Becoming A Team … Friday Cup O’Chiefs

From the Truman Sports Complex

During his team’s practice on Thursday, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley walked toward the west end of field No. 1 to observe the offensive and defensive lines working against each other.

Haley wanted to see specifically how the newest member of the team DL Atiyyah Ellison was handling things and he also wanted to see DE Tyson Jackson, who is still trying to get back on the field from that sprained left MCL he suffered in the season opener.

What he noticed more than anything else was a moment when the dynamics of team building were outwardly visible.

“I could hear Mike Vrabel over there passionately talking to Tyson,” Haley said. “You learn the difference between somebody who is talking so they can be heard helping somebody, trying to get noticed for doing something good. You learn the sound when it’s solely to help somebody. I could hear it off my left side and it was Mike helping Tyson with a little technique thing.

“Then I walked 20 yards and Thomas (Jones) is talking to Jamaal. He’s (Jones) like a Mom duck in a lake, no matter which way he turns those little ducks are going to turn that way. The other backs were all standing there and listening to him talk to Jamaal.”

There were other moments like those during Thursday’s practice, which is what had Haley thinking about the mix of veteran and youngsters on their roster and how they are blending together to form the type of team he wants to put on the field.

“The No. 1 thing is you have to care about your teammates,” Haley said. “If you care about your teammates you’ll want to help them in every way you can, help them get better and give them some of the knowledge that you have accumulated over time, even if that player is the guy who replaces you. That’s what makes the great teams, when you have a bunch of guys that think and operate like that.”

Throughout his 21 months on the job, Haley has talked about the “process” of taking a downtrodden team and turning it into a consistent contender. Haley likes to say he’s working with a team in transition. Why Haley and others around the Chiefs don’t like to use the word rebuilding is not something I understand, but they never speak that word even though rebuilding and transition mean the same in this forum.

To get that job done, GM Scott Pioli and Haley have reached into every corner of the franchise and made changes. Some of those changes were necessary. Other were simply changes for the sake of change. The most important spot for change was the locker room, and it wasn’t so much the bodies; remember many of the biggest contributors this season are players who were already in the room. It was about attitude. That explained last year’s butting of heads between Haley and various players, almost all of whom were holdovers.

The locker room came to understand Haley wasn’t going to be moved off the message he was delivering. But he also understood that there had to be other voices in the locker room.

“It cannot be just coaches doing all the coaching and pushing and prodding because that will not work on a long-term basis,” Haley said. “You must have guys that are fully invested. More and more guys become fully invested and that’s why we are making progress. We aren’t there yet, we need to continue that, and continue all the things that are part of becoming a good team.”

In today’s NFL, change is a constant and the chemistry of teams has to be reinvented every season, no matter how many games it won the year before. That’s always easier for the good teams, because they tend to have less roster turnover especially at the key positions. It’s always tougher with rebuilding clubs, who are trying to establish a foundation. Those types of teams always go young, but they need more than just fresh bodies. They need teachers dressing in the locker room with them.

Generally, a team’s veteran players can be shuffled into three categories when talking about dealing with their teammates. One group doesn’t want any part of the deal, because they are too wrapped up in keeping their job. Another group of players is always willing to help, but they lead by example, rather than words or advice.

The third group is made up of players who are willing to speak up and provide their insight and knowledge, even without being asked. They are very self-confident players, who have football experiences that others don’t share. It’s guys like Vrabel, Jones, S Jon McGraw, G Brian Waters, OLB Tamba Hali and even QB Matt Cassel that fall into that category of veteran players. They are ready, willing and able to provide advice and knowledge to their teammates.

“None of these guys gets paid for helping these other guys, but that’s what begins to separate you as a team, the more players you have that care about their teammates,” Haley said. “That’s what we have going on with this team. We have guys that care about each other.

“There are very few relationships that you see in daily life like the ones you see in this locker room.”

Hall of Fame and Super Bowl winning coach Bill Walsh (right) wrote several years ago about the team dynamic. It was his belief that a roster of men did not become a team until they were playing for each other. The idea of not letting down your friend was more powerful than playing for a coach, a team, a city or even a paycheck. Walsh believed that element was essential to having a successful team.

Walsh also wrote that he felt as the head coach, it was his job to create an atmosphere that fostered that type of development, whether it was in building the roster, hiring assistants and staff, or establishing the proper settings where that type of attitude could grow.

Too often, coaches get in the way of this process because to make it work, there’s a certain amount of control they must cede to the players themselves. Many coaches view their ability to control the process all the time the key to their longevity in the position. That’s true in the big picture with head coaches, and even in smaller pictures like coordinators and position coaches.

“It’s no different than being a good coordinator,” Haley said. “You have to take everybody’s ideas, because you have a lot of smart guys who understand football and everybody thinks their idea is the best. What I learned about being a good coordinator is taking everybody’s ideas, massage and manipulate them into a unified plan, without bias.

“Good coordinators do that on a weekly basis and it’s a lot harder than you think. There are a lot (of opinions) and they are coming from head coaches, quarterbacks, fans, other people, coaches, defensive coaches and offensive coaches. Everybody’s got some thought.”

But the thoughts that matter most these days with the rebuilding Chiefs are those being shared between veterans and youngsters.

“He’s been a big help to all of us defensive backs,” FS Kendrick Lewis said of McGraw. “He’s a great teammate.”

When Todd Haley talks about the progress his team is making, it’s not always something easily picked out on the stat sheet in the post-game or after evaluating the game tape. Sometimes it’s a practice conversation on a Thursday afternoon.


  • CHARGERS – WR Vincent Jackson will report next week, sign his restricted free agent tender offer and re-join the team.
  • COLTS – appear to have lost two of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets. WR Austin Collie underwent hand surgery and is expected to miss several games. TE Dallas Clark suffered a wrist injury and has been to specialists in Cleveland to have it examined.
  • DOLPHINS – DE Jared Odrick fractured his leg during practice on Wednesday and is done for the season. Odrick, the team’s first-round draft choice, missed the season’s first six games with the same injury.
  • STEELERS – LB James Harrison returned to the team on Thursday, after a one-day absence to ponder his future after he was fined $75,000 by the league for what was called an illegal hit last Sunday.

6 Responses to “Becoming A Team … Friday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • October 22, 2010  - TX_ChiefAN says:

    Very good article Bob!
    Something we can take with us in our daily business lives too.

  • October 22, 2010  - Ernie says:

    Agreed. It’s tough enough for us “civilians” to build a team orientated organization. I can’t imagine trying to create that type of atmosphere with a group of very wealthy and talented young guys.

  • October 22, 2010  - John says:


    I have heard reports that T-Jax looks like he has put on some weight, say 15 lbs or so, and not necessarily muscle weight. Any insight on this or bad weight gain by Tyson that you have noticed? Thanks.


  • October 22, 2010  - gorillafan says:

    Nice write up Bob!

    Im glad to see a we finally got a person that can coach!! Havent had that since the Marty era!! I didnt know about Haley at first, I did like the fire in him though, which Herm The Worm never seemed to have, but Haley has came around and seems to be making a name for himself as well. I thnk we have a winner here fellas.

  • October 22, 2010  - Edward says:

    Good article Bob.

  • October 23, 2010  - Nate says:

    There is a big difference in “rebuilding” and “transition”. Rebuilding is a red flag word for teams that are at the bottom 1/3 of the league and many of them have been “rebuilding” for many years, making poor choices again and again. A team that is in transition is a team that is on the move toward being one of the top teams in the league. They are making progress both on and off the field.

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