Deflating Haley Hate

When I first heard Todd Haley's name being tossed around as a candidate for the Chiefs' head coaching job, I dismissed him without a second thought.

When it came to the Chiefs' next coach, my mind was occupied with thoughts of the more publicized candidates. Names like Mike Shanahan, Steve Spagnuolo, Rex Ryan, and Jim Schwartz were on my list, not some anonymous Arizona coordinator, no matter how well he was doing in the postseason.

Little by little, though, most of those other coaches began to take other jobs. I wasn't worried – there was little to no chance that Scott Pioli would leave New England without having a near-certain idea of who he'd want to coach his new team. So when the Spagnuolos and Schwartzes of the world began finding other employment, I interpreted it as Pioli letting them walk. After all, if he was interested, he'd have gone after them.

At the same time the coaching pool was drying up, the Cardinals kept winning playoff games and Haley's national profile continued to grow. After a while, it was only natural to pay more attention to him, and eventually seek out information about a coach whose name kept coming up in regards to the Chiefs.

The more I found out, the more I liked him. Once it became clear that the ESPN-spawned frenzy around Shanahan didn't have much substance to it, Haley became my favorite candidate.

But over the last week or so, as we drew closer to the point where he was hired, there was a fair amount of negativity circulating towards Haley. The funny thing about his candidacy for the job was that some people genuinely seemed frightened by it.

Haley has no head-coaching experience, so the portion of KC's fan base that never wants to take risks – and it's a substantial portion – wanted nothing to do with him. Whether they were brainwashed by Carl Peterson or Carl was just playing to his audience, I'm not entirely sure. But there are some who are just dead-set against the Chiefs doing anything that involves rolling the dice, whether that means hiring a first-time head coach or taking a quarterback high in April's draft.

Then there are those who had their hearts set on the team making a "big name" coaching hire, like Shanahan or Bill Cowher. Haley didn't fit that description, so all discussions of him were greeted with blanket rejections and dismissals.

Now that Haley has officially become the Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, many of those who wanted no part of him are grudgingly accepting the fact he was hired. Others, though, are sticking steadfast to their original story that hiring him would be a mistake.

Knowing all that, I've identified the three biggest concerns people have over Haley.


Concern #1 - Nobody considered Haley to be a potential head coach before the playoffs. He's only been hired because the Cardinals had three good playoff games.

It's certainly true that the public at large didn't consider Haley a hot head coaching prospect before the playoffs. But that doesn't mean his name wasn't known in NFL circles. A year ago, Bill Parcells wanted Haley to interview in Miami.

Haley got his start under Parcells with the Jets in the late 1990's – a point when Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick were also in New York – and he joined Parcells' staff again in Dallas.

After retiring from the Cowboys, Parcells stayed out of football for a year before taking over the football operations in Miami. And a year before the Cardinals even dared to dream about playing in the Super Bowl, Parcells wanted to talk to Haley about being the Dolphins' head coach.

We don't know what Parcells was thinking – perhaps Tony Sparano was his man all along. On the other hand, maybe he wanted Haley to lead the Dolphins and had to settle for Sparano when Haley opted to stay in Arizona.

Either way, the notion that Haley's name only began to surface for head coaching jobs over the last month has no merit. This is especially true when you consider that Pioli – a friend of Haley's – would have known about him even if the Cardinals had missed the playoffs altogether.

Haley wasn't just considered for a job a year ago, he was being considered by Parcells, someone who clearly has an eye for coaches. Just look at Sparano, certainly a good choice.

Upon Parcells' retirement in Dallas, Haley also interviewed for the Cowboys' head coaching job. As an existing member of the staff, though, that interview may have been little more than a courtesy rather than any real consideration of Haley getting the job. But we'll talk more about that in a moment.


Concern #2 - Everywhere Haley goes, he ends up fighting with his players. He's a hot-head. The team won't respond to him.

Of all the things I learned about Haley, his temper concerned me the most.

His issues with T.O. were well-documented in Dallas, and his sideline spat with Anquan Boldin became news during the NFC Championship. Back during his time with the Cowboys, he almost fought with a ref, prompting Parcells to practically punch him and drag him away.

I like a coach who shows some fire, but this issue was troubling. The Chiefs have had their share of coaches in recent years – specifically on the defensive side of the ball – who thought that yelling at players was a substitute for teaching and coaching them.

That doesn't appear to be the case with Haley. When you investigate his career, you inevitably end up hearing about the players he's improved and the differences he's made.

During his first stint as a receivers coach in New York, Haley worked with a young Keyshawn Johnson, the top overall pick in 1996. Their paths also crossed again a few years later in Dallas. Johnson has a longstanding reputation for being a typical "diva" receiver, but he's been one of Haley's biggest cheerleaders in recent weeks and fully credits his former position coach with helping him become a better player.

Upon leaving the Jets, Haley worked with the receivers in Chicago from 2001-2004. It's been noted that the two best seasons of Marty Booker's career – including his one and only Pro Bowl season in 2002 – came under Haley.

As you're surely aware from the Super Bowl hype, Haley has also made quite an impact on the career of Cardinals' receiver Larry Fitzgerald. But did you know that in addition to coaching the Cowboys' receivers from 2005-2006, Haley was also the passing-game coordinator? That means he was heavily involved in the emergence of Tony Romo.

With all this in mind, we shouldn't be worried that Haley is the stereotypical "yells a lot but teaches nothing" hot-head. He's confrontational, but in a manner that helps his players improve. He has a visible track record of making the people around him better – even players who were already pretty good to start with.

To the best of our knowledge, the only player Haley has worked with that has voiced a negative opinion of him is Owens. And if you've watched more than five minutes of ESPN over the last several years, you know Owens eventually seems to develop a negative opinion of everyone he comes in contact with.

Haley's negative relationship with Owens actually leads to another story that helped sell his personality. When he interviewed for the Cowboys' head-coaching position, Haley not only told Jerry Jones that he couldn't coach a team with a player like Owens on the roster, but said the Cowboys wouldn't win anything with Owens. Jones, of course, was the driving force in bringing the receiver to Dallas, which meant Haley's comments killed his chance at the job.

Many candidates in that position might have told the owner whatever he wanted to hear. Not Haley.

With the Cowboys experiencing more Owens drama in the second half of the 2008 season, Haley's comments to Jones have added relevance. According to some reports, the team is debating on whether to keep the receiver on their roster in 2009.


Complaint #3 - Haley hardly has any experience. He was only a coordinator for two years, and besides, it must have been easy calling plays for all that offensive talent in Arizona.

These points are true and cannot be disputed.

But here's a description of another potential head coach. This candidate was only a coordinator for one season and his team didn't even make the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. They finished 6-10, in fact, and his unit didn't make any drastic improvements compared to the way they'd played under the previous coordinator.

Would that candidate interest you more than Haley? Or is that coach even more of a risk?

The coach just described was Mike Tomlin at the point the Pittsburgh Steelers hired him. Less than a week ago, Tomlin became the youngest head coach to ever win a Super Bowl.

Tomlin didn't have much experience or a lengthy track record of successful defensive play calling when he was hired. But the Steelers saw something in him and it's safe to say their decision has worked out.

There are other fitting examples, but the point is that coordinator experience often means nothing as it relates to someone's performance as a head coach. Many great coordinators – brilliant playcallers with years of experience – have made terrible head coaches.

You can bet that when Pioli offered Haley the job of coaching the Kansas City Chiefs, he didn't do it simply because he thought Haley did a good job calling plays for all the talent in Arizona. He did it because he thinks Haley possesses the key qualities that enter into being a good head coach. Playcalling might be one of those qualities, but it certainly isn't alone.

I'm excited about the hire of Todd Haley as our new head coach, and perhaps this has helped ease some of your concerns. If you have concerns I didn't address, feel free to share them at the Warpaint Illustrated forums – maybe I'll take another crack at it.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories