Archive for December, 2011

Chief Opinions 12-24-2011

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

It’s Christmas Eve and we have a full slate of meaningful games in the NFL. I love this time of year. The Chiefs, who have a glimmer of hope of winning the AFC West, must beat the Raiders today at Arrowhead. And as a Chiefs fan we will also be rooting for the Bills to beat the Broncos, and the Lions to beat the Chargers. Stranger things have happened. GO CHIEFS!

Just a few thoughts on the Chiefs.

Romeo CrennelBeating the Packers
Interim head coach Romeo Crennel deserves a lot of credit for the Chiefs beating the Packers this past weekend. The defense has been inconsistent, but has shown glimpses of excellence this season. I wasn’t overly surprised that our defense played well against the Packers, who were missing their top wide receiver, their best running back, and were banged up along the offensive line.

The big surprise was the play of the Chiefs’ offense. They were effective, efficient, and dominated the time of possession. I have defended Todd Haley often, but there’s no denying that the offense looked it’s best with offensive coordinator Bill Muir and Jim Zorn putting together the offense without Haley’s interference. If you’ve never watched the Bill Muir interviews on the Chiefs’ website, you’re missing out. He’s a great guy and a good interview. This week he was asked about the offense’s efficiency. From the Star:

The Chiefs had one of their best offensive games of the year, piling up a season-high 438 yards in a 19-14 win over Green Bay.

Offensive coordinator Bill Muir suggested this was because the Chiefs were led for the first time by interim head coach Romeo Crennel rather than Todd Haley, who was fired earlier in the week. Muir didn’t mention Haley by name, but when asked about these observations, he said, “If you thought it appeared that, then it probably was.

“Romeo delegates authority and expects the people who are given authority to do their job. He’s hands-on and he knows what he wants. As long as he’s getting it, he’s pretty calm. If he’s not getting it, then the calmness disappears in a hurry.”

The offense had good balance. The play calling was good. The line protected quarterback Kyle Orton and gave him time to make his reads. The Chiefs were able to get the plays in quickly to Orton, who got to the line with plenty of time to read the defense, call out protections, and adjust his receivers. That’s something we haven’t seen all season.

The Future at Quarterback
Not only have I defended Todd Haley, I’ve often defended Matt Cassel. I still believe that Cassel is a good quarterback. He’s just not a great quarterback. If you believe that you can only win a Super Bowl with an elite quarterback, then the Chiefs are in trouble. And for those now clamoring for the Chiefs to keep Kyle Orton and cut Cassel, be careful what you wish for. I’ve watched Orton enough the last couple of years to know this — Kyle Orton is Matt Cassel. Their career numbers are virtually identical. They are decent quarterbacks who can manage the game when things are going well. Orton may be a little more accurate down the field than Cassel, but he’s just as likely to melt down and throw three INTs in a game.

My problem with playing Orton now is that we learn nothing about rookie Ricky Stanzi. And if you believe that the Chiefs need an elite quarterback, with every win we get further away from being able to draft Robert Griffin III.

The Next Head Coach
The best news we have about the head coaching search is that people have stopped talking about Josh McDaniels! The public support has swung considerably to Crennel. But once again, be careful what you wish for. Even if he wins the next two games and somehow manages to get the Chiefs into the playoffs, he would still be down my list of candidates.

My biggest concern is that Crennel is Wade Phillips. Phillips has repeatedly proven to be one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. And he’s repeatedly shown that he’s not up to the task as a head coach. And my second biggest concern is Crennel’s age. Pioli should be looking for a guy who can be the head coach for the next ten years. At 64 years old, can you really see Crennel as the long-term answer in Kansas City?

Now having said that, he wouldn’t be an awful choice. I just hope he’s not the first choice.

While there’s no evidence that Bill Cowher wants to return to coaching, I hope that Pioli at least makes that call. And if not Cowher, there’s still Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher out there. Both have been successful head coaches (more successful than Crennel was in Cleveland where he went 24-40), and are young enough to be a long-term fit in Kansas City.

I like the thought of Gruden a lot. He was the last head coach to win the Super Bowl without an elite quarterback (Brad Johnson). Bill Muir was the offensive coordinator when Gruden took the Bucs to the Super Bowl. And you would think that Crennel would be willing to stay on as defensive coordinator under Gruden. The Chiefs don’t need to start over, and Gruden could keep quite a bit of the staff in place.

Their are a number of rumors that the Chiefs and Fisher are close to finishing up a deal. While I think Fisher is a good choice, my concern is that the Chiefs will have to start over with new coordinators. Since Matt Cassel has been here, he’s already had four offensive coordinators. The Chiefs need consistency. But more than anything, the Chiefs need the right head coach. I’d take Fisher over Crennel.

But now let’s take Gruden and Fisher off the table. Where do the Chiefs go now? I think that leaves Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz or Romeo Crennel. I do not want to see the Chiefs take a flyer on an unproven coordinator when there are better, safer options available.

The Players Want Crennel
It certainly appears that Crennel is the top choice among the players, but this should be expected. Players don’t like change, and Crennel is a player’s coach. The players also wanted Gunther Cunningham when Schottenheimer left. And the players lead a revolt that got John Mackovic fired and Frank Gansz promoted. How did that work out?

CORRECTION: I misidentified Marv Levy as the coach who had been fired, when it was in fact John Mackovic. I have corrected it above.

The Pioli Decision

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

It’s funny. For the last week I have been planning to write a post entitled “The Pioli Decision”. The gist of the article would have been that general manager Scott Pioli will be faced with a difficult decision when the year is over. Actually, two decisions that have consequences on each other. One, what to do with the quarterback. And two, what to do with the head coach.

Todd HaleyYou would think that the Chiefs will have to at least consider drafting a quarterback in the first round of the draft this year. And Todd Haley has (had) one year left on his contract. If Pioli believes in Matt Cassel, then he can allow Haley to coach the team through the final year of his contract before making a final decision on extending Haley’s contract or replacing him. But if the Chiefs draft a quarterback, you can’t let Haley dangle with just one year left. You either have to fire him at the end of the season, or extend his contract. It wouldn’t be fair to tell Haley he’s coaching for his job, and then hand him a rookie quarterback.

But on Monday, Pioli fired Haley.

Is it fair? From a coaching standpoint, probably not. Haley made mistakes this year, but there were circumstances well beyond his control. I’ve read many of the local and the national articles about Pioli’s decision, but I want to take this from a different perspective. The perspective of an employer.

I seem to be in the minority, but I like Todd Haley. I think he’s a good coach. Is he good enough to coach a team to the Super Bowl? Maybe. With the right team. But I don’t think Haley’s coaching ability had anything to do with why he was fired.

I have employed and managed hundreds of people. And one lesson I learned the hard way was that when you have an employee who is the wrong fit for your organization, the sooner you replace that employee, the better. There were rumors that Pioli wanted to fire Haley last year. Then there were rumors that Pioli would have fired Haley if the Chiefs had lost to the Colts and started the season 1-4. I tend to take rumors with a grain of salt. Many rumors are untrue and unfounded. But in hindsight, I think we can now assume they were true.

It’s clear that Pioli and Haley had a dysfunctional working relationship. And it’s likely that Pioli had come to the conclusion long ago that Haley was the wrong fit for the Chiefs. Or at least, the wrong fit to work for Pioli. But how do you fire a coach that just won the AFC West? That would have been a tough sell to Chiefs fans. Pioli decided he had to wait until he had “public justification” for the firing of Haley. And he finally got it with the loss to the Jets. The Chiefs could no longer pretend that they still had a shot at the playoffs. And Haley was fired.

I think the jury is still out on whether or not Scott Pioli can lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. There are some glaring holes on this roster, and Pioli is responsible. Some have even speculated that Pioli sabotaged the roster so that he could justifiably fire Haley. I don’t believe that for a minute. But that doesn’t mean that Pioli made all of the same decisions that he would have made if he had full support of his head coach. Only Pioli can look in the mirror and decide if he did everything possible to make this season a success.

And while I tend to like Haley more than I like Pioli, I might have come to the same conclusion and fired Haley. It’s great to have fire and passion. I like that in a head coach. But I don’t like disrespect. A heated discussion between Haley and Matt Cassel doesn’t bother me at all. But some of the public arguments between Haley and his assistants bothered me a lot. Those discussions should be behind closed doors, and should always be respectful. As a business owner, I would never undermine one of my managers by berating them in front of other employees. (Actually, I don’t think I ever berated an employee.) Haley not only berated his assistants, he seemed to relish that atmosphere. He wanted the confrontations, and obviously believed them to be beneficial to the team. I’m guessing Pioli came to a different conclusion.

One more comment and we’ll move on. I listened to the press conference with Scott Pioli and owner Clark Hunt. I’ve been surprised that I haven’t seen this comment anywhere else. On multiple occasions, Hunt said that he wanted a team that the fans could be proud of. I’m guessing that Hunt was not proud to have Haley as the face of the franchise.

The Next Head Coach
Chiefs fans are clamoring for Bill Cowher. I would love it, but I don’t see it happening. I’m not sure that Cowher has the desire to coach again. I do hope that Pioli at least makes the call. So if not Cowher, then who?

Personally, I would be very enthused by either Jon Gruden or Jeff Fisher. Gruden has a good job with ESPN, and it’s unclear if he wants to return to coaching. That leaves Fisher as probably the hottest available coach on the market. I will be very surprised if he doesn’t take a job somewhere this year. There are already openings in Kansas City, Jacksonville and Miami. And I think it’s likely that San Diego and possibly St. Louis will be in the market for a new head coach.

Jon GrudenBut let’s make a case for Gruden. The Chiefs are certainly in better shape today than they were a few years ago. This is a good job to walk into. Pioli does not need to blow this thing up and start over. He will probably try to keep as much continuity as possible. Gruden is an offensive minded coach. And who was his offensive coordinator when he was with the Bucs and won a Super Bowl? Bill Muir. Gruden called the plays, but Muir was his offensive coordinator. And I think it’s likely Romeo Crennel would be willing to stay on as defensive coordinator under Gruden. He’s been out of football for a couple years now. If he wants back in,  this would be an excellent opportunity. And remember, Gruden won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson at quarterback. Pioli might be thinking that if Gruden can do it with Johnson, then he can do it with Cassel.

One thing I find interesting is that there isn’t a lot of buzz around the league about the offensive and defensive coordinators. Typically there are a few “hot” names out there. Not this year.

My biggest hope? Do NOT hire Josh McDaniels. Lots of people have been linking McDaniels to Pioli, and I think it’s very possible that Pioli would have hired McDaniels three years ago if Denver hadn’t gotten to him first. I think this would be a huge mistake. And Pioli can’t afford to make another mistake.

People have also been linking Pioli to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. I don’t have any strong feelings either way about Ferentz. There have been a number of high profile college coaches who couldn’t cut in the NFL, but if you look at it objectively, MOST head coaches don’t make it in the NFL. Ultimately, most head coaches are fired within three-to-five years. And look at Jim Harbaugh. In his first season with San Francisco, he’s got the 49ers winning the NFC West.

Unless Pioli has his eye on a coordinator, this is something that could get wrapped up soon. There are strong candidates who are currently out of football. There’s no reason to wait.