When the key second part of the Chiefs’ general manager-coach brain trust was finalized, the optimism oozed at Arrowhead Stadium.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
Fresh starts generally inspire that, especially after a dismal era punctuated by a 2-14 season. Here was what should darned well be a winning combination: a new GM bearing Super Bowl rings and steeped in the ways of a thriving organization, joined by a bright coach with whom he’d worked in the past.
What could possibly go wrong?
In hindsight, there was foreshadowing that day in February 2009, when Scott Pioli made Todd Haley the coach of the Chiefs.
Asked about the numerous altercations he’d had in his career as a NFL assistant, including, somehow, one with Kurt Warner, Haley said, “I’m an emotional guy. That’s part of how I coach. It’s part of how I motivate. I’d like to think I’ve had some success doing it.
“As I get into the head-coaching realm … obviously you’ve got to keep things in check. It’s something that I’ll turn to if I need to, but I’ll do my best to keep from losing control.”
His volatile best, of course, proved inadequate.
Particularly matched up against the hyper-controlling Pioli, whom Haley later suspected had bugged his office among other bizarre goings-on that made for a climate of fear and loathing in the entire organization.
Blame who you will, but one way or another it all bubbled over with Haley being fired in 2011 and Pioli being cashiered after the Chiefs last season went … 2-14.
Which brings us to last January, when enthusiasm abounded at Arrowhead with the hiring of a GM bearing Super Bowl rings and steeped in the ways of a thriving organization to join a bright coach with whom he’d worked in the past.
But this vibe was based on logic as much as hope.
And as the Chiefs play tonight at Pittsburgh, where Haley now is the offensive coordinator, it’s a timely moment to look at the contrast from his hiring in KC to the embryonic phases of this renewed relationship between GM John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid.
For starters, of course, there are the sheer personality and maturity factors.
In contrast to the predecessors, or at least what the foul chemistry between them provoked, Dorsey and Reid are affable men (though Reid downplays that publicly) who are energized by the give-and-take of ideas and behave like grown-ups.
Even though the Chiefs have just one offensive touchdown in two preseason games, for instance, don’t expect Reid to fire offensive coordinator Doug Pederson next week if they don’t produce more today, as Haley did with Chan Gailey after the third exhibition game.
Reid is 55, with 140 NFL wins to his credit.
Haley had never been a head coach and was 41 when he was hired by Pioli, who was bent on infusing the “Patriot Way” into the Chiefs — and who became part of the mounting evidence there isn’t so much a Patriot Way that can be sprinkled around anywhere like gold dust but a Bill Belichick Way that works only in New England.
That fundamental dynamic was crucially different from the Reid-Dorsey one.
Consider that Dorsey was hired a week after Reid — clearly meaning Reid had enormous input, inherently altering the mechanism of the relationship — and that the organizational flow chart now has the GM, coach and president Mark Donovan all on the same line reporting to owner Clark Hunt.
While Dorsey’s career largely had been with the Packers — and he and Reid worked together there from 1992 to 1998 before Dorsey spent a year with the Seahawks and Reid left to take over the Philadelphia Eagles — each came to know who he was and knew it was less important to get his way than to have a sense of shared mission.
It helps, too, that they really knew each other, which seemed to portend something entirely different from their predecessors in the last cycle at the news conference to introduce Dorsey.
“John was one of those guys I always had that relationship with where we could just talk, and it wasn’t going to cost me on draft day,” said Reid, who had tried to hire Dorsey in Philly. “At the same time, he would share information with me, and we developed a trust that’s important.”
While Reid and Dorsey both know the business has to be separated from the friendship, it’s hard to say friendship won’t help them, and they’re clearly fond of each other.
Dorsey went as far as to say “we’re like two brothers” when he spoke earlier this summer about their frequent daily contact even on vacation.
Meanwhile, Haley and Pioli both worked for the New York Jets from 1997 to 2000, when Haley was a receivers coach and Pioli was director of pro personnel.
As for how well they knew each other, well, Pioli felt compelled on the day Haley was hired to note that even then they had squabbled over the strengths and weaknesses of various players.
Asked at the time if that suggested clashes ahead, Pioli said, “I don’t know about clashes. There will be great discussion, fruitful discussion.”
Maybe he meant fruitless.
Looking back, a convenient way to see it, of course, it’s actually amazing that Haley rallied his second team to go 10-6 and win the AFC West.
But that couldn’t save him in 2011, when by all accounts he became frenzied in every way as the Chiefs were besieged with injuries and fell into an 0-3 hole and he was fired after the 13th game.
Haley seems in a more suitable place now coordinating the Steelers’ offense, both reprising the role he’d had with the Arizona Cardinals and returning to the deepest of his roots.
His father, Dick, was player personnel director for the Steelers from 1971 to 1990, helping assemble four Super Bowl winners in the ’70s.
And as a child, Todd Haley served as a ballboy for the Steelers, who beat the Chiefs 16-13 in overtime last season with Haley on the job.
Reports of tension between Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are among the indications that he remains prone to the temperamental, but he’s in a setting where he should be a fit.
And the Chiefs seem to have found a better fit this time around, too.
Yes, it’s way too early to know if the Dorsey-Reid duo will prevail.
But the blend of experience and compatibility sure makes for a lot better place to start this time around than last, when even the principals hinted it was doomed from the start.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868, send email to email@example.com or follow twitter.com/vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.