: A couple of things to remember. While Babb may have a good relationship with Haley, 810 has a business relationship with the Chiefs. SSJ and Bukaty have a good relationship with Pioli – it is evident to me when they talk to the Chiefs’ GM that they are smitten that he knows them by name. Another thing to remember is that Kent Babb and The Kansas City Star writers have a business relationship with 610 Sports – 810’s
competitor. You will not hear Babb or Sam Mellinger or Adam Teicher on 810 – only
610. Just a few things to keep in mind.

“We needed a culture that pursued excellence. One that valued honesty and integrity, one
where the employees would be held accountable. … I believe that good leaders do
bring an attention to detail to their leadership roles.”
Clark Hunt, responding to the above allegations, Kansas City Star
GH: All well and good. But Pioli had to fire his chosen leader before the end of his third season. That shows a tremendous lack of insight by Pioli. He picked a guy so wrong for his first run as a GM that he now appears to be sabotaging the Chiefs’ franchise in print, even after being canned. Pioli’s reign in KC is now riddled with bullet holes. He is now far
from the Messiah from the east we once thought him to be.

“It’s not Lamar Hunt’s organization anymore.”
Steve Schneider, the former stadium operations director who spent 14 years with the Chiefs before being fired in 2010, he said, for being disorganized, Kansas City Star
GH: Well, good. Lamar allowed Carl Peterson to drive his once-proud organization into the ditch and leave it there to flounder. The Chiefs should be about winning football games, not catering to their secretaries’ parking needs.

“You may think it’s harmless. Other people may think it’s very harmful to our
competitive advantage. It’s about winning.”
Mark Donovan, Chiefs president, when asked about some of the measures, such as lowering window shades, Kansas City Star
GH: Sounds good. Let’s have more winning and less Tyler Palko moves.

“I don’t think all of [Pioli’s changes] are negative. I think it has come a long way
since they got here. Their emphasis is on winning football. I totally understand the business side of it. They came here to change the culture.”
Danan Hughes, when asked by Parkins about Babb’s article, 610 AM
GH: While they are changing the culture, they may want to win the weakest division in football.

“I think this is the best place to work. We feel like family [at WHB 810]. You talk to
some people who are gone from here, they would tell a much different story. That’s the nature of the world when you break up with somebody. Well, consider the source.”
Steven St. John, 810 AM
GH: So how does that change the truth in Babb’s story? Would SSJ’s story about WHB
change if he gets fired this week? Are his words of praise for the work environment at 810 more credible because he is still employed there? Would he immediately become an unreliable source if he was not? I believe his story will become far more interesting once he leaves – not unlike those former Chiefs’ employees

[email protected]  and Twitter / greghall24 

About Greg Hall

Software guy who has been writing my Off The Couch column in KC newspapers, publications and websites since 1994. Has been bounced from some of the finest media establishments this side of State Line Road. Dad first and everything else second...and there are a lot of everything elses.
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44 Responses to OTC: Star’s Kent Babb Blows Cover Off Pioli’s Arrowhead / TBP & Fescoe Shrug At Story

  1. Harwood Benjamin says:

    The Star apparently got a tantalizing inkling of a story from Todd Haley. too juicy to ignore but Todd never delivers the goods. So Babb does a lot of reporting, makes a passable circumstantial case…but no silver bullet to nail down the story. The Star decides to go with what they had…I don’t think it was enough. Should have kept reporting to get Haley, Pioli or others on the record. I have no doubt the story characterized the climate at Arrowhead correctly; after three years, Pioli has shown his true colors to anybody who chooses to pay attention.

  2. Babe Ruthless says:

    GH you are spot on with wondering if SSJ’s take on WHB would change if he were fired. Could he possibly say anything other than ‘We are the World’s Happiest Broadcasters’ and still have a job? You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I know plenty of people who can paint a much different picture of what life is like inside the Union walls..most are former employees. Anyone still on the ever dwindling payroll would have to speak anonymously.

  3. The KC Eye says:

    Many of the “disgruntled” employees Babb interviewed are CURRENT employees. 810 is assuming the position that Babb’s only source is Todd Haley because drawing attention to Babb’s story is a win for 610. I’m an 810 guy 99% of the time, but when I got off work today at 4, I found myself locked-in to Nick Wright, because his station wasn’t ignoring THE story from the weekend. Big win for 610 today in my book.

    I’m no Todd Haley apologist and there were better ways to go about handling this, but I have direct experience with intimidation and abuse in the workplace. You can’t expect your employees to be successful when they feel like they’re walking on eggshells all the time.

    Forget open lines of communication… I mean come on, the head coach didn’t even feel comfortable using his office phone for fuck’s sake. This may have been Haley’s first head-coaching gig, but it wasn’t his first time in an NFL operation dealing with upper-management. His paranoia couldn’t have come completely unwarranted.

    It’s possible Haley would have failed regardless. But one thing is for sure — he had zero chance to be successful.


  5. Merle Tagladucci says:

    Wow what’s up with this Landsberg “Pingback” to his site here?

  6. KCMonarch says:

    The problem with the management style outlined in Babb’s article is simple. When a staff is scared to question and too paranoid to openly converse, your firm’s potential is immediately restricted to the ability and vision (or lack thereof) of the guy at the top. This worked for Apple because Steve Jobs was extraordinary.

    This has not worked for the Chiefs because Scott Pioli is probably ordinary at best.

  7. Thought it was very good work by Babb. Contrary to the “nothing new here” talking point being spouted by those (St. John, Bukaty, BullFrog) having an interest in not pissing off Pioli, I found the Orwellian workplace described in the article to be fairly shocking and a good source for a citation that might accompany the word “hell” in the dictionary. Of course, if the results on the field had been good, people (including me) would care less about this stuff. But the results have been mediocre at best. On the bright side, however, I betcha the innards of One Arrowhead Drive are a whole lot cleaner these days. Talk about progress.

  8. Zack says:

    Evidently media members have to be escorted to and from the restrooms at the practice facility because of security concerns. The guys at 810 have been whining about it on air for years.

    To me, that information would tip the scale toward the former employees contention that the Chiefs run an organization that is ruled by intimidation.

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