Todd Haley Proving There's a Method to His Madness
Embracing player involvement in decision-making, yet drawing a clear line in authority continues to be a tricky proposition in the NFL. Coaches and management want their players to be a part and feel a part of the franchise. But coaches and management retain those inmates-running-the-asylum fears.
This was a scorching topic across the league as the Randy Moss episode escalated in Minnesota.
One school of thought insists Vikings coach Brad Childress did exactly what was required. Moss was toxic -- get rid of him and reclaim your team, regardless of the high cost of a third-round draft pick lost. Opposing, "old-school'' views insist that Childress should have made Moss sit and squirm in Minnesota. Bench him. Suspend him. Find a way to get value down the road. Do not give him what he really wanted -- freedom. With an iron fist and a heavy hand, let Moss and the rest of the Vikings know to conform or pay a heavy price.
This dance, this mix of embracing players yet whipping them into submission and conformity is, in part, the essence of NFL coaching. It is tough sledding. Little wonder that so many NFL coaches fail at it.
At this juncture last year, the Kansas City Chiefs were 1-6. Rumbling about their coach, Todd Haley, boiled.
Choosing Character Over Reputation
He's crazy. He's ruthless. He's a control freak. He's a maniac. He's too emotional. He's too inflexible. He's too insecure.
He's a wreck.
Haley was roasted, inside and outside of his locker room last season. His team finished 4-12.
But the Chiefs are 5-2 now, atop the AFC West, and play at Oakland on Sunday, seeking to further energize their turnaround.
"I'm way too laid back and easygoing for that all to be me," Haley said from his office on Friday morning. "But some things you have to do to be on the winning side of it. It's all coaching. I was doing what had to be done to make things change here as fast it could be done. We had to pull the band-aid off. To get things to change fast, you have to be on edge.
"My father (Dick), in his work with the Steelers in the '70s, growing up around that, he taught me not to always be the first one to raise your hand with an answer -- but when you do answer, have the right answer. Bill Parcells used to ride me hard when I coached under him, and used to say that the players were my best friends. He pounded me on that. It made me mad. But he taught me you have to be the coach first. The players have to do what they are supposed to do or there are ramifications. Now, you have to listen to the players. They have good ideas. But you have to coach them hard. And you have to find a way to let them know you care.
"Last year, they didn't know I cared," Haley continued. "But I think you have to worry less about that at the start and establish expectations. Just coach 'em hard.''
Especially when the team you inherited was 4-12 and 2-14 in the two seasons prior.
Especially when a franchise gets stuck in mediocrity and expects failure.
Some pieces in Kansas City have been removed, others shuffled, and fresh ideas and personnel have arrived. From Scott Pioli as general manager to coordinators Romeo Crennel (defense) and Charlie Weis (offense) to free-agent running back addition Thomas Jones to rookie kick-return sensation Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs employ a new approach and mindset.
It is a process, Haley insists.
"Good teams win in overtime, like we did against Buffalo last week, when everything doesn't always go well,'' Haley said. "Good teams buckle down when you lose a game like we did against the Houston Texans -- that was really a tough one, a game that could have made us crumble after that. Good teams take advantage of opportunities in games. Good teams handle success.
"But we haven't had enough success to know if we can handle success. We are still in the process of learning and building. We are trying to develop our young players. Develop our young coaches."
Haley this week stumbled upon a John Wooden quote that he said he will place in bold letters in the Chiefs facility for all of his players to see -- "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."
After the pounding Haley did in his first Chiefs season, he realizes what his initial reputation in Kansas City was.
But he believes his true character is beginning to reveal itself to his players and to those who love the Chiefs.
Ready for the Rivalry
This is worth noting about Haley: he is known as a clever passing-game artist. Yet, the Chiefs rank No. 32, dead last, in NFL passing. They rank No. 1 in NFL rushing offense.
A weaker, more insecure coach would have a difficult time swallowing that his area of expertise is, thus far this season, his team's weak link. Haley says it is not a blip on his radar.
"I've learned that you can't be a head coach with blinders on, worrying about just one part of your team,'' Haley said. "I'm the head coach of the Chiefs, not the head coach of the offense. You have got to oversee the entire team. I believe you have to run the football in this league. We are doing that. I am not a robotic guy. I think you have to coach in these games a lot of time with feel.
"I believe in (quarterback) Matt (Cassel). I've seen enough of Matt to know he can get it done and we can get it done. I know we have to continue to improve around him. All of these guys (NFL quarterbacks) need help.''
Haley keeps stirring his coaching blend: taskmaster and teacher, listener and demanding instructor, facilitator here, not giving an inch there. This Oakland trip is another large step, with the Raiders (4-4) hot and seeking to reach a record above .500 this late in the season for the first time in eight years. These AFC West rivals share rich, intense history.
Haley, 43, has been traveling to the Black Hole since he was ballboy for the Steelers in his younger days.
"I told our guys that I have seen things in that parking lot before games that are unspeakable,'' Haley said. "I've seen 90-year-old women out there doing things in that parking lot they shouldn't be doing. I fully understand what the rivalry is, but we haven't been a good enough team to make it special again. That's what good teams do -- they can focus on a rivalry. We have to focus on today, this Friday being the best Friday we've ever had.''
He said he will show his team video of the racehorse Zenyatta on Saturday night in Oakland as a setup to the game. Thus far, his team has remained in the NFL's fastest pack. He still has a whip in hand, letting the Chiefs know time is nearing to make even bolder moves.
LeCharles Bentley and Pat McManamon break down Sunday's Chiefs-Raiders game: