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Todd Haley: Career Golf Pro or Real NFL Coach?

For the record, I don’t believe that Todd Haley’s career is doomed and it's way too soon to call for his head. Frankly, it surprises me that there are so many critics who have given up on him already. However, he has made some rookie errors in judgment this season. He's taken some ill-advised risks at key moments, including a call for a Quarterback sneak early in the game against the Chargers in Kansas City territory. I don't particularly agree with his approach to carousel his receivers to prove a point---Cassel should have gotten more offseason reps with Dwayne Bowe. Period. And, arguably, some would question whether his disciplinary methods have gone too far at times.

But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that the front office has given Haley free license to run the team his way. We’ve learned over the years that the front office/head coach relationship needs to be a partnership, not an autocracy from one end. During the Dick Vermeil era, we saw a situation where the head coach had become so powerful that he was making all the personnel decisions for the team. During the Herm Edwards era, we saw a situation where the front office took full control of personnel decisions and refused to listen to Herm when he insisted upon a rebuild.

In my opinion, Todd Haley has the potential to be a very good NFL coach. But the front office has to come to realize he's not Bill Bellichick, nor should he expected to be.

It is the front office’s job to support the coach to the best of their ability, but it is also their job to say “no” sometimes. Haley came into Kansas City with some inexperience on his resume. We all know by now, after LJ’s alleged tweets, that Haley was into golf before he coached football. That’s fine. But LJ’s alleged tweets also show that even if all players don’t speak up about Haley's inexperience, that doesn’t mean they don’t think about it.

When Herm Edwards was hired several years ago, there was a lot of chatter about how he was able to better relate to players because he had been in their shoes. I don’t think that makes him a better player’s coach, but it does mean he has one less hurdle to overcome when it comes to relating to players. Haley doesn’t have that crutch, nor does he have the significant coaching experience to earn credibility. That’s not a bad thing. Lots of coaches come in with no NFL experience and inexperience on their side. Look at Mike Tomlin.

I can only guess from Haley’s behavior since becoming the Chiefs’ head coach that he believed very strongly in building credibility through showing from the outset that he was in charge. He is a disciplinarian and was challenged with the task of turning around a culture that was used to playing for a player’s coach like Herm Edwards. That’s good. The Chiefs needed some of that discipline and in many cases, such as the development of Dwayne Bowe and potentially the development of Branden Albert, it could reap some big dividends.

I wonder if Haley took that control one step too far, and the front office shares some of the blame for letting it happen. When I look back at the rationale behind firing Chan Gailey, I can’t help but wonder if that was largely due to creative differences or due to Haley wanting control of the one area of the game he knew he was really good at: calling plays. Like many young employees, Haley is guilty of wanting to do too much too soon to establish credibility. He probably felt that the more he controlled, the more he could prove to his team that he had the experience to be in control. He would invest the time to go above, beyond, and beyond beyond to be the most hands-on coach in the game, even if that meant working twice the hours of a typical coach. That’s an admirable trait because as far as I’ve seen, it hasn’t caused Haley to break down and while he often looks tired, I don’t believe it’s negatively affected his work.

But Haley’s increased control led to unintended consequences. Namely, the more you control, the more people blame you when things go wrong. An experienced offensive coordinator like Gailey could have at least given Haley a guy to shield the blame. When the Chiefs' offense stalled as it did against the Chargers, the fans would have deflected at least part of the blame on Gailey. When things go sour, you can always blame the playcaller and move on. Look at the defense. The fans blame the front office, the previous administration, and Clancy Pendergast for the Chiefs’ poor defensive performance. Rarely does Haley’s name ever enter the conversation. When Vermeil’s defense failed the Chiefs, it was Greg Robinson and Gunther Cunningham that took the majority of the heat.

More importantly, assistant coaches know the ropes of the NFL. Haley has limited experience managing a team. Experienced assistants can serve as advisors and many of them bring to the table some great management ideas from various organizations. Gary Gibbs, for example, has seen and done a lot of things during his coaching career, including stints in college as both an assistant and a head coach. He has also coached for the Cowboys and the Saints. I'm sure that during those stints, Gibbs learned a lot from good coaches, made a lot of mistakes, and from that, has a lot of great advice to give to a young, inexperienced coach like Haley.

Sometimes, it seems like Scott Pioli and company forget that Haley is not Bill Bellichick. Bellichick had a chance to fail in Cleveland, to work out his problems, and to resurge again in New England. Even in his early coaching days in New England, he enlisted plenty of help. He had two fantastic coordinators calling the shots: Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. It wasn’t until later in his career that Bellichick became a lot more independent as a head coach (e.g. hiring a completely inexperienced coordinator named Josh McDaniels to coach a side of the ball that was outside of Bellichick’s core experience).

Bellichick has experience. And, of course, Bill Bellichick is Bill Bellichick; Todd Haley is not. Maybe Haley will be some day, but you don’t hire a young coordinator and expect him to be Bill Bellichick so early in his career. On the offensive side, Haley is in absolute control of that offense and that’s way too much. There isn’t a coordinator to advise him against certain tactics and Haley has free reign to fire any coach that isn’t doing things his way, as he did with Dedric Ward. In Kansas City, it’s Haley’s way or the highway.

This is not a diatribe against either Haley or the Chiefs’ front office. There is still room to change and it needs to happen immediately. We saw in Washington what happens when you put off the decision one year too late. Washington got stuck in a pickle. When the Redskins took away Jim Zorn’s playcalling duties, it was implied that they had lost confidence in Zorn. If the Chiefs waffle too long, it will be difficult to strip Haley of his power without severely damaging his credibility. And that’s something you don’t want to do for Haley, as it will completely undermine his ability to gain buy-in from his players.

I don’t think Todd Haley is in over his head as a head coach. The problem is that he has been given way too much power when he badly needs an extra set of hands.