Tough Enough? … Wednesday Cup O’Chiefs

Tough is one of the most misunderstood words in the language of football.

Maybe that’s because there are several different types of tough in the conversations about players and teams. Too often it indicates the physical side of the word, as in “he’s playing without a left lung; he’s one tough guy” or “they ran the ball down the other team’s throats and couldn’t be stopped because they are a tough offense.”

There’s another side to the word and that has less to do with the physical, and more to do with the mental and emotional side of the game. That’s used in statements like “they didn’t collapse after that turnover and went on to win the game; that’s a mentally tough team.” Or, “with everything that’s going on in his life, that guy is mentally tough to be able to come out and perform at such a high level.”

Mental toughness comes in understanding the game and knowing the situation a team faces on the field with each snap. It’s about comprehending the effort needed for preparation and achievement. Mental toughness comes from that cliché of one-play at a time, the mentality of not allowing the most recent play to effect the next one.  

As they’ve played week-after-week, the Chiefs have molded a personality for themselves that contains all the elements of the physical side of toughness. They are the No. 1 running team in the NFL and they are a top 10 team against the run. To achieve that level of performance, they must control the line of scrimmage and that’s something they’ve been able to do almost every time the ball has been kicked off.

The offensive line and the defensive front seven are the epitome of physical toughness.

Along the way, the Chiefs have also been working on their mental toughness. Sometimes molding that type of attitude is one of the hardest things a coach staff faces when creating a successful team. There are dozens of different personalities in the locker room and no matter that they’ve all reached the highest level of the game, they don’t all share the same outlook about the game.

This past Sunday was the first indication that the Chiefs have reached a stage of mental toughness that gives them a chance to be a contender. They went to Seattle and won, despite multiple hurdles they were forced to jump over. Some of those they created themselves (blocked kicks, fumble), others came from the Seahawks and the full house at Qwest Field.

“I think we are getting better in that area and that is one of the key things to me,” said Todd Haley. “Our team overall, the mental toughness is building and you can see it.”

Haley is a big believer on the influence that mental toughness has on a football team and individual players and what they are able to accomplish. In fact, he says sometimes it’s more important than ability.

“Coach (Bill) Parcells used to make us list the critical factors each year for our position and I would put mental toughness at the top,” Haley said. “He would say, ‘Mental toughness? How are his hands?’ I believe that if you are mentally tough a lot of the other stuff takes care of itself.

“You will catch the ball over the middle if you are mentally tough because you are not going to be afraid. You are not going to be paying attention to who is coming at you. You will block somebody that is maybe bigger or stronger than you. When we ask you to come down in motion you will crack (block).

“I am a big believer that you can bring that out of people and that it is in everybody. Sometimes it takes dire situations to get it out of human beings but I think you build it just the way you coach them, by constantly pushing them.”

Haley and GM Scott Pioli have made a big issue from the start of their tenure about the personality types they are looking for to fill their roster. There’s a reason for that – many players cannot handle the way Haley coaches. He does push them. He prods them. There are times when he leaves them exasperated with his demands and commentary.

“That is hard to do, it is hard to do for coaches,” Haley said. “The easy thing to do would be to let up and pat them on the back and say, ‘hey, we are doing good.’ I don’t believe in that. I believe that you have to keep pushing and prying if you want greatness. Training camp is part of that mental toughness development, just understanding that this is what it is going to be so we might as well learn to like it.”

Tough off-season sessions, tough training camps, and tough practices – yes those are all about physical activity. The mental toughness comes in during the last week of November, when the head coach sends the team out for practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday wearing pads. The number of teams that still practice in pads at this time of the year can be counted on one hand, with a few fingers left over.

“We have been in pads for six straight practices and there hasn’t been a lot of whining and complaining about it, they get it,” Haley said. “The guys are just getting it and that is really good. I could tell them if you have to ask what “it” is, then you are probably not getting it. They are getting it and I think you are seeing signs all over with the way that we are practicing and preparing.”


  • NFL – fined Steelers LB James Harrison $25,000 for his hit on Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday.
  • BENGALS – signed K Clint Stitser; released K Aaron Pettrey.
  • BROWNS – signed WR Jordan Norwood off their practice squad; released RB Clifton Smith.
  • BUCCANEERS – released S Sabby Piscitelli; signed S Larry Asante off the Browns practice squad; signed G Brandon Carter, S Vince Anderson and WR Dezmon Briscoe from their practice squad.
  • COLTS placed LB Cody Glenn on the injured-reserve list (neck) ending his season; released WR Brandon James; re-signed WR Taj Smith.
  • DOLPHINS – activated DE Philip Merling from the reserve/Non-Football Injury list; released QB Patrick Ramsey.
  • 49ERS – placed RB Frank Gore (hip) and WR Dominique Zeigler (knee) on the injured-reserve list ending their seasons; released K Shane Andrus; promoted RB DeShawn Wynn and S Chris Maragos from their practice squad.
  • PACKERS – placed LB Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and TE Spencer Havner (hamstring) on injured reserve ending their seasons; signed CB Tramon Williams to a four-year contract extension worth $41.25 million, including $6 million in a signing bonus.
  • RAIDERS – have lost QB Bruce Gradkowski for the rest of the season with a separated shoulder.
  • RAVENS – signed FB Jason McKie; released S Ken Hamlin.
  • TEXANS – activated TE Anthony Hill from the reserve/PUP list; released DT Malcom Sheppard.

3 Responses to “Tough Enough? … Wednesday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • December 1, 2010  - Edward says:

    People criticize Haley last yr for his harsh offseason training. People talked about how we’re not a cross country team and all that. Now we’re seeing that endurance is paying off. I can remember in 07 and 08 how late in games this team looked tired and blew alot of leads. How we use to get gauge by the opposing team run game. Now look at us. We’re playing our best football in the second half. Haley’s doing a great job with how he’s not only coaching the team but also developing it.

  • December 1, 2010  - Justin says:

    Well said Edward. Conditioning was a huge factor in giving up leads late and mental toughness was lacking for sure.

    The more I read about Haley, the more I really am glad we have him as our HC. There is a great article in the USA Today about Cassel and Haley and their development.

  • December 1, 2010  - Justin says:

    OOPs, also meant to ask Bob his take on the USA Today article.

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