Coming off an AFC and franchise-worst 2-14 season, the Chiefs finally decided it couldn’t get any worse, mercifully ending the Herm Edwards experiment that cost them a fourth-round pick in 2006 and even jettisoning their grand poobah of two-plus decades: CEO/president/general manager Carl Peterson.
In his first major move since becoming chairman upon his father Lamar’s death in ’06, Clark Hunt decided to clean the slate and start over with the most coveted front-office free-agent of the past few years as his new general manager: Patriots personnel chief Scott Pioli.
Besides being Bill Parcells’ son-in-law, Pioli was the most lauded individual not named Belichick in the Patriots organization this decade. The yin to Belichick’s yang leading to the success of the NFL’s most recent dynasty: three Super Bowl championships and an undefeated regular season in ’07.
However, while Pioli was entrenched slightly lower than Belichick on the totem pole in New England, he has been given autonomous control of football operations in Kansas City. Pioli’s first act as GM was to hire Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who was fresh off Arizona’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance, as head coach. If it truly starts at the top, then so far, so good.
Haley is the latest in a series of Cowboy hands from the Parcells regime to land their own gig. Sean Payton (Saints) and Tony Sparano (Dolphins) each have experienced seasons of unexpected success recently as rookie head coaches. Pioli is almost certainly banking on that trend continuing with Haley.
Haley’s offense in Arizona ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring and second in passing last season, categories in which KC finished 20th or lower. But as Brian Billick proved in Baltimore, a reputation as a brilliant offensive mind doesn’t always translate when taking over as head coach. Then again, the Chiefs' current offense is built for the pass, and Haley likes to air it out.
Like Pioli, Haley is accustomed to success in the win-loss column. His teams have gone .500 or better four of the last five seasons. He is used to being around staffs with pedigree to spare and his shoulders to lean on in KC should be far sturdier than the ones Edwards kept around.
Tony Gonzalez. Damon Huard. Donnie Edwards. Patrick Surtain.
A talent base hinging on fading stalwarts that has gone a combined 6-26 the last two years. Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes ain’t walking through that door either.
The inaugural year for the Chiefs organization’s new brass should be the most trying, and what Haley is able to make of such a paltry roster should serve as a good barometer of his coaching ability.
At first glance, this would seem like the type of team, if any, likely to challenge the Lions’ winless wonder for the AFC-NFC Toilet Bowl. Other than a heavily overrated quarterback acquired from the Patriots (Matt Cassel) and a thoroughly underrated featured receiver (Dwayne Bowe), the offense is strapped with a joke of a ground game and an unproven offensive line.
Finally, Haley is coming off one great postseason as an assistant coach. The Cardinals (9-7) won four straight games before losing to the Steelers in Tampa Bay. The only other playoff team Haley has coached on since 2001 (the ’06 Cowboys) suffered an embarrassing first-round stunner to the Seahawks.
At this point in KC, it can’t get much worse. Edwards has now succeeded in care taking back-to-back franchises down to the nadir of confidence and talent depth.
Is it debatable that Edwards did not have enough help in the personnel department at both stops? Sure, but it sure didn’t seem to take Eric Mangini long to get the Jets headed back in the right direction.
As for Haley, the Chiefs’ hire looks pretty feeble relative to who they could have ideally gotten former Steelers savior Bill Cowher, who previously had the longest-tenured head coach in the league, was hired from the Steelers in 1992 after a stint as defensive coordinator under Marty Schottenheimer with, you guessed it, the Chiefs.
Oh and that Schottenheimer guy, though a bit long in the tooth now at 65, is somehow still available after his '06 firing from the Chargers following a dominant 14-2 regular season.
The best thing Haley seems to have going for him is he’s Pioli’s hand-picked man. Haley has the honeymoon comfort and security of being part of a dwindling number of NFL franchises where the GM hogs the spotlight and the lion’s share of responsibility for the franchise.
Pioli should eventually replenish the talent coffers of a team whose base has been slowly-but-surely aging and relocating elsewhere. Pioli also has the good fortune of finding a team that should be easier for him to fix than others.
The Chiefs are a franchise that has relied heavily on blue-collar talent and journeymen since the Schottenheimer days, and veteran castoffs and overachievers played a large part in the initially unexpected success the Patriots organization enjoyed in the middle of salary-cap depression earlier this decade. A turnaround from a personnel point-of-view should come even more swiftly than if a renowned program-builder like Cowher was handed the reins.
In this light, however, Haley’s honeymoon won’t last long if he can’t prove himself. He is one of the few coordinators who landed a head-coaching job so shortly after his first notable viability as a “hot” candidate. Though he is lauded by past players for his unique approach to the game, we should find out pretty quickly whether or not the Parcells and Whisenhunt protégé is ready to jump in and swim with the sharks of the AFC.