KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The losses kept mounting, the tension kept growing and ultimately Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli decided the status quo was no longer good enough.
It was time to part ways with Todd Haley.
The Chiefs fired the combustible head coach Monday with the team Haley led to a surprising AFC West title less than a year ago stuck at the bottom of the division following a series of devastating injuries and discouraging blowouts.
The Chiefs dropped to 5-8 after Sunday’s 37-10 loss the New York Jets, their fifth loss in six games. Kansas City committed 11 penalties for 128 yards in the dismal performance, including a 15-yarder on Haley for unsportsmanlike conduct that may have sealed his fate.
“Timing in these situations is always difficult. There never seems to be a right time,” Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “We just felt the inconsistent play the team has experienced throughout the season, including yesterday’s game, made today the right day to do it.”
Haley wasn’t the only coach fired Monday; the Dolphins also dumped Tony Sparano after just four seasons. Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio was fired last month.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will serve as the Chiefs’ interim coach for the final three games, and Pioli said he will be considered for the permanent job.
“I don’t perceive Todd Haley as a mistake,” Pioli said. “Todd Haley is a good football coach. I’ll say that. What we need to do is figure out what direction we’re headed in and how we’re going to continue to make progress, how we can get some consistency back.”
Haley took over a team that won six games the previous two seasons under Herm Edwards, and he leaves with a 19-27 record in his first NFL head coaching job. But despite winning the AFC West last season, it’s hard to tell if the team improved under his watch.
The quarterback situation was a mess, even when Matt Cassel was healthy, and the offensive line has three players in Ryan Lilja, Barry Richardson and Casey Wiegmann who may not be back next season. Despite a background on offense, Haley only managed to coax the unit into an average of 293.8 yards, which ranked 28th in the league, and 177.4 yards through the air — 30th out of 32 teams.
It was that lackluster performance that cost Haley his job.
“I guess you never expect it because you always try to be optimistic about things, but this is the NFL. It’s just the nature of the beast,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “It goes on all the time, throughout the year. I won’t say it’s no big deal — it’s a very big deal for the Kansas City Chiefs right now — but this goes on throughout the year.”
Hunt and Pioli met late Sunday to discuss Haley’s future, and again Monday morning. They met with Haley after coming to their decision and then informed the rest of the coaching staff.
Crennel met with the players shortly afterward.
“Romeo is going to do things the way Romeo knows how to do them,” Pioli said while seated alongside Hunt in a crowded interview room. “I know Romeo is very similar to Todd. Todd was very passionate about football, Todd was very passionate about this football team, these players, and he was very passionate about winning. Romeo has a lot of those very qualities.”
There had been rumblings about Haley’s status since training camp, when the NFL lockout caused him to take an unorthodox approach. Haley spent the majority of practice on conditioning and strength training in hopes that it would cut down on injuries following an abbreviated offseason.
Instead, the Chiefs lost linebacker Brandon Siler to a torn Achilles in camp, and starting tight end Tony Moeaki went down with a torn knee ligament in their preseason finale. Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry sustained the same injury in Week 1 against Buffalo, and All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles tore a ligament in his left knee the following week at Detroit.
After three lopsided losses to start the season, Kansas City rattled off four straight wins and briefly pulled into a tie atop the division. But that was followed by a home loss to previously winless Miami, the start of a disastrous six weeks in which the losses mounted and Cassel landed on injured reserve with a broken bone in his throwing hand.
Journeyman quarterback Tyler Palko has started the past four games, leading the offense to just two touchdowns — one of which came on a desperation heave against the Bears two weeks ago.
“We’ve had one of those years where we’ve had injuries, and injuries to key players, but that’s typical in the National Football League,” Hunt said. “As a team you have to find a way to overcome that and we just weren’t able to do that this year. Our play was up and down the entire season and at times it was up and down during a given game, and I think those contributed to our decision.”
Besides the lousy performance on the field, it was no secret there was friction between Pioli and Haley, although the GM insisted Monday that they had “a good working relationship.”
Pioli has said he values consistency in an organization, and that he’s used the Steelers as a reference point for building the Chiefs. But his decision to part with Haley was just the second in-season firing of a head coach in franchise history — Paul Wiggins was fired after seven games during the 1977 season — and leaves the team in tumult with three games remaining.
“We went to the playoffs last year. I mean, that has to mean something,” running back Jackie Battle said. “The season didn’t go the way we wanted this year, but he’s proven he can win in the league. I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but it’s part of the business.”
Haley was the offensive coordinator for Arizona when the Cardinals won the NFC title in 2008. He also was an assistant coach with Dallas, Chicago and the New York Jets.
The biggest bright spot for the Chiefs this season has been on defense, despite missing Berry and Siler. They lost 17-10 to the Broncos and 13-9 to the Steelers, and their only victory over the last month — 10-3 at Chicago — came when they piled up seven sacks, forced three turnovers and prevented the Bears from converting a third down.
That’s the biggest reason why Crennel was selected as the interim coach over several in-house candidates, despite going just 24-40 in four seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
The Chiefs won’t decide on a permanent head coach until after the season, but Crennel could make a good argument for the job if he can rally the team over the final three weeks.
Kansas City is still mathematically alive in the AFC West.
“We’ve made some progress the last couple years and we’re at the point some of that progress has slowed down,” Pioli said. “I don’t put timeframes on things, but clearly I need to get to work too, because if we’re going to be a good football team and continue to get better and consistently compete for championships, we need to have a good roster.”