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Pioli runs options

He's taking his time mulling situations

SCOTT PIOLIDeliberate SCOTT PIOLIDeliberate
By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / January 6, 2009
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The process began at a rapid-fire pace, the Cleveland Browns acting decisively to speak with Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli to run their football operation.

At this time last week, when Pioli was preparing for his Wednesday interview, the urgency of it seemed to indicate he was set to leave New England after nine years, determined to step away from his successful partnership with Bill Belichick and steer his own ship.

Yet here we are, six days later, and there has been no movement with Pioli. What happened, and what's about to happen?

When Pioli left his meeting with Browns owner Randy Lerner, the sides agreed that they'd revisit in about a week. That would give Pioli time to meet with the Kansas City Chiefs about running their football operation, assess all his options, and come to a decision as to what he'd like to do. At the same time, Lerner could continue his search and come to a better comfort level with his own analysis of the situation.

Thus, some type of movement - one way or the other - should be coming within the next few days.

As it stands, Pioli is weighing three options: the Browns, the Chiefs, and staying with the Patriots.

Some might ask why Pioli is even considering leaving New England, given that in his first eight years on the job - which included four trips to the Super Bowl and three championships - he has declined all potential opportunities, most recently turning down interest from the Seattle Seahawks in 2006 and the New York Giants in 2007.

But now, after seeing his understudy Thomas Dimitroff have success with the Falcons in his first year as general manager, Pioli is dipping his toes in the water and taking a deliberate approach to it all.

As with Dimitroff, the chance to step out on his own is enticing enough for him to listen to what other teams have to say. Not to mention the projected financial boost if he lands one of the jobs.

When analyzing the three options, all are appealing, though in different ways.

In Cleveland, Pioli would be returning to the city where he landed his first NFL gig, as a pro personnel assistant in 1992. Browns fans are hungry for a winner and Pioli seemingly would be given control to shape the team, and coaching staff, as he wishes. Negatives? The Browns annually will face a tough road competing in the AFC North against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and are void of some draft choices, which will make the rebuilding project more challenging.

In Kansas City, Pioli would have a chance to form a special partnership with 43-year-old chairman Clark Hunt, son of the late Lamar Hunt, whose history in the game - and loyalty to his employees - is well-documented. This is Clark Hunt's first big hire and if he hits it off with Pioli in the interview, Pioli might look at a young roster, plenty of salary cap space, a weak AFC West, and see a quicker-than-expected Bill Parcells-like turnaround as a very real possibility.

Then there's staying in New England. Pioli works mostly behind the scenes with the Patriots, overseeing the pro and college personnel departments while also negotiating contracts. He seldom conducts interviews, but when the Patriots plug in players like rookie free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis and don't miss a beat, as they did this season, it's a reflection of the work Pioli and his scouts do on a daily basis. They find players who fit Belichick's system.

The question now is whether Pioli wants to implement a Pioli system somewhere else, and whether the fit is right.

The coming days should provide more clarity, and perhaps finality, as to where things are headed.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com

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