Experience becomes issue for Chiefs' Haley
Of the 32 current head coaches in the NFL, Todd Haley is the only one who didn't play college football.
College playing experience didn't appear to be a prerequisite to becoming an NFL coach until former Penn State standout Larry Johnson publicly mocked the fact that Haley played golf and not football in college.
It was an unnecessary distraction for Haley, an Upper St. Clair grad whose 2-7 Kansas City Chiefs host the 6-3 Steelers today at Arrowhead Stadium.
"I knew it was a big job coming in,'' said Haley, a rookie NFL head coach and the son of long-time Steelers and New York Jets director of player personnel Dick Haley. "I don't think it's for the faint of heart.
"Obviously, we're going to be judged on wins and losses. We've got two wins — that's not enough. But as far as working every day and seeing what we have, it's continuing to improve and move in a positive direction. We're in the beginning of trying to turn this team into a winning team.''
Part of attempting to turn Kansas City into a winning team involved the Chiefs releasing Johnson, who a couple of years ago ranked among the league's elite running backs.
In venting about Haley on his Twitter page, Johnson portrayed Haley — a respected offensive coordinator whose Arizona Cardinals gave the Steelers all they could handle before losing in Super Bowl XLIII — in an unflattering light.
"My father (Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr.) played for the coach from 'Remember the Titans.' Our coach (Haley) played golf,'' Johnson wrote on Twitter . "My father played for the (Washington) Redskins briefly. Our coach: Nuthn.''
Haley refused to be drawn into a war of words with Johnson.
"It wouldn't be fair of me to try to comment on that in any way other than to say the totality of the situation was factored in — what we felt was best for the Kansas City Chiefs,'' Haley said following Johnson's release.
"Every decision we've made here ... has been what we thought was best for the football team. Some of those decisions might appear real good at times and some of them might appear real bad at times.''
Said Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel: "It's definitely been a year that we faced some adversity. I truly believe that through adversity comes advancement. I think we're getting stronger as a team. When that whole situation went down with Larry, I thought the young guys really embraced the opportunity. I thought Jamaal Charles stepped up last week (in a 16-10 win at Oakland).''
Former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who played under Haley when he was an assistant with the Jets and Dallas Cowboys, defended Haley's coaching credentials.
"Todd grew up around football. He coached me to two Pro Bowls. His father drafted me with the Jets,'' said Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft who now works for ESPN. "Here's a guy that (supposedly) doesn't know anything about football, but I got two Pro Bowls out of him.
"I think he's pretty good. He helped the Arizona Cardinals get to the Super Bowl.''
A head coach's playing history shouldn't matter to his players, Steelers left tackle Max Starks said.
"Just because you played doesn't make you qualified to be a head coach,'' Starks said. "A lot of people can play, but they can't transfer over that knowledge and get other people to understand it.
"You need great leadership and management skills at the head coaching position. Your position coaches are supposed to be the ones that are experienced players and have expertise in their area.''
Nevertheless, Kansas City Star reporter Kent Babb wrote on his Twitter page that Haley doesn't like talking about his days as a college golfer at Miami, Florida and North Florida.
"Haley wants 2 B known as a successful coach, at least in his previous stops, and his background as a golf coach and pro golfer isn't something he likes discussing,'' Babb wrote. "He told me several times that it's just something in his past, and he'd just as soon leave it behind ....
"It makes sense that (Haley would) like to quiet his career's detours, and knowing how conscious Haley is of that fact, it's even more revealing to me that LJ (Johnson) hit Haley where it would hurt.''
For his part, Haley has picked up the pieces and moved on from the Johnson incident.
"I feel like our team in all areas has continued to show signs of improvement,'' said Haley, who took over a team that finished 2-14 last season. "It hasn't always been reflected on Sunday, but I do think that from where we started to where we are now, we've made considerable progress.''