Improving The Improved … Saturday Cup O’Chiefs

From Tampa, Florida

Let me take you back over 30 years to a quiet Monday morning in October. Walking into the little kitchen area that the Pittsburgh Steelers had as part of their offices in Three Rivers Stadium, I ran into Chuck Noll.

He was sitting at a small table with a cup of coffee and he looked worn out, tired and sleep deprived. The Steelers had won the day before, beating I can’t remember who in I can’t remember what season, either 1978 or 1979.

Noll was never much for chitchat, especially with wet behind the ears sportswriters who barely knew if the ball was blown up or stuffed. He offered up a faint smile and a quiet morning greeting. I made mention of the fact that it was quite early and he looked very tired.

Noll grimaced at the suggestion. Over his shoulder as he was walking out the door he said: “Young man just remember it’s harder to stay on top that it is to get to the top.”

Fast forward to Saturday and pre-season game No. 2 for the Chiefs. They are here in Tampa to take on the Buccaneers in a game that starts at 6:30 p.m. CDT.

I think about Chuck Noll’s words every time I think of Jamaal Charles, or hear head coach Todd Haley talk about Charles, or hear somebody in the media horde ask yet another question about Charles and why after his great season in 2009, he’s not the team’s starting halfback in 2010 training camp? I will think about those words tonight when Thomas Jones will get the RB start with the Chiefs offense, and then Charles will come in for his chance to work with the No.1 group.

Last year, Charles worked awfully hard to put himself in position to have the type of half-season that he did. He had 1,120 rushing yards last season as a spot starter and averaged 5.9 yards a carry. It was one of the most dynamic performances in the league and even in the history of the Chiefs franchise.

But understand this: the NFL is not a what have you done for me lately league. It’s actually a league based on what are you going to do for me next. What Charles accomplished last year was very impressive. But there’s a message that Haley and the coaching staff have been sending their man since the first day of camp.

“All of us are chasing a carrot for a lot of our lives and I think that the people that separate themselves are the ones that when they get one carrot then they want another carrot,” said Haley. “They want the next carrot up. In this business you see a lot of players that have come from all different walks of life that have found a way to get here and then when you’re around some that once they get here then that’s not enough and you combine a great deal of skill with one of those players, then you start talking about great players.”

Charles has all the physical and athletic skills to be a great NFL player. The questions the Chiefs had was whether he had the work ethic and the understanding that what he did last year was not going to be enough for 2010. They were not sure if he understood that awesome challenge ahead of him. Complicating that was the surgery he had on his shoulder that limited the work he was able to do in the off-season.

That’s why bringing in Thomas Jones and installing him as the starter was a near perfect beacon to light the way for Charles. Jones never stops working. Teammates think he’s discovered some way to lift weights while he’s actually sleeping. Five straight 1,000-yard seasons and he goes about his preparation for the season like he was a rookie struggling to make the squad.

To ascend to the next level, Charles has to develop some Thomas Jones attitudes.

“I think Jamaal is a developing player,” said Haley. “Jamaal is a player that last year at times in that development had good days, bad days and in-between days like a lot of other guys. That is part of the development and that’s part of becoming a dependable player on a daily basis and that’s really what we’re trying to get done – be a dependable teammate and a dependable player. It’s not complicated, it’s pretty simple and it goes back to what I’ve said in here a few times, being the same guy every day.”

Early in the 2009 season, Charles was a healthy game-day inactive scratch. It came in a game against the Raiders, one the Chiefs lost at Arrowhead. This came at a time when he was not being the same guy every day. He was acting like he always had during his schoolboy days at Port Arthur High School in Texas, or as a member of the Longhorns for three years in Austin at the University of Texas.

You can almost script the conversations in his head when he started hearing from Haley and his running backs coach Maurice Carthon about his attention to detail, his focus and his work ethic. Why do I need to change? My way was good enough to get me here? These guys are a pain in the ass. Put me on the field and I’ll show you what I can do.

It was that attitude that earned him the inactive status against the Raiders. That decision lit the light bulb in Charles’ head. If he wanted to play, he needed to change. Slowly he started winning the trust of first Carthon and then Haley. When Larry Johnson self-destructed, Charles was in a sufficiently right mind to step in and do things the Haley Way. And, he exploded on the field.

Reaffirmation of the necessity of the right attitude came when Haley and the coaches put Jones in the starting lineup, with Charles at No. 2. They were not just picking numbers out of a hat. They were sending a message.
“I think if you ask most players, if you give them the choice they’d like to start,” said Haley. “Unfortunately, on each side of the ball there are 11 guys that get to start so there’s going to be some unhappy players from that standpoint. At the same time, if everybody can understand their role and that role is changing.”

Charles very definitely wants to start, but wanting the job takes more than the desire. It takes wanting to work, a willingness to follow decisions that are right for the team, but may not highlight his plans, goals or objectives.

My goal is to have a high per-carry average,” Charles said. “I want to average six, seven yards a carry. I was proud of last year’s average. I just want to go out and make explosive plays. I love doing that and helping this team with the big play. Hopefully we can do that a lot this year.”

He got off to a strong start at Atlanta last week in the pre-season opener; he had 37 yards on four carries in limited playing time.

“It was important for Jamaal, coming off the difficult off-season, to get back in the mix,” said Haley. “Clearly to me, I think he’s got some areas he’s got to work on. That became clearer watching the tape and I think for Jamaal to continue taking those steps to try to be one of the top backs, which he showed he at the end of last year that he’s got the skill set to do that. He’s got a lot of work to do.”

Saturday night, that work continues against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


  • BILLS – NFL suspended TE Shawn Nelson for four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
  • 49ERS – released injured OLB Martail Burnett with an injury settlement (knee).
  • GIANTS – signed OL Shawn Andrews, last with Eagles; released OT Cliff Louis.
  • rve list (concussion) ending his season; signed LB Alvin Bowen.
  • LIONS – released injured OL Roy Schuening (arm); signed OL Noah Franklin.
  • TEXANS – re-signed LB Will Patterson; placed LB Darnell Bing on the injured-reserve list (neck), ending his season.

11 Responses to “Improving The Improved … Saturday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • August 21, 2010  - Tenand6 says:

    I’m really glad you wrote this piece. I was listening to a particularly shallow discussion on this topic on a local radio station this week. All they could come up with is “Haley has a personality conflict with Charles.” As if the O coordinator and RB coach didn’t exist. Beyond that, Haley last year talked about knowing the difference between good and great. IMHO, Haley sees greatness in Charles and is going to do everything he can to help the young man. Haley is Charles’ best friend.

    Anyway, this piece was timely, smart and insightful. Love the Noll story.

  • August 21, 2010  - Jimbo says:

    I agree.
    Bob, This was one of your best posts. Another example of why you are in a league of your own when it comes to the Chiefs & your incredible life experiences.

    Thnaks for clarifying the Charles situation. I feel nothing for those fools refusing to pay for your worthy premium services.
    Go Chiefs.

  • August 21, 2010  - david says:

    Good article. Some of it mihgt be true I dont know but i do believe Haley needs to quit playing the head games and be open and honest with the players. I also believe Haley was not smart enough to let charles play and then his hand was forced because of Johnson and he had to play him. The reason he wasnt playing was because he was not the right 53 (aka we didnt draft him or sign him from arizona or NE)so he his no good.

  • August 21, 2010  - Aloha Ray says:

    The first four paragraphs of this are going to be the highlight of my day. Great stuff, Mr. Gretz!

  • August 21, 2010  - Todd says:

    Great article, Bob. Thank you for being my lifeline to the Chiefs all year. Living in Seahawk land, it’s rare for me to be able to see a game on tv. I hope they return to their winning ways so that more games go national.

  • August 21, 2010  - johnfromfairfax says:

    Great stuff Bob. This is why we tune in. Your article explains exactly what the Chiefs are doing with Charles and what Jones brings to the table. Jones is a quality back himself and his impact on Charles can’t be minimized. his preparation is legendary and can only serve as a great example to Charles and anybody else that has the capacity to understand. Dwayne, are you listening? If Charles is to be a great player like Priest Holmes he will need to keep pushing himself continuously to reach his best. If he does the results should be evident. The additional value of Jones should be apparent as well. you can never have enough talented running backs.

  • August 21, 2010  - Josh says:

    Very well written, Bob. Charles will ascend, after Jones’ age gets to him. If he gets the start against Denver, no one will ever look back.

  • August 21, 2010  - Brian says:

    David, your comment is ridiculous. A player being drafted by Pioli and Haley has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are a part of the “Right 53″. If that were the case then Albert wouldn’t be starting. Neither would Flowers. Nor would Carr, Dorsey, Waters, and Hali. And Charles not starting has nothing to do with how “smart” Haley is. This is just another petty talking point drummed up by Haley detractors that is a complete myth and is very revisionist. First off no one and I mean NO ONE could have EVER known that Charles was going to be that good. No one. Secondly, at that point Charles was known around the league as a fumble prone 3rd down, change-of-pace running back…..not a serious feature running back option. That is how the entire league viewed him….that means other coaches as well. Charles had problems early on with fumbles. At that point, Charles wasn’t ready to be “the man”. His emergence was really about at the time that Charles began to put it all together at the pro level. At any rate, Haley is doing the right thing with Charles. You just seem to be one of those fans that has some kind of grudge against Haley for whatever.

  • August 22, 2010  - rufus says:

    from what I’ve read about Noll, you’re a fortunate man to even get a response, Bob – thx 4 sharing.

    to me, if there’s anyone I’ve seen play at this level with some glimpse of playing bigger than his size with a knack for sharpening all skills in the position since Sweetness – Walter Payton played, it’s Jamaal Charles.

    I believe Haley did Jamaal right last season. for example, JC could have those yards – but with more fumbles and a lot less swagger coming into this season.

    I also think Haley’s comment about Kestahn Moore compared to Sweetness was actually meant to motivate Charles, and Haley secretly does draw parallels to Payton.. but not with Moore, with Jamaal.

  • August 22, 2010  - dan in joplin says:

    Great article Bob! This sums up the pioli/haley way perfectly!

  • August 22, 2010  - Edward says:

    Good article Bob. His tactics are no different then how he treats other guys who have potential to be really good to great players. Guys like Dwayne Bowe or Derrick Johnson he’s just trying to bring the best out of these guys.

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