Column: Passion Lights Chiefs Fire

From Arrowhead Stadium

Excuse Todd Haley’s memory should you wish to speak about a moment on the sidelines in a just completed game where he seemed, well where he seemed less than happy.

You see, there are just so many of those moments that it’s hard to keep them all straight.

“I have a number of coaching moments throughout a game,” Haley said after the Chiefs beat the Vikings 22-17 for their first victory of the season. “I don’t know specifically the time we are talking about … I give a lot of motivational speeches throughout the game.”

The time “we” meaning the media was talking about came in the second quarter and it involved his struggling QB Matt Cassel. Here’s the scene: there were just over five minutes to play in the first half, the Chiefs were down 7-3 and faced a 3rd-and-6 situation at the Minnesota 6-yard line. The play called by the coaching staff was a screen pass to the left side of the offense. Last Sunday, that play featured Dexter McCluster and everyone remembers how that ended – a San Diego interception.

This time, the Vikings sniffed out the screen and had FB Le’Ron McClain surrounded. Cassel never looked anywhere else; he just drilled the ball into the ground for an incompletion. That made it fourth down and led to one of Ryan Succop’s five FGs.

When Cassel came to the sidelines, he got an earful from Haley. This is not an isolated moment. If you are going to play for Haley, your hide must be thick and willing to put up with the sharp verbal attacks the head coach delivers. If you are going to play quarterback for Haley, you’d better have a Kevlar hide just to protect your vital organs.

Haley spoke his piece, and then Cassel did the same. Then Haley, then Cassel – we are talking a pair of hard-headed, stubborn competitors each one attempting to get in the last word. Eventually, McClain and Thomas Jones got in between the two and the moment was gone.

It would still be gone had it not been captured by the TV cameras, so everyone could see the “discussion.”

“Matt and I, and a number of others that passionately care about trying to make this team something special, you’re going to have some emotion and feeling,” Haley said. “The critical thing is to get on the same page and get it right. Matt had a great response in how he played and that’s all that matters.”

There’s no question the confrontation did not slow down Cassel. It may even have motivated him. Here are his numbers before and after the clash:




































Cassel said after the game he couldn’t remember what the discussion was about. Of course, as he said this his nose was growing in Pinocchio proportions.

“It was such a long game, I don’t remember the specifics of it,” Cassel said. “I think it was probably just a misunderstanding on both parties. It is a heated game, a heated discussion and you need to move forward. This is what our team did. Those things happen throughout the year and sometimes they (TV) catch it and sometimes they don’t. It’s just part of the game.”

It’s part of the game with 32 NFL teams. With some clubs, it’s not the head coach who brings the verbal jabs during the game; those duties rest with assistant coaches, sometimes even other players. It really comes down to this most basic of basics in the realm of human behavior – if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Any player that finds himself troubled because the head coach fired a verbal volley across his bow is not going to be a tough-minded player.

And those types of players are not ones that Haley and most coaches are interested in having on the team. Especially, at the quarterback position, where so much credit and so much blame falls on the man taking the snaps.

“I seem to respond well when I am pushed and when my back is up against the wall,” Cassel said. “Coach tries to create an environment in practice where he challenges you and he rides you. He wants to make an environment to where when you get to game day on Sunday, it’s easy.

“I understand his purpose. I also like the open dialogue that he is able to have with his players.”

What makes Haley’s way work is that he doesn’t try to muzzle his players. When they have something to say, they say it. If they are going to fire a cannon ball back at the head coach, they had better be sure of their facts and pick the right moment. But that’s something Haley lives for – he does not want mousey guys who get all flustered because the head coach called them out for a mistake, even should it be a perceived mistake. Haley is quick to admit, he’s not perfect.

“I tell all these guys you can say what you feel because I’m going to,” Haley said. “The important thing is that we move forward because I know that’s how I operate. You know how I feel, I put it out there and the key is you’re able to move forward. We got it cleaned up and everybody’s on the same page. I love it.”

But what were they trying to clear up in this particular case?

“I don’t remember what was said,” Cassel replied, his nose growing longer.

At this point, it doesn’t matter. The Chiefs had their “discussion”, they moved on and they won.

“It was fun today,” Haley said.

It’s always fun when you win.

10 Responses to “Column: Passion Lights Chiefs Fire”

  • October 2, 2011  - ED J says:

    I may lost some faith in the QB but never the head coach. You don’t take a team from 2-14 and 4-12 to 10-6 without knowing how to build a culture of winning. Haley is having to overcome few obstacles of not having top QB in the league. A GM who didn’t spend enough money to improve the o-line. So he’s doing whatever it takes to win which means going back to that yeller and screamer that was there last yr and the guy he’d been his whole career. Haley is good head coach. He turned around the careers of Derrick Johnson, Dorsey, and Dwayne Bowe. And seemingly looks like you can add TJax to that list though I hadn’t quite got to point of even calling him a bust just yet seeing its only his 3rd season. Either way I hope we can keep momentum going because I want to keep Haley around as head coach.

    Has he made mistakes yes but all head coaches do. At end of the day though he’s done good job in developing players that were here and incoming players that has been drafted since he’s been here and hopefully he’ll continue here as head coach by getting this team back to playoffs.

  • October 2, 2011  - ED J says:

    Bob you got to give some props to defensive line and offensive line. Albert did good job against Jared Allen and Kelly Greg, Dorsey, Tjax, etc all did hellava job against Vikings o-line. IF both our o-lines and def lines can keep this up we should keep this momentum rolling

  • October 2, 2011  - Tim says:

    I’m glad Haley got on Cassel hard! Cassel deserved it. That “give up” on the play where he had time & space, was exactly what I posted about earlier in the week. Cassel is not an instinctive player. He’s a schooled & methodical one. He will be inconsistent unless there is very good talent around him to give him time AND a playcaller that will dial it up ALL OVER the field. He doesn’t have the arm, instincts or reaction time on a consistent basis to be that big-time type guy. He can be solid if protected & surrounded w/ talent. His ceiling is only as high as those elements. Its about time we started going down field & got Breaston into it. When Baldwin comes back & they get him into the game with Breaston – look out. A couple of other observations: Thomas Jones has vision & “want to” but no burst anymore. Weigman got thrown around like a rag doll a few times. He’s a weak link more often than not especially against big fronts which fill our schedule. Romeo better start bringing the heat more often. If he doesn’t, we’re gonna get toasted.

  • October 2, 2011  - Tim says:

    I agree ED J, the front 7 on D did a helluva job.

  • October 2, 2011  - aPauled says:

    The way Cassel has played this year…Haley, Zorn, players, fans, anyone and everyone…should be on his a$$. All year it’s been lock on to the primary receiver and check down to the RB. Props to how Cassel played in the second half against SD and how he responded after the conversation today.

    Maybe Haley should chew his a$$ right before leaving the locker room and he can play from the start of the game…

    Need to work on the red zone. Kicking the FGs kept the Vkings in the game and will eventually catch up with us.

  • October 2, 2011  - Tenand6 says:

    Another great column, Bob. Amazing how quickly you can turn thoughtful pieces like this around.

    The Chiefs play with pride and passion and that’s great to see. Cassel’s play has bounced between sub par Jr. High to above average NFL. Talk about a “Yo-Yo” performer—- that is Matt Cassel.

  • October 2, 2011  - Victory Finally Visits Chiefs : says:

    [...] COLUMN: Passion fires up coach and quarterback. [...]

  • October 3, 2011  - Niblick says:

    It’s obvious that Cassell didn’t like the play call. I tend to agree. I don’t like quick screens down that close and we have had no success on screens. Charles was great on quick screens but he’s not here. It’s also obvious that Haley and Cassell don’t respect each other. You can not particularly like your coach but you need to respect him. I don’t know how the rest of you feel but that my opinion.

  • October 3, 2011  - jim says:

    My greatest concern is that Cassell said responds well to someone putting his back against the wall. News flash………’re an NFL QB. Figure out how to do that for your self.

    And, I couldn’t care less if Cassell and Haley like each other. Get the damn job done, then decide if you want to be ‘brother-in-laws”.

  • October 3, 2011  - ED J says:

    Agreed Jim. Why does his back has to be against the wall for him to play with some fire. He should play with an edge every Sunday like Brady does just to prove everyone how wrong they were in allowing him to fall in the 7th round of the draft. Its like he’s got his 60 million and he feel like he’s arrived. I mean this NFL you can get cut at moments notice. He shouldn’t need Haley to kick him in his butt to get him to play with more passion and start making plays.

    As for Nibilick I think they respect each other. Haley and Kurt Warner went at it all the time in Arizona and those guys love each other. I will say this maybe Haley just like Jim said needs to do that more often if that’s what it takes to make Cassel play with an edge week in and week out. When you’re not as talented as other NFL QBs which Matt isn’t you have to play with a little something extra each Sunday. Matt needs to realize playing with that edge brings the best out of him. Not the robotic him where he’s just out there going through the motion.

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