What Might Have Been … Saturday Cup O’Chiefs

One is left to wonder what might have been.

Let’s roll back time to the middle of December 2008. On the 14th of that month, the Chiefs were beaten 22-21 by the Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium. Less than 24 hours later, Clark Hunt walked into Carl Peterson’s office and told him that his retirement as president/general manager – one that was scheduled for a year down the road – wasn’t going to be soon enough.

Hunt had decided he was going to remake the entire Chiefs operation and he was going to start at the top. He did not want to wait three more weeks until the regular season was over or another year to make the all-important first move. Hunt was going to get a head start on finding a new leader for his family’s franchise.

But Hunt’s search for a new G.M. did not fly out of the blocks. In fact, it would take a month for a decision to be made and finally a deal worked out with Scott Pioli so he could come over from the Patriots where he was the vice president of player personnel.

It was on January 13, 2009 that Pioli was announced as the new G.M. and a new era of Chiefs football began.

Just the day before, there had been another major announcement involving a team in the AFC West. On January 12, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen introduced Josh McDaniels as Denver’s new head coach, replacing Mike Shanahan. McDaniels was also coming out of the New England organization where he had been part of Bill Belichick’s coaching staff for seven years, finishing up as the Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

And one is left to wonder … what if Hunt had pulled the trigger earlier on hiring Pioli? What if there was an agreement with Pioli so he could begin the process of finding a head coach once the 2008 regular season had ended?

What if that choice would have turned out to be a young man named Josh McDaniels?

Pioli has never said publicly that he was interested in hiring McDaniels. However, it’s hard to believe he would not have some interest given their time working together with the Patriots. But there was never that chance because he got the job after McDaniels was already signed, sealed and announced in Denver.

It would be February 6th before Pioli would announce that Todd Haley was the Chiefs head coach.

On Sunday, the paths of these two young head coaches will cross again, as the Chiefs host the Broncos in the re-match of their meeting three weeks earlier, where Denver won 49-29.

In was after that game and for reasons still unexplained, Haley did not take shake hands with McDaniels. The Chiefs head coach wagged a finger in his foe’s face, said a few choice words and then walked away.

A day later, Haley issued a non-apology apology for his behavior, adding that he didn’t plan to call McDaniels personally to apologize. Almost three weeks later we learned that Haley did not call. Nor did McDaniels expect or want that call.

“I have the utmost respect for those coaches on that staff,” McDaniels said this week.

Haley spent little time addressing the situation.

“I am going to stay out of that,” Haley said. “(This) is strictly about us getting ready to play our biggest game of the year. We need to play our best game of the year. That is what the focus is on.”

After taking a series of questions on the no shake, McDaniels said this week: “I think its being overblown here today, myself. (It’s) two guys that are going to coach hard and shake hands at the end of the game, and I think their team is playing well and we’re going to go there and try to put together our best football game.”

After 27 games as NFL head coaches, Haley and McDaniels share the same record: 11-16. How they got to that record was very different. Denver opened the 2009 season with a 6-0 record and McDaniels was the toast of the NFL. In that opening streak, the Broncos beat four teams that ended up in the playoffs last year – Cincinnati, Dallas, New England and San Diego.

Since then, the Broncos are 5-16 and are currently 3-8 for the 2010 season.

Haley started 1-5 in his first games as head coach of the Chiefs. But since that point, his team has put together a 10-11 record. They have been on top of the AFC West standings all season, now sporting a 7-4 record and a one-game lead over San Diego and a four-game leading over Denver.

Despite the differences that led to the now famous Invesco finger wag, McDaniels and Haley share a lot in common. Both were the offensive coordinators for the losing team in two of the most competitive Super Bowls in history – McDaniels with the Patriots in the game after the 2007 season and Haley with Arizona the next year.

They are the products of football rich regions of the country that sit next to each other – eastern Ohio (McDaniels) and western Pennsylvania (Haley). They both had fathers heavily involved in the game. McDaniels father Thom was one of the best high school football coaches in Ohio, where he was head coach at celebrated schoolboy programs like Canton-McKinley High School, Warren Harding High School and Massillon’s Jackson High School. Haley’s father Dick played pro football and was one of the architects of the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s as the club’s player personnel director.

Neither one played pro football, or even came close. McDaniels did play small college football at John Carroll University near Cleveland. Both started in the NFL working in the personnel department.

In fact, that shared experience in scouting is where these two diverge and why Haley’s arrow is pointing up and why McDaniels’ tenure has soured in Denver.

With the Chiefs, Haley is heavily involved in the personnel end of the organization in concert with Pioli and a college scouting staff led by director of college scouting Phil Emery. That operation has not been perfect by any means when it comes to player decisions, but they’ve been right more often than they’ve been wrong. The team’s personnel operation seems to have a plan and works that plan with all parties involved. Pioli, Haley and Emery have a combined 34 seasons in personnel experience in the NFL.

With the Broncos, McDaniels is the final word on personnel. Among those working closely with him on acquiring players are G.M. Brian Xanders and Matt Russell, the team’s director of college scouting. All three of the Denver decision makers are less than 40 years old and have a combined NFL personnel department background of 16 years.

The personnel situation in Denver has been a struggle over the last two years. McDaniels hasn’t helped himself by chasing away QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall, and then using a pair of first-round choices in the 2010 NFL Draft to fill their spots. A once well-oiled machine like the team’s offensive line has fallen on hard times. The running game that the Broncos always counted on under Mike Shanahan goes into Sunday’s game ranked No. 30 in the league.

There was the disastrous trade of RB Peyton Hillis for QB Brady Quinn. During the 2009 NFL Draft, he traded away a 2010 first-round pick to jump back into the early second round to take CB Alphonso Smith. Then a year later, he traded Smith to Detroit for little in return.

Combine the 5-16 record, with the revelations and NFL fines recently because a Broncos employee who answered to McDaniels illegal videotaped an opponent’s practice, it forced Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to issue the dreaded vote of confidence in his young coach.

“I have a normal routine with Mr. Bowlen,” McDaniels said this week. “We see each other every day. He’s here every day, talk about practice, talk about the opponent, usually out at practice. I’m just going to continue doing my job, and our relationship hasn’t changed.”

What happens this Sunday at Arrowhead has the potential to change many things for both Haley and McDaniels. For the Chiefs, a chance at the division championship requires a victory. Whether anyone thought they would be this close to that possibility or not doesn’t matter; they are and it’s there for the taking. They just have to win. For McDaniels, he needs victories, no matter what Bowlen may have to say right now about his future.

It’s really no longer a case of what might have been. Twenty-seven games later, it’s a matter of what it is.

RICHARDSON FINED BY LEAGUE

Barry Richardson felt the heavy hand of the NFL in his wallet this week. The Chiefs offensive tackle was hit with a $7,500 fine for a play that went down in the game last Sunday in Seattle.

Officials flagged the Chiefs for the little heard penalty these days of clipping. The culprit was Richardson, who hit Seattle LB Aaron Curry across the back of the legs on a play. The play came when Richardson was playing left tackle in place of the injured Branden Albert.

He’ll move back to right tackle for this weekend’s game against Denver.

PRACTICE SQUAD CHANGE FOR CHIEFS

Rookie LB Justin Cole was gone from the Chiefs locker room for only two days. Released when the Chiefs signed CB Mike Richardson because of injury problems in the secondary, Cole was added to the practice squad on Friday.

To make room for Cole, the Chiefs released LB Eric Bakhtiari, who was signed on November 18 to the practice squad after S Ricky Price was moved up to the active roster.

This season through 13 weeks of the regular season, the Chiefs have had only 12 players on the eight-man practice squad. Last season, they had 18.

There are six players on the practice squad this week that have been there for all 13 weeks of the 2010 season: DL Dion Gales, OT Bobby Greenwood, G Darryl Harris, QB Tyler Palko, LB Pierre Walters and WR Quinten Lawrence.

NFL PERSONNEL FILE FOR FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3

  • NFL – fined Texans S Bernard Pollard $40,000 for unnecessary roughness last Sunday in a game against the Titans; fined Cardinals OT Jeremy Bridges $20,000 for unnecessary roughness; fined Cardinals LB Clark Haggans $10,000 for unnecessary roughness; fined Ravens OT Michael Oher $5,000 for violating the league’s policy on social media – Oher used his Twitter account during a game to update his injury status.
  • CHIEFS – signed LB Justin Cole to the practice squad; released LB Eric Bakhtiari from the practice squad.
  • COWBOYS – placed DE Sean Lissemore on the injured-reserve list (ankle) ending his season; signed RB Lonyae Miller off their practice squad.
  • JETS – lost S Jim Leonhard for the rest of the season with a broken leg that occurred during practice on Friday.
  • PATRIOTS – signed DE Eric Moore, last in the UFL; released OLB Pierre Woods.

6 Responses to “What Might Have Been … Saturday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • December 4, 2010  - Milkman says:

    Maybe it was a simple thing that led to Denver’s problems. I think McDaniels is just too young to handle the responsibilities Bowlen gave him. I could see where it would be hard to gain respect from the veteran players. He and Haley did not play in the NFL. If you recall, it took a while for the veteran Chiefs to follow Todd Haley. But Haley had the sense to learn from his mistakes of last year and make the proper adjustments. That comes with maturity.


  • December 4, 2010  - MarkInTexas says:

    Bowlen has allowed McDaniels to effectively be the GM, head coach and offensive coordinator (apologies to tokens Brian Xanders and Mike McCoy). Each of those jobs demands a different skill set. Few experienced NFL men could handle that load, let alone a rookie 34 year old.

    The Hunts, in stark contrast, have created an organization with “specialists” handling the GM, head coach and coordinator positions. There is a management team approach, but with clear accountability in each area.

    Personally, I hope McDaniels stays and runs the Broncos a little deeper into the ground.


  • December 4, 2010  - Tracy says:

    Michael Oher is twittering during a game? Why is he allowed anywhere near a cell phone during a game? But more important, what would Sandra Bullock say?

    As to Josh McDaniels, it may well be that Scott Pioli felt McDaniels needed more experience before assuming HC responsibilities and thus felt some relief when Denver hired him; or maybe Pat Bowlen looked at KC’s interest in Pioli and was for some reason convinced that Pioli would hire McDaniels if given the chance so he jumped the gun and hired McDaniels before Pioli got the KC job. We’ll never know but the speculation is fun, particularly since the Broncos are having such a bad year.


  • December 4, 2010  - TDKC says:

    Haley hasn’t been perfect but I like him more every day. He has a plan and it is working. Of course the winning record helps.


  • December 4, 2010  - Don says:

    I’m glad we got who we have. Sure time will tell but for now I think the team of Hunt,Pioli,Haley so far. Like a fine wine it’s gonna get better with age!


  • December 5, 2010  - Edward says:

    Mcdaniels came in very arrogant dividing locker room between himself and Shannhan guys. Hillis, Cutler,Marshall, and Sheffler among few players he came in got rid. Those were core guys who were key to Broncos success. Now they are gone not to mention he ran off def coordinator Mike Nolan who help that defense oveachieved early on last year. Haley on the other hand embraced a lot of old regime players. He didn’t look to get rid of Bowe only to change him and other guys to change their work habits. Mcdaniels had pro bowl Qb but still tried get Cassel. Haley struggled early on because of lack talent and lack of full coaching staff.Now thanks to better draft clAss and full coaching year later we have improved as a team and Broncos are in the cellar of Afc west. They will stay their as long as mcdaniels is their head coach.




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