Chiefs are winning despite Haley

BY Jason Whitlock • January 3, 2011

Let’s hope Charlie Weis and the Oakland Raiders derailed the Todd Haley NFL-coach-of-the-year bandwagon.

Haley — not his Kansas City Chiefs — is quite possibly the biggest fraud in football.

I say that without malice or pleasure.

Personally, I like Todd Haley. It’s true. Away from a football complex, removed from the overbearing presence of Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli, it’s my impression that Haley is a stand-up guy.

Unfortunately, he’s a fatally flawed head football coach. He’s insecure, mean-spirited, emotional and irrational. For two years, he has tried to master a Bill Parcells impersonation. Thanks to the Chiefs’ surprising rise from four wins to AFC West champion, some people have been fooled into believing Haley’s impersonation is working. I haven’t.

The Chiefs are my hometown team. I covered the team at home and on the road for 16 straight years before deciding in August to leave the newspaper industry and split my time between Kansas City and Los Angeles.

The Chiefs are the football team I know the best. They have the wrong head coach. I say that knowing Kansas City’s ground game and ball security give the Chiefs an excellent shot at making some noise in this year’s playoffs.

If the Chiefs do knock off the Ravens in the first round, the primary credit should go to Pioli.

I say that without malice or pleasure.

Personally, I can’t stand Scott Pioli. It’s true. In any environment, Pioli is a low-character, self-absorbed egomaniac in love with the sound of his voice. I call him “Egoli.” I love giving sports figures nicknames. Based on the feedback I’ve received from NFL people, I’ve never come up with a more accurate nickname than Scott Egoli.

My one regret about my leaving KC during this football season was the knowledge Egoli would face little resistance in intimidating, bullying and co-opting the local media. It doesn’t take much more than a wink, a nod and a visit to the GM’s office for local media types to get very weak in the knees.

Pioli is the son-in-law of Bill Parcells and, from his days in New England, has mastered a Bill Belichick impersonation. And I mean that as a compliment. From his general manager’s office, Pioli has re-created some of the New England environment in Kansas City.

When I watch the Chiefs play, I see Pioli’s vision and fingerprints everywhere. And I see Haley desperately flailing in an immature attempt to put his stamp on the football team.

Haley spent his first season hamming it up for the TV cameras, yelling and screaming at any player who dared to make the slightest error. This year, he decided he would out-Sean Payton New Orleans coach Sean Payton and stamp himself as the most swashbuckling gambler in the history of professional football. On fourth down, regardless of the situation or common sense, Haley turned down punts, chip-shot field goals and dates with 22-year-old supermodels so he could call a horrible fourth-down play.

It was bad football.

But Haley was sitting on house money.

The NFL blessed the Chiefs with a schedule so easy that the Harlem Globetrotters and Geno Auriemma were said to be jealous. The combined record of KC’s 13 opponents was 85-123. In compiling a 10-6 record and claiming the AFC’s fourth seed, the Chiefs beat one playoff qualifier, the record-setting 7-9 Seattle Seahawks.

Haley was additionally blessed with Pioli’s vision. In building Patriots West, KC’s general manager has stocked his roster with the kind of high-character, responsible players other teams talk about acquiring but rarely have the discipline to do so.

The Chiefs, like the Patriots, the Colts and the Falcons, are the anti-Bengals.

In free agency, Pioli nabbed Thomas Jones, Ryan Lilja and Casey Wiegmann. All three are rock-solid, natural leaders. In the 2010 draft, Pioli scooped up a bunch of talented team captains and choir boys (Eric Berry, Dexter McCluster, Javier Arenas, Jon Asamoah, Tony Moeaki and Kendrick Lewis).

Rather than pollute his locker room with irresponsible millionaires, Pioli has filled his locker room with young people who have a track record of responsibility.

The Chiefs, like the Patriots and the Falcons, play a responsible brand of football. It’s not a coincidence the Patriots (10), the Chiefs (14) and the Falcons (17) led the league in fewest giveaways. Pioli and Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff learned the game working for Belichick.

I’ve yet to mention that Pioli used his Patriots background to help Haley land Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis as Kansas City’s defensive and offensive coordinators this season. On paper, Kansas City’s assistant-coaching staff is as good as it gets.

Problem is, Crennel and Weis leave Haley little glory to grab and even less work.

Haley is an “offensive guru,” the man who bickered with Anquan Boldin, annoyed Kurt Warner and watched Larry Fitzgerald as the Cardinals made an improbable run to the Super Bowl.

Just before the start of his rookie season as Chiefs head coach, Haley fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Yep, Haley threw away an entire offseason of preparation so he could call plays for quarterback Matt Cassel. That didn’t go too well. Cassel stunk last year.

Weis showed up this season and promised to fix Cassel.

Hmmm. Cassel put together a career year and probably deserved a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team, ahead of Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. Going into Sunday’s season finale, Cassel had thrown for 27 TDs and just five INTs. He was fixed.

Late in the year, game-day TV broadcasters curiously started talking about how closely Haley worked with Cassel this season. If you read between the lines, the message was getting passed that Weis didn’t fix Matt Cassel. Haley did. Or maybe it was quarterbacks coach Nick Sirianni.

We do know this: It was Todd Haley who benched Cassel for a series in KC’s Week 16 game against the Tennessee Titans. And it was Matt Cassel who was spotted on the sideline screaming at Todd Haley for the benching.

I say this without malice or pleasure: On an NFL sideline, Haley is an attention whore. An insecure one.

Childhood back problems prevented him from excelling as a high school football player. He played golf in college. His dad, Dick Haley, was a legendary personnel man for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Todd is constantly trying to prove he wasn’t born sliding into the NFL’s home plate. He was, but no one really cares anymore except Todd Haley. He can’t let it go.

Self-made football people who worked from the bottom up (Pioli, Weis) bring out Haley’s insecurity. A day or two after the Chiefs hired Weis last January, I wrote a column in the Kansas City Star explaining in significant detail why the Weis-Haley marriage would be short-lived.

Two days before Sunday’s Raiders-Chiefs clash, word leaked that Weis was taking his talents to the University of Florida as offensive coordinator.

It’s my belief that Haley left Weis no choice but to leave. Haley is too insecure to work in a professional manner with confident, competent people for an extended time.

I didn’t think much of Charlie Weis as a college coach. But there’s no denying the man knows how to design game plans and call plays in the NFL. He’s arguably the best in the business. Haley put handcuffs on Weis with constant interference and game-day stupidity.

For two years, the Chiefs have had the NFL’s most explosive running back, Jamaal Charles. He’s better than Chris Johnson. Charles had the misfortune of being drafted by Carl Peterson and Herm Edwards.

Last season, Charles spent half the year underutilized and languishing while Haley fed the ball to washed-up malcontent Larry Johnson. Charles started the second half of the year, rushed for 1,100 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

This offseason, Pioli and Haley decided Charles wasn’t a starter. They acquired Thomas Jones to be the starter. Despite a 3.7-yard average, Jones has carried the ball more and continued to start over Charles, who entered the last game with a chance to be the league’s leading rusher. His 6.4-yard average is more than a yard better than any of the league’s other top-20 rushing leaders.

Yeah, I don’t blame Weis for getting the hell out of Kansas City.

Haley’s benching of Cassel a week ago and Weis’ departure created enough of a distraction to produce an embarrassing performance at home against the Raiders. Other than Charles (14 carries, 87 yards, one TD), KC’s offense was horrible. The Raiders destroyed the Chiefs’ line. Cassel completed only 11 of 33 passes and tossed two INTs.

When it was over, Haley tried to sell the myth that Weis’ impending defection to college football played no role in KC’s miserable performance. Haley implied Weis was joining his teenage son on Will Muschamp’s coaching staff. Weis’ son will be an 18-year-old freshman at Florida next fall and a student assistant at Florida. Behind the scenes, the Chiefs’ media-relations staff tried to paint even less-believable scenarios, including that Weis really wants to be a college head coach again.

(I nearly passed out from laughing when the Chiefs’ top media underling called me unsolicited trying to explain Weis’ move.)

Weis took the high road and claimed his return to college football has nothing to do with his relationship with Haley.

I’m sure Weis’ contract forbids him from leaving KC for another NFL offensive coordinator position. His easiest escape is back to the college game and a million-dollar-a-year coordinator contract.

If Cassel reverts to the form he exhibited under Haley’s direction in 2009 and Weis has success in Florida, he could be an NFL head coach in 2012 or 2013 (after the lockout).

Hell, Weis might be the next head coach of the Chiefs.

I don’t care if the Chiefs win the Super Bowl this season. Todd Haley is not an NFL head coach.

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