Steelers' Haley insists he's not out for revenge against Chiefs
Don't think this game doesn't mean something to Todd Haley.
The Steelers' offensive coordinator poured too much of himself into turning around the Chiefs — a mission he briefly accomplished only to get unceremoniously fired — to not care about the Steelers' game against Kansas City on Monday night.
“He hasn't come out and said anything like ‘Let's go get 'em' or anything,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “But you always have that feeling (when you go against a former team). … You can see it.”
Other Steelers players, including Mike Wallace, also can tell this isn't a normal game week for Haley.
Haley loves his new job in his hometown Pittsburgh and loves going to work every day because of the drama-free environment and his personnel, including the best quarterback he's ever coached. He also sneaks in a few more family hours each week.
Life is good for Haley, especially now that his offense is rolling and the wins are piling up for the Steelers (5-3). But a man sometimes gets only once chance to be an NFL head coach, and getting fired when the Chiefs were 5-8 last season — a year after they were 10-6 — still bothers him.
“He received a coach of the year award, and we went to a banquet his second year, and he got fired in his third year,” said Dick Haley, Todd's dad and a former Steelers player personnel director. “But it didn't surprise me.”
It didn't surprise him because Chiefs employees by the dozens were fired or encouraged to leave after former Patriots executive Scott Pioli became the general manager. Pioli and Haley had an increasingly strained relationship during Haley's tenure from 2009-11, as did Haley and quarterback Matt Cassel.
“Coach Haley is a demanding coach,” Cassel said. “He expects a lot out of his players, and he'll challenge you. He's not afraid to get in your face and let you know and hold you accountable, I guess is the best way to put it.”
Still, Haley insists this isn't a grudge game. Decisions must be made so quickly in rapidly moving NFL games that Haley might not even realize at times Monday who he is coaching against.
“Every game is the biggest game of the year,” he said.
But he is a man who cares about doing his job well, so don't think he doesn't want to do it very well with the rest of the NFL watching.
The Chiefs (1-7) aren't much to watch. They still haven't led in regulation, and they are 3-8 since Haley was fired in mid-December.
“I'm very proud, No. 1, of the things myself and the players were able to accomplish,” Haley said. “I thought we made a lot of progress, even taking the 2010 division (title) out of the equation.”
Despite losing three key players to injury early on last season, the Chiefs recovered to win four in a row, nearly upset the Steelers and surprised the Bears with third-stringer Tyler Palko at quarterback. A week later, Haley was gone.
Of course, the best way for a coach to prove to a former team that it made the wrong call by letting him go is to succeed in his next job.
“I believe the best-kept secret about the whole (NFL) season is what Todd Haley has been doing offensively,” said Jamie Dukes, an NFL Network analyst and longtime lineman in the league. “We're not talking about how many times Ben has been pummeled. … What they're doing offensively now is an improvement, if you ask me.”
Haley feels like he's improved himself, too, even if he no longer has the title of head coach.
“I've moved on,” he said. “I'm happy to be a part of this great organization. It's a tight-knit family, a unique environment hard to find. And I know the Chiefs have moved on, too.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.