Admiration & Respect … Friday Cup O’Chiefs

There are those that see Todd Haley’s face all scrunched up in a scream at one of his coaches or players and figure this guy is some sort of maniac. Then they see him go the non-shake route last Sunday and they figure him to be rude and obnoxious.

Those flashes of Haley are things that Larry Fitzgerald has seen before. But the Pro Bowl receiver for the Arizona Cardinals has seen a lot more. Two years (2007-08) together with the Cardinals created a tight bond between them. If there’s a bigger Haley fan around the league they haven’t shown themselves yet.

“I would love to play for Coach Haley,” Fitzgerald said this week on a conference call with the Kansas City media. “I would go play for him in Canada. I would go play for him if he was coaching high school. I would go do whatever Coach Haley asks me to because that is the kind of respect and admiration that I have for him.”

The respect and admiration Fitzgerald has for Haley were hard earned. Over the last two years we’ve gotten a taste of it in Kansas City with the relationship between Haley and WR Dwayne Bowe. They are situations that are completely different, but share the same back story – Haley pushing a talented player to be great, not just good.

Fitzgerald says his strength is his ability to deal with players.

“My personality is different than Dwayne Bowe’s personality,” said Fitzgerald. “My personality is different from Brandon Flowers personality; it is different from Mike Vrabel’s personality. I think the thing coaches have to do is you can’t coach everyone the same way. We might have the same assignment but you might not be able to yell at this guy or you might have to coddle this guy. I think Todd does a fantastic job of understanding what motivates each man.

“There are a lot of different things that motivate guys. Some guys are motivated by money, some guys are motivated by greatness, some guys have a fear of failure. I think he understands what makes each guy tick on his team and he knows how to push your buttons. For me, my thing was I wanted to be great but I didn’t want to pay the price for it when I was young. He said, ‘Fitz, you are only going to be a mediocre guy. You might be a 10-year vet but in five years nobody will remember your name.’ That stuck with me. I didn’t want to be that guy so I bought into what he did and I worked harder.”

Before Haley landed in Arizona as part of Ken Whisenhunt’s coaching staff in 2007, Fitzgerald was already one of the league’s better receivers. In 2005, he caught < passes for 1,049 yards and < touchdowns. Things were not so splash in 2006, when he missed two games and caught < passes for < yards.

In two seasons working with Haley, Fitzgerald caught 196 passes for 2,840 yards and 22 touchdowns.

“He always used to call me ‘one-trick pony,’ and I took it to heart,” Fitzgerald said. “I was a guy that just ran go’s. I would just go and catch deep footballs, pretty much. I couldn’t run routes intermediately. I couldn’t do anything besides run go’s and he (Haley) was like, ‘You have a gift from God to be able to do that, but to be great you have to do a lot more. Defenses can take you away when you’re just doing one thing. When you’re a complete receiver, there is a lot more to scheme for and to take away.’

“He wouldn’t let me settle for mediocrity. He motivated me to want to be great. He’d say, ‘If you wanted to be a regular player in this league, that’s fine and you’ll be that. But if you want to be great, this is what you are going to have to do. You are going to have to buy into it every day, study film and do all the things that the Jerry Rice’s and the guys like that were doing.’ He motivated me every day.”

Haley’s background before he showed up at the Cardinals was in coaching wide receivers, and he’d worked with some good ones in guys like Keyshawn Johnson, Marty Booker and Terry Glenn. It’s a position that he understands.

“I saw a guy that had a heck of a lot of ability, as much ability as I’ve seen in a receiver,” said Haley. “As we went through practice I wasn’t sure he was practicing the way he needed in order to be a great player and he wasn’t working on the things he needed to be a great player.

“But what I saw very quickly with Larry was once you laid out a plan for him, it became clear he wanted to be a great player, and really wanted to be the greatest player.”

A lot of players want to be great. Few are willing to make the sacrifices to reach that point. Fitzgerald wasn’t until Haley came in the door.

“I never watched film,” Fitzgerald remembered. “I didn’t study my opponent. We started at 8:00 AM and I was getting to the building at 7:55 AM. When we got done at 3:00 PM, I was out of the building at 3:05 PM. I was just coming to work and doing my job, but that’s about it.

“Todd made me understand that to be a leader to your teammates, to get them to respect you and to be a great player you have to do more. You have to do the extra. I’ve taken that to heart. Even since he’s left I’ve continued to do the things that he taught me like running routes after practice, catching extra balls, doing the things that when everyone else is tired and going home you stand for something and you continue to do it.”

Haley soon learned that pushing the right buttons with Fitzgerald wasn’t necessarily the hardest coaching job he’s dealt with over his career.

“He was willing to do anything and everything to reach his goals and he was thinking football all the time,” Haley said. “I can remember sitting on buses driving into stadiums and him leaning over, he would always sit somewhere near me on the bus, he would lean over the seat and ask about Keyshawn (Johnson) or asking about Terry (Glenn) or asking about run after catch. He was always asking football questions. He would ask about Lynn Swann; he was a football guy that has a football background with his father. He was into it and he wanted to be great. He was a pleasure to work with on a daily basis.”

There are plenty of photographs in the Haley file of another coach, or player, or official catching his ire in full burst. Fitzgerald said he never had one of those moments with Haley.

“The whole time I have known him I have never had one incident,” Fitzgerald said. “He told me what to do, he is my coach. I listened to him. If he told me I needed to run faster, I would try to run faster. If he told me to lose weight, I’d lose weight. I did everything he asked me to do because he told me if I did it, I could be special and so I bought into everything he told me to do.

“At the core, Todd is a loving family guy. He is one of those guys that when his players have some success, he will break down and really share in the moment with you. He is not what everybody thinks he is.”

Not sure that Josh McDaniels would agree with that assessment at this time, but there’s no doubt the feelings are mutual between Fitzgerald and Haley. What about Fitzgerald in a Chiefs uniform? Wouldn’t his addition make quite a difference in what can get done with the K.C. offense?

Fitzgerald has two more years to run on his contract after this current season, so it’s hard to imagine that he could be wearing Chiefs red rather than Cardinals red anytime soon. But heaven knows what a new collective bargaining agreement might bring.

“I am under contract here in Arizona and I have a job to do here and until something changes, that is where I want to be,” Fitzgerald said. “That is where my heart is.”

Maybe so, but it’s pretty obvious that Todd Haley has a piece of his heart as well.


  • BENGALS – placed DE Jonathan Fanene on the injured-reserve list (hamstring) ending his season; signed DE Victor Adeyanju, last with the Rams.
  • JETS – signed WR Patrick Turner off their practice squad; released DE Jarron Gilbert.
  • PANTHERS – named Brian St. Pierre as the starting quarterback for this Sunday’s game against Baltimore.

5 Responses to “Admiration & Respect … Friday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • November 19, 2010  - Dave says:

    A lot of fans don’t appreciate players and coaches until they are gone. I think Haley is the real deal and I hope that the fans in kc give him the time and credit he deserves. Remember how we all made fun of Marty ball?

  • November 19, 2010  - jim says:

    That ought to be mandatory reading for every current Chief, and every future draft choice. Some will “get it” and some won’t. We can only hope it’s more than less.

  • November 19, 2010  - Blake says:

    Great story

  • November 19, 2010  - Michael says:

    Bob, Fitzgerald’s last contract (signed prior to the 2008 season) contained an clause that shortened the deal to 4 years if he met certain performance goals, which he has. So he’s actually only under contract for one more season after this.

    His status will be a major story this offseason, because if the Cards can’t get him re-signed, they may look to trade him. He also has a clause that says the team can’t put the franchise tag on him, which means if he played 2011 on the final year of his deal, he could leave and Arizona might get nothing in return (except possibly an eventual compensatory pick).

    It’s something to keep a close eye on, given his obvious fondness for Haley.

  • November 19, 2010  - johnfromfairfax says:

    This is another excellent post in the Gretz file. Thanks Bob for the insight into the bond between a special player and his coach. Interesting side note Michael. Thanks for the info and opportunity to at least dream at this point. Of course, the Cards would be crazy to let him go.

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