The Kansas City Chiefs got their man this week, signing Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley to a four-year deal as their next head coach. They couldn’t have made a better choice.
Haley is everything an NFL team needs in a coach—he’s young, passionate, and smart. Really, really smart.
Two minutes away from winning a Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals smart.
At just 41 years old, Haley has already proven himself to be one of the game’s top tacticians. The Cardinals were repeatedly effective against top defenses (particularly Carolina and Pittsburgh) throughout the postseason, and Haley’s halftime adjustments helped Arizona come back from a 17-7 deficit to the Steelers, and nearly pull off the victory.
Did Haley have a lot to work with? Yes, but all successful teams have good players. Haley succeeded because he devised a system which best utilized his players’ abilities.
The best, and most extreme, example of Haley’s success in this area is Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is a freak of nature. He’s simply uncoverable, and will win any one-on-one matchup.
Haley understood this. In the NFC Championship game, he called a flea-flicker. Usually, trick players are designed to leave a receiver wide open down the field, but this play was designed merely to get Fitzgerald single coverage down the field, since, after all, it’s essentially the same thing.
The outcome of the play was never in doubt as Fitzgerald easily out-jumped his man to secure the easy touchdown. But it would have never happened if not for Haley’s immense understanding of his player’s talents.
But it’s not just about X’s and O’s. Haley didn’t just understand his player’s abilities, he also put his full faith in his players. In fact, Haley was the ultimate player’s coach.
Yes, the same Todd Haley who famously clashed with both Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin in the second half of the NFC Championship Game is a player’s coach because being a player’s coach is not about coddling your players and granting their every demand.
Haley’s close relationship with Warner has been well-documented, so just because he yells at his quarterback from time to time doesn’t mean the two don’t respect one another. Haley has particularly high expectations, and he makes these expectations known.
But you know what? So far, he’s done a pretty good job of getting his players to meet those expectations, both through motivation and through devising strategies which perfectly conform to his players’ respective skill sets.
That’s exactly what the Chiefs (or any other NFL team) need.