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Todd Haley methodically ascends to Chiefs' top job

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By Scott Brown
Sunday, April 5, 2009
 

He shared meeting rooms with NFL power brokers whose jewelry collections include Super Bowl rings. If the setting at the swank St. Regis Monarch Resort in Dana Point, Calif., didn't remind Todd Haley how far he had come, the company he kept did.

That's because no one at the recent NFL owners meetings, at least among head coaches, took a more circuitous route to their current position than Haley.

The Kansas City Chiefs' new coach didn't play a down of football at Upper St. Clair High School and instead limited his hitting to dimpled white balls. Prior to breaking into the NFL as a glorified intern in the mid-1990s, Haley's most notable football experience came as a Steelers ball boy.

Not that Haley, 42, has had much chance to reflect on his improbable rise in the coaching ranks.

Since taking the Chiefs job in February, Haley has moved his family -- he and his wife, Chrissy, have five children -- to Kansas City, hired assistant coaches and watched seemingly endless loops of tape to familiarize himself with his new players as well as prepare for his first draft as a head coach.

When asked if whirlwind is an accurate description of what his life has been like the past two months, Haley smiled.

"That's what I've been saying to everybody," said Haley, who was the Arizona Cardinals' offensive coordinator before the Chiefs hired him. "As a coach, when you're in the season, and you think the end is coming, you're kind of going, 'I'm just going to lay in bed for a week.' That's never come for me. There's been no rest."

Taking a different path

His father, who is legendary in football circles, knows a thing or two about the NFL grind. But there may be a limit to how much advice Dick Haley can offer his son as he traverses a terrain that promises to be as rugged as it is new.

The elder Haley played cornerback in the NFL for seven seasons, four with the Steelers. But after his playing days were over, Haley went into scouting, not coaching. Haley served as the Steelers' director of player personnel from 1971-90 and helped build the teams that won four Super Bowls in a span of six seasons.

That Todd Haley pursued coaching is not the first time he has followed a different path than his father.

He concentrated on golf growing up, and the two Haleys offer various reasons about why Todd did not play football. There is even a difference of opinion on how much influence his father had as far as steering him toward golf, a sport that bonded them as much as football did.

"He tries to take the blame for that, but I don't give it all to him," Todd Haley said. "I got my mom's speed. They didn't call me Haley's Comet."

Perhaps that is why longtime USC coach Jim Render envisioned Haley, whom he tried to have join the football team several times, as a tight end.

Haley instead starred in golf at USC. The sport took him to Florida, where he played for Miami and the University of Florida.

Haley went into teaching when he realized he would not be able to play golf for a living like former UF teammates Chris DiMarco and Dudley Hart. Looking back, he said, his time as a teaching pro helped prepare him for a career in coaching.

"The golf swing is such an intricate deal that's hard for anybody to see or understand," Haley said. "And then on top of that, teaching people of all shapes and sizes, how to get through to them and get them to understand, I credit that with a big part of my development."

Back to his roots

That football eventually pulled Haley back to his roots should not have come as a surprise to his father.

When he served as a Steelers ballboy in the 1970s, Haley wasn't so much an awestruck youngster as he was a pint-sized analyst with access to the sidelines during games and practices.

"He'd come home and tell me about the game and how it happened and why it happened and who was good and who wasn't good," said Dick Haley, a consultant with the Miami Dolphins. "I thought he understood the game extremely well, from very early. We talked about it all the time."

The younger Haley got into player personnel in 1995, joining his father in the New York Jets' organization. He made less than $15,000 a year as a scouting assistant and spent a good part of his time making copies of tapes and providing taxi service to and from airports.

After a couple of years, he told his father his temperament made him better suited to coaching. Then came the hard part: convincing then-Jets coach Bill Parcells that he could do the job despite his limited background in football.

Parcells, presumably, would not have been swayed by the argument that teaching something as confounding as the golf swing translated into coaching. But whatever sales pitch Haley made to Parcells led to his first big break, and he took it from there.

He coached strong-willed wide receivers such as Keyshawn Johnson and Terrell Owens, and his work with the passing game for various teams persuaded Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt to hire Haley as an offensive coordinator in 2007.

The Cardinals rode their high-octane offense to the Super Bowl last season. Along the way, Haley established himself as a head coach-in-waiting. His YouTube moment with Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin - the two engaged in a heated argument on the sidelines during the NFC Championship Game -- showed that he won't back down to star players.

That quality should serve him well in Kansas City.

"The thing I respected most about Todd, he kept the players accountable," Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. "He was strong in his convictions about how it should be done, and that message was conveyed to the players, and I think the players responded."

Plenty of work ahead

Is Haley ready to make what amounts to a quantum leap• The hiring of head coaches, as in evaluating future NFL players, isn't a science but rather an educated guess.

"Who knows if you're ready to be a head coach or not?" Whisenhunt said. "But if you look at what he did for us as offensive coordinator and how he organized our offense, some of the critical play-calls he made, those would be an indication he can manage people and situations."

To say Haley has a situation to manage in Kansas City may be an understatement.

The Chiefs are coming off a 2-14 season, and tight end Tony Gonzalez, who has become the face of the franchise in the absence of a marketable quarterback, has hinted that he would welcome a trade. More problematic for Haley may be the handling of talented but volatile running back Larry Johnson, who has not been shy in the past about venting his frustration with his role.

"We've got our fingers crossed that it goes well," Dick Haley said. "It's never easy in the NFL. The scrutiny that you're under today ... but it's what he wanted to do. He's as excited about what's going on and should be. He gets to join a very select group to do what he's doing."

Additional Information:

Climbing the ladder

Here are the stops Todd Haley, an Upper St. Clair High graduate, made on the way to becoming coach of the Kansas City Chiefs:

Season(s) -- Position

1995-96 -- New York Jets scouting assistant

1997-98 -- Jets offensive assistant/quality control coach

1999-2000 -- Jets wide receivers coach

2001-03 -- Chicago Bears wide receivers coach

2004-06 -- Dallas Cowboys passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach

2007-08 -- Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator

Additional Information:

Family tree

Todd Haley is the latest former Bill Parcells assistant to land a high-profile head coaching job. Here is a list of the others who are currently head coaches in the NFL or at major college programs.

Coach -- Team

Bill Belichick -- New England Patriots

Tom Coughlin -- New York Giants

*Al Groh -- University of Virginia

Eric Mangini -- Cleveland Browns

Sean Payton -- New Orleans Saints

Tony Sparano -- Miami Dolphins

Charlies Weis -- Notre Dame

*Is a former NFL head coach

 

 
 


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