Carl Peterson’s 20-year reign came to an end and veteran coaches like Gunther Cunningham and Edwards made their exit. Like the injection of youth into KC’s roster last offseason, we will now witness an influx of youth in the front office and coaching staff.
The hiring of Todd Haley makes KC’s owner/GM/head coach combo one of, if not the youngest in the league. Hunt turns 45 on February 19, Pioli turns 45 in March, and Haley turns 43 on February 28.
“I don’t think I specifically had a mindset as to what age person or persons we were going to hire,” said Hunt. “We certainly have ended up with two young, talented football people who have an opportunity to lead this organization for a long time. One of the questions we asked Todd in the interview process was how he felt about our young roster. And he said the young roster is not a problem, but the young owner and young general manager might be (in jest). I think the three of us will be able to develop a very strong partnership which is the most important thing.”
While Peterson is out, and his good ol’ boy network of friends like Dick Vermeil and Herm Edwards is gone, a newer, younger one is in place. That’s the way the NFL, and most big business, operates, for better or for worse. It’s partially Hunt’s friendship with Jonathan Kraft that helped bring Pioli to Kansas City and now Pioli, not long after reaching the next rung of the executive ladder, has tapped an old friend in Haley.
Pioli and Haley worked together while with the New York Jets, and developed a good working relationship there, something Pioli said would be a big part of his hiring process from the get-go.
“Todd and I worked together for three years,” he said, “and at the time, we were both working in roles that were subservient roles. We would get to spend time together and talk about things and would probably get to discuss things, and argue things, and agree and disagree, and had some colorful discussions on a lot of things over the years.”
It might be Pioli and Haley’s ability to disagree on things that makes them a formidable duo. In fact, Pioli said that aspect of their relationship was something he was looking forward to rekindling as they collaborate in Kansas City.
“When you can have a guy that you like and respect, and have the ability to have conversations on players and things and concepts that you agree with and disagree with…the smile is probably because I’m excited by it and energized by it,” he said.
While there had been much speculation over the length of KC’s search for a head coach, Pioli and Hunt said Haley was on their list all along. For two weeks, almost every day a new rumor surfaced. At one point, it seemed as though Edwards might be retained, then Mike Shanahan looked like a done deal, then CBS analyst Boomer Esiason tossed Bill Cowher’s hat back in the ring after Cowher himself said he’d be back in the broadcasting booth next season. Despite all of that, Haley was on the list of potential hires, and it wasn’t until the Cardinals made their improbable run to the Super Bowl that the media caught on.
“As Scott and I went through this process and identified the traits that we were looking for, Todd’s name kept popping up,” said Hunt. “And it was frankly somewhat inconvenient that they kept winning in the playoffs, because we weren’t able to interview him. We’re very thrilled with the success that he had with the Cardinals, but he was somebody we were interested in very early on.”
While Hunt and Pioli say Haley’s magical run with Arizona was not a deciding factor in the coaching search, Haley credited his time in the desert with helping make him the coach he is today.
“I’m indebted to (Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt),” said Haley. “He put the trust in his football team in me. He’s one of those guys when I talk about the guys I’ve been around and learned from and taken notes from…I take a lot from a lot of things he did. We’re not necessarily the same personality, but he’s done a tremendous job, and again, I’m for what works. He obviously did the right things at the right times and I’ve learned a lot from those two years.”
Haley’s demeanor may be part of the difference between he and Whisenhunt that he alluded to. His confrontations with Terrell Owens in Dallas and Anquan Boldin in Arizona are well documented.
“I’m an emotional guy,” said Haley. “It’s part of how I coach. It’s part of how I motivate, and I’d like to think I’ve had some success doing it. Now, as you move into the head coaching realm, I’ve had a couple of emotional bosses or head coaches, but obviously you 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.”