Well, that sucked.
I had a 12 page post all ready to go on why Coach should stay. Instead, as I'm finishing up my arguments in favor of a fourth year, my phone starts blowing up with texts from countless folks informing me that the Chiefs have relieved Todd Haley of his duties as head coach.
So allow me a few words regarding Todd Haley, before moving on to (I guess) the new point of today's post, and that is who should replace him.
I was not a fan of the Todd Haley hiring when it went down. I'll be honest up front -- I wanted Mike Shanahan. By the time the denver broncos left town in early December of 2009, after blowing out the Chiefs 34-6 in a game that featured what I still consider to be "the worst play in franchise history", I was calling for his firing immediately. No second season, no third season, don't even contemplate letting him finish out his contract -- in the words of Rage Against the Machine, "f*ck it, cut the cord!"
So you can imagine my surprise that barely 24 months after that post ... that I am furious at this firing this morning.
Todd Haley didn't deserve this. You can argue whether or not his boss deserved this fate (I'm of the opinion that Pioli does not ... yet, anyways), but there is no way in hell Todd Haley deserved this fate.
Did Haley take the wrong approach to the limited offseason and training camp and all of preseason? Absolutely. You can't dispute facts (as much as I try to), and the fact is that this team was woefully underprepared for the regular season. But I can't fault Todd Haley for trying something different. The NFL had NEVER before faced an offseason like the one we just endured. Why not try something different to see if it gains you a competitive advantage? I supported what Coach Haley did. I'm not going to rip him a new one now, for something I agreed with four months ago.
Did Haley rally this team from the brink this season? Oh hell to the yes he did. The first ten quarters of this season, the Chiefs were outscored 99-10, were 0-2, and trailing by double digits at halftime, on the road, against a team that has won the AFC West 5 of the last 7 years (and whose worst record in those 7 years was 9-9 counting playoffs). The next 18 quarters and half an overtime later, the Chiefs sat at 4-3, all alone atop the AFC West.
Did Haley suffer a ridiculous amount of injuries? Absolutely. I mentioned this earlier to someone, but I'll post it here for everyone to read -- I consider Chuck Noll to be the greatest head coach in NFL history. And not even Chuck Noll would have done better than 5-8 without his starting strong safety, starting tight end, starting running back, starting middle linebacker, first round draft pick, starting quarterback, and starting right tackle for significant chunks of time this season. I hate people who use the "injuries are not an excuse" line, because injuries absolutely ARE a legitimate excuse. Ask fans of the 2011 Colts if injuries matter. (While you're at it, ask them also if coaching matters. Ah, Jim Caldwell, you ain't Number 32 in the Stevo Coaches Rankings for nothing!)
You try winning in the NFL with Tyler Palko as quarterback, Jackie Battle as running back, Barry Richardson guarding the blind side, Sabby Piscatelli and Jon McGraw as half of your starting secondary, and Jovan Belcher starting at inside linebacker, instead of Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Lilja, Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki, and Brandon Siler. Good luck with that.
Was Haley tempermental, a little too emotional, a little too unrestrained? At times, sure. But most good coaches are. I mean, if you're going to rip Todd Haley for having a lack of self-control on the sidelines, for dropping the f bomb constantly on the sidelines, and yet you want Jon Gruden to come here, what are you, a complete hypocrite? Or just mentally retarded? No coach is more unrestrained than Jon Gruden. If you want him to replace Todd Haley, fine by me. God knows we can (and probably will) do worse than Gruden. Just don't use Haley's sideline demeanor as a negative against him, if Gruden is your pony / puppy / rooster / rubber chicken in the coaching race.
The bottom line to me with Todd Haley is this: he probably wasn't ready for the job when he got it ... and he still had his players going as hard as possible for him, even as the losses and injuries mounted this year. You can say last year's division title was a fluke, and I won't disagree with you, but you can't take away the fact that Todd Haley's team won the division. You can hold the fact that he never beat a 10 plus win team against him (0 for 9, assuming the Jets make it to ten, and the Bears don't), but it's not like the Chiefs have the league's most loaded roster, and it's not like we didn't come close -- the Chiefs nearly beat the Cowboys in 2009 (losing in overtime), gave the Colts fits last year, and nearly beat the Steelers this year. His manner may have alienated people ... but those people didn't play for him. There's no doubt that these guys fought for him, and in that, is the best tribute you can give to the guy. I wish him nothing but the best, and pray he doesn't wind up coaching in oakland, denver, or San Diego anytime soon.
Having said that, the question now becomes, who replaces Todd Haley as the Chiefs 11th head coach in franchise history? The next hire will be our fourth coach in eight years (not exactly a stable franchise), and sixth head coach in 12 years (again, stablity non-existant). I'd also argue this one is the most important hire of the six, because not only is a head coach riding on this hire, in all probability our entire front office rides on this hire.
The schedule next year lays up a little bit. Assuming the Chiefs finish last in the AFC West (a safe assumption at this point), here's what we face:
Home: broncos, raiders, Chargers; Ravens, Bengals; Bucs, Saints; AFC South (Colts)
Road: broncos, raiders, Chargers; Steelers, Browns; Panthers, Falcons; AFC East (Dolphins)
With an upgrade in health, as well as an infusion of some additional talent, in this division? Absolutely the Chiefs can go from worst to first for the second time in three years. Which is why the coaching hire is so important.
Below, I will discuss the various candidate's names I've heard, and my opinions on them. I believe the hire will come from one of the ten people I look at below. I have my fears on who the hire will be, and I freely admit, my top choice for the job? Probably has no chance of being "the one", but I'm tossing him out there because I believe it not only would be a perfect hire, it would completely re-invigorate the fanbase, or at least instill a newfound confidence in the current regime that doesn't exist right now.
In reverse order of my preference, 10 being "please don't hire this tool", and 1 being "back the Brinks truck up and make this happen" ...
10. Josh McDaniels.
Current job: offensive coordinator, St. Louis Rams (2011 first season).
Prior jobs: head coach, denver broncos; offensive coordinator, New England Patriots.
Connections to Pioli: many, dating to his time in New England.
My thoughts: if Josh McDaniels is the hire as head coach, I will not renew my tickets. Let me state that again, in case anyone doubts me. If Josh McDaniels is the head coaching hire, I'm done with this team until they take a flamethrower to One Arrowhead Drive and burn out the stench and incompetence. Josh McDaniels is not only unqualified for the job, he's not qualified for the job he has now. Promoting him to head coach -- again -- after a disasterous season in St. Louis as a coordinator, would be the single worst move Scott Pioli can make.
Unfortunately, its also the one I fully expect him to make. McDaniels has to be the odds-on favorite to get the job at this point. Excuse me while I vomit into the trash can for the next three minutes at that realization ...
9. Kirk Ferentz
Current job: head coach, University of Iowa (1999-present, 13 seasons)
Record: 96-65 at Iowa, 57-47 in Big Ten (plus two) play. 11 .500 plus seasons, 10 bowl games (2 BCS bowls).
Connections to Pioli: worked together with the Browns in the 1990s.
My thoughts: I'd be ok with Ferentz. My only concerns with Kirk Ferentz are age (he'll be 56 on opening day next year), lack of pro coaching experience, and that he might be ok with Ricky Stanzi under center. (Note: I do NOT buy for one second the idea that Todd Haley stuck with Palko to screw with Pioli. Haley's a competitor. He wouldn't lay down. If he genuinely thought Stanzi could play, he'd have been out there for the second half yesterday.)
I do not believe Kirk Ferentz will be the pick. But I do think he'll get an interview, and he's definitely a dark horse to keep your eyes on.
8. Romeo Crennel
Current job: interim head coach / defensive coordinator, Chiefs (2010-present, 2 seasons)
Previous jobs: head coach, Cleveland Browns; defensive coordinator, New England Patriots.
Connections to Pioli: too many to count.
My thoughts: I'm not sure how I feel about Romeo as head coach. On the one hand, for at least the first 3 1/2 years at the helm, his Browns teams overachieved, including posting a 10 win season in 2007 with Derek Anderson under center. On the other hand, the last three months of his tenure were a textbook in how not to run a professional football team. And honestly, I prefer him as a defensive coordinator. However, I don't see any way Romeo returns as DC unless McDaniels is the hire, and I'd rather be stabbed with a thousand knives of fire in my dick than have Josh McDaniels as my next head coach.
Crennel has to be considered the co-front runner right now. Let's just all be grateful that we're only at the half mile mark of this search, at best.
7. Bill Cowher.
Current job: analyst, CBS Sports (2007-present, 5 seasons).
Previous job: head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers; defensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs.
Connections to Pioli: none, but connections to the Chiefs dating back 25 years.
My thoughts: ok, let's get this out on the table. Bill Cowher is an outstanding defensive coordinator, possibly the best the Chiefs have ever employed. He is a genius at assembling an all-star staff around him (seriously, go back sometime and look at that 1989, 1990, 1991 Chiefs defensive staff. The level of talent is mind-blowing). And he's a pretty successful head coach who lasted fifteen years in Pittsburgh, and won a Super Bowl (while appearing in a second one).
But he hasn't coached a game in five years. His last season was a complete catastrophe (save for the Steelers doing their part in the Immaculate Fivefecta to end the 2006 regular season). And if you think the Chiefs have underachieved the last couple decades? Cowher's Steelers hosted 5 AFC Title Games, and three other times had first round byes (meaning they were a top 2 seed). In those 8 seasons, the Steelers reached the Super Bowl once (1995), and they had to survive a dropped touchdown by the Colts inside of a minute to play to get there. The only time Cowher's teams played above expectation, was their Super Bowl winning season in 2005.
Would Cowher be a solid hire? Absolutely. Would I be upset if he was the pick? Absolutely not. Are there 9 people I prefer to Bill Cowher? You betcha. I just can't get past that "five years out of the game" thing. I can only think of one head coach in history who had a long layoff, and managed to succeed when he returned -- Dick Vermeil. And even then, Dick was one lucky knee injury from getting run out of St. Louis after three seasons. I like Cowher. I just don't think he's the right pick.
6. Jon Gruden
Current job: analyst, ESPN (2009-present, 3 seasons).
Previous job: head coach, Bucs and raiders; offensive coordinator, Packers.
Connections to Pioli: none, outside of the Tuck Rule Game.
My thoughts: of all the former head coaches, this one intrigues me the least. Because we know exactly what we'll get with Chucky -- a hard nosed football team that plays with a chip on its shoulder, that is not scared to take chances on either side of the ball, and is innovative, especially on offense. You also will get something SORELY missing from this franchise right now -- an intense HATRED of hated divisional rivals oakland and denver. For that reason alone, he should be considered.
With Gruden though, its a very limited window of opportunity. He will burn out, ala Vermeil in Philadelphia (and possibly at the end here in KC). A more intriguing choice might be, from the same family ...
5. Jay Gruden.
Current job: offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals (2011 first season).
Previous job: offensive coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; head coach, Tampa AFL team (2 Arena League championships).
Connections to Pioli: none that I am aware of.
My thoughts: this would be the home run swing, the all or nothing hire. (Save for maybe number 3 on this list, although number 3 is a pipe dream). Gruden has been a "hot commodity" as an assistant for a few years now, and his work with the Bengals this year has shown why. If you want to continue to focus on the offensive side of the ball, this is the young up-and-comer that you should target (not Josh McDaniels, who isn't up, isn't coming, and if anything, should be required to wear a dunce cap and a clown suit to every interview he sits for). Gruden also has head coaching experience, albeit in the Arena League, but if we saw anything over the previous decade, its that success in that league CAN translate to success in the NFL (see Warner, Kurt).
I would hope Gruden gets an interview. A Gruden package deal is intriguing as well, Jon as head coach, Jay running the offense as the designated successor for Jon in 5-6 years if things go well. This one really intrigues me.
4. Brian Billick.
Current job: analyst, FOX Sports (2010-present, 2 seasons).
Previous job: head coach, Baltimore Ravens; offensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings.
Connections to Pioli: none that I am aware of.
My thoughts: of all the former coaches, this one intrigues me the most. In the interest of full disclosure, I love Brian Billick. I know his Ravens teams were defined by defense (fine by me!), but people forget just how brilliant this guy is at coaching offense. The most explosive offense in league history? Brian Billick coached it, with the 1998 Vikings.
His ultimate downfall in Baltimore, is the same issue we have here right now: no franchise quarterback. And yet, Billick won a Super Bowl starting Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer, won a playoff game with Elvis Grbac, won a division with Kyle Boller, and won a division with a washed up Steve McNair under center. If anyone can milk something out of another season of Matt Cassel, it's this guy, is it not? I hope Billick gets serious consideration. (Which of course, means he won't even warrant a passing mention).
3. Bob Stoops
Current job: head coach, University of Oklahoma (1999-present, 13 seasons)
Record: 138-34 at OU, 84-21 in Big XII (minus two) play. 13 .500 plus seasons, 7 Big XII titles, 13 bowl games (8 BCS bowls).
Connections to Pioli: none that I am aware of.
My thoughts: THIS is the dark horse I want to see get an interview, for three reasons. (1) I truly believe the spread offense in some form is going to take over the NFL in the next 2-3 years. You simply cannot ignore the success of the Bills and the tebows (and the Wildcat formation at times), and conclude that someone isn't going to make it work at a pro level. (That someone already exists -- his name is Chan Gailey, and he's been doing it dating back to when he ran Bill Cowher's offenses in Pittsburgh, but anyways). (2) He's accomplished everything he can at the collegiate level. There's no challenge left for him at that level. And (3) you want to reinvigorate the fanbase? Hire the most successful coach in the region (with all due apologies to Bill Snyder).
Would this hire work? Hell if I know. But I do know I'm intrigued enough to give it significant thought. I hope Scott Pioli is as well.
2. Jeff Fisher
Current job: still chairman of the NFL Competition Committee.
Previous job: head coach, Tennessee Titans.
Connections to Pioli: none that I am aware of.
My thoughts: of all the "realistic" options, Fisher is the best of them. A proven winner, his teams usually overachieved in Tennessee, regularly made the postseason, and as recently as three years ago, had the best record in the NFL. Knows how to develop a young quarterback into a Super Bowl caliber franchise guy (see McNair, Steve).
Again, of all the "realistic" options, Fisher is the best of them. If he isn't at least offered a chance to interview for the Chiefs position, more heads should roll at One Arrowhead Drive than already have this morning (and will in three weeks).
But of ALL the potential options on the table, there's one that stands out above all the others. I am fully aware it has little to no chance of occurring. I'm aware that a late season surge might render him unavailable (aka "he doesn't get poop canned"). And if that's the case, so be it ... but we've "traded" for head coaches before -- twice in this century for crying out loud. All I'm saying is, give Stevo's Top Choice a chance ... and the person I want you to give a chance is ...
1. "Fat" Andy Reid.
Current job: head coach, Philadelphia Eagles (1999-present, 13 seasons).
Record: 123-81-1 (through yesterday) regular season; 10-9 postseason. 10 .500 plus seasons, 6 division titles, 9 playoff berths (prior to this season); 5 NFC Title Game appearances, 1 Super Bowl appearance (L vs Patriots Super Bowl XXXIX).
Connections to Pioli: none that I am aware of.
My thoughts: how can you top this hire? What isn't to love about this? A proven veteran head coach who makes the playoffs 3 out of every four years, wins at least once when he gets there, and has his team one game away from the Super Bowl every other season. What's not to love about this hire?
Develop a Super Bowl caliber franchise quarterback? Been there done that -- TWICE. First as Green Bay's offensive coordinator in the 1990s (Brett Favre), then as head coach / offensive coordinator with the Eagles in the 2000s (Donovan McNabb). Injuries at the position decimate you? Fine. He can make the playoffs starting AJ Feeley, Jeff Garcia, and Kevin Kolb, none of whom are a Super Bowl franchise caliber player.
The only knock on "Fat" Andy Reid I can think of is his clock management skills. Which is ok -- if you recognize your flaw, then go out and hire someone to coach you what to do in relation to the clock and the challenge flag. Dick Vermeil was ATROCIOUS at clock management ... until he hired Mike White to handle that aspect of the game for him.
If the Eagles fire him after this season, there will be PLENTY of teams lined up to interview him. I hope the Chiefs are one of those teams. If he's not fired however, if Jeff Loria brings him back for a 14th season, why not pick up the phone, call the Eagles, and see if you can trade a 2nd rounder for him? That's what we paid the Rams for Dick Vermeil. (We gave the Jets a 4th rounder for Herm Edwards).
Would you trade a 2nd rounder for 6-8 years of "Fat" Andy Reid? I sure as hell would. If he's on the street, would you commit 6 years, $36 million to "Fat" Andy Reid? I sure as hell would.
You argue "well, the Eagles just hired him, immediate retreads NEVER work!" To which I respond: sure, if you're looking at Ray Rhodes, Rich Kotite, or Eric Mangini, absolutely. But there's a reason why those guys failed -- they sucked the first time around too. If you hire a proven winner for a second chance? It tends to work pretty well. Ask john fox. You think denver regrets hiring him within a week of his getting fired? Or to bring it close to home, Marty Schottenheimer, who the Browns stupidly canned after losing in the wildcard round in 1988. You think Carl regrets offering Marty a new job less than a month after he was fired from his old one?
"Fat" Andy Reid is a PROVEN winner, whose teams routinely make the playoffs, and win once they get there. You can argue "Fat" Andy Reid has "underachieved" in the postseason, and he's likely to be the first person to agree with you.
But you know who has a WORSE postseason record, at 10-10? Alleged all time great Peyton Manning. You think Colts fans care that Manning has "underachieved" in January? HELL NO! Because Manning delivered a Lombardi Trophy (and went 4-0 in the 2006 playoffs, meaning he's 6-10 in his other 10 appearances. Yikes.) As a Chiefs fan, if you knew going in that "Fat" Andy Reid would have the Chiefs in the title game within 3 years (like he did in Philly) and in the Super Bowl within 5 years (again, like in Philly), would you take it? Would you trade off clock management and challenge issues, to say nothing of laughing at him looking like the Michelin Man on the sidelines in December, would you trade that for being 60 minutes away from a Lombardi, and FINALLY bringing Lamar's Trophy home?
If your answer is "no", question your status as a Chiefs fan. Because the ONLY thing that matters in this next hire, is to bring in a guy who within 3 years can have this team in a conference title game. There's enough talent here that with the right choice at quarterback, that can happen. If "Fat" Andy Reid or Jeff Fisher is the hire? It WILL happen.
If its anyone else, be concerned. Especially if that someone else is named Josh McDaniels ...