Dorsey's Direction

So what about Toben Opurum? You think he can play?”

I nearly gagged on a chuckle that would’ve watered down whatever answer came after that.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ new general manager, John Dorsey.

Here we stood in the south end zone at the KU-Louisiana Tech game, the Chiefs’ new general manager John Dorsey and I peppering each other with questions about personnel, pizza and the Plaza Art Fair.

In that 20-minute conversation with an unassuming Dorsey clad in khaki shorts and a crumpled ball cap pulled down low, the ex-Packer executive proved he was the anti-Pioli. The GM he replaced, Scott Pioli, was the kind of guy who could be trapped with you in a phone booth for 12 hours and never make eye contact. I never really considered Pioli’s unavailability to the media as a personal slight, but more of a professional disposition.

Dorsey was promoted as a people person, not a Patriot person.

Clark Hunt teamed him up with a veteran head coach who would report directly to the chairman of the board, not the general manager.

Andy Reid looks the part: unequal parts grizzly bear and teddy bear. He’s a mountain of a man whose genuine concern for players comes with prerequisites: work hard, play smart, be a good teammate. It’s a time-tested trifecta for winning.

“Andy Reid is the leader of this bunch,” Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson told me after the Chiefs started 6-0 for the first time since 2003. “He just raises the confidence.”

Reid’s secure enough to allow players to show their personalities on Twitter and in pregame introductions, much like “Late Night at the Phog” every October at Allen Fieldhouse.

Reid was fired by the Philadelphia Eagles after 14 years, which, more than anything else, proves it’s possible to stay in one place too long. Termination is rarely fatal and change can be good. Gary Lezak and original weather dog Windy were somewhere else when they first showed up in front of a Kansas City “green screen.”

Burnout forced Dick Vermeil out of the NFL at age 46. And 19 years after taking the Eagles to a Super Bowl, he finally won one in St. Louis. After the White Sox fired Tony LaRussa, he went on to win 2,206 additional games and three World Series titles with the A’s and the Cardinals. St. Louis baseball fans may barely remember he ever managed in Chicago, unless they want to know who to thank for dumping a Hall of Famer.

In football, a good head coach can make guys care.

That worked for Marty Schottenheimer in 1989, his first year with the Chiefs. He inherited underachieving first round draft pick Neil Smith and his tricked-out red pickup truck. The truck was the only thing that stood out in ‘88.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

Schottenheimer was complemented by a talented staff that included Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy. Both went on to become first time head coaches who won Super Bowls. Their leadership with the Chiefs came from teaching fundamentals and technique, demanding performance. Smith developed into a 6-time Pro Bowler and a 2-time world champ ... in Denver.

With the financial support of ownership, Reid was also allowed to build a superstar supporting cast. In fact, 16 assistants have at least 13 years of NFL experience as a player or coach. Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Thomas is in his 46th season, surviving the transition from Romeo Crennel to Reid and remaining in place as the defensive backs coach. Former Minnesota head coach Brad Childress wanted a piece of the action and accepted a job as spread game analyst, whatever that means.

For the Chiefs to create something special, Reid and Dorsey understood building a foundation came first. For the man in charge of personnel, Dorsey knew that meant backloading his roster with talent, adding quality depth. Back in February, he talked up the importance of players 43 through 53 on the roster and the value of a competitive training camp. Dorsey promised to use free agency but to be selective about it, the way he was taught in Green Bay.

In 2012, Scott Pioli signed Oakland outcast Stanford Routt to a three-year contract with $6.5 million guaranteed. The Chiefs cut the veteran cornerback after seven inconsistent starts. This year, when the Arrowhead crowd set a Guinness world record for loudest roar at an outdoor stadium, a long-awaited home win against the Raiders was marked by stellar play from three unassuming free agents: Husain Abdullah, Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps.

Each intercepted QB Terrelle Pryor, with Abdullah returning his 44 yards for the game-clinching score.

Abdullah sat out last season when his family made the Muslim hajj to Mecca. Before signing with Kansas City, Demps played 48 NFL games with no starts. Cooper was signed by the Chiefs after San Francisco let the seventh round draft pick go on the final day of cuts. Reid conceded that signing Cooper was Dorsey’s doing.

“I remember him as a wide receiver at Rutgers.”

Cooper’s early season contributions included a special teams touchdown at Tennessee and interceptions in consecutive weeks.

And that’s the way winning teams work.

Share the glory, pass the ammunition, understand the big picture.

“Coach Reid does a good job keeping things in perspective,” Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry said to a swollen media pile after the Raider game. “He tells us we still made mistakes, so we’re gonna try to correct those and get better.”

The Chiefs aren’t without flaws. The offense can be pedestrian, but QB Alex Smith knows what he’s paid to do: protect the football.

Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith.

Last year, Matt Cassel was responsible for 19 of the team’s 37 turnovers. That’s why Dorsey changed directions and Cassel’s in Minnesota. If you want someone to blame for the struggles of the offense, Andy Reid’s your guy. After the Tennessee game, he made it clear: “I call the plays.”

An hour after the win against the Raiders, I made my usual exit through a back hallway behind the Chiefs’ locker room. There stood Dorsey, enjoying a quiet family moment. His group clogged the path like five people in a phone booth.

“Good win,” was all I needed to say.

He looked me in the eyes, nodded his clenched jaw and Marine-slapped me in the shoulder. A direct hit to the site of my flu shot 24 hours earlier. The pain was temporary.

So far the Dorsey way is working. Worry about what matters, out-hustle the competition and never underestimate what good might come out of a phone booth.

photos: AP Images