KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A snarling, cursing Todd Haley no longer prowls the Kansas City sideline like an angry grizzly crisscrossing his cage.
“Road Rage,” as some fans dubbed him, has adopted a gentler approach. This was evident from the first days of training camp, when Haley warmly greeted people by their first name and stuck around after practice signing autographs, sometimes for almost an hour.
How much this shift in attitude by their second-year head coach has had to do with the Chiefs’ 3-0 record is impossible to know. Without doubt, a rookie class bristling with great promise has been important. So has a year of valuable experience for young players such as linebacker Tamba Hali and cornerback Brandon Flowers, who made game-turning contributions in close victories over San Diego and Cleveland and a dominating rout of San Francisco.
There’s no doubt who’s in charge. There’s no doubt Haley can still be the tough guy when he thinks tough guy is needed. But a happier Haley seems to have coincided with a more successful Haley. And why should he not be enjoying himself?
“I have the best job in the world,” said the son of NFL personnel guru Dick Haley.
In Year 1 of the Scott Pioli-Todd Haley campaign to turn around the Chiefs, Haley’s antics may have upset some people as much as the team’s 4-12 record. He came under criticism for screaming at players and coaches during games and was also criticized for appearing at post-practice news briefings looking disheveled and unshaven.
It was his wife, he says, who made him promise to stop chewing gum while on camera. But searching for ways to improve, he also studied tapes of news conferences conducted by other coaches. Now when cameras start rolling in the cramped media interview room of the team offices, he’s usually freshly shaven.
But the biggest reasons for the new Haley, as well as the team’s 3-0 start, were probably the arrivals of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
Weis, Haley’s immediate boss when they were assistant coaches for the New York Jets, relieved Haley of the offensive responsibilities he carried all last season while also trying to learn to be a head coach.
Before Weis signed his contract, he and Haley had a long talk, making sure there would be no tension when Weis began taking orders from a former underling more than 10 years his junior.
Whatever agreement they reached seems to be working like a well-practiced flea-flicker.
But that’s not to say there haven’t been “moments.”
“Coach Weis, did you coach your players this morning?” Haley yelled one day after the offense ran a few ragged plays.
“Yes, Todd, I did,” came Weis’ reply.
And that was that. Both men went right back to work, without a hint, so far as anyone could see, of any hard feelings.
“Todd is a friend first of all,” Weis has said.
Said Haley, “It’s hard to describe how good it feels to see something that needs to be corrected, and before you can even get the words out, Charlie is correcting it himself.”
Before Weis took over the offense, Haley would not have been able to, say, pick the punt returner during the heat of battle. But in the opener against San Diego, after rookie Javier Arenas made two good returns, Haley decided to replace him with Dexter McCluster, another rookie. The result was a team-record 94-yard touchdown return in a seven-point victory.