I am not generally one for conspiracy theories. I find that usually, the simplest explanation for something is usually the most probable. Yet the deeper we wade into the murky waters of the 2011 Kansas City Chiefs season, the more I find myself wondering if something sinister is happening at One Arrowhead Drive.
The Kansas City Chiefs walked into a bit of a firestorm at the beginning of the 2011 season. Nobody expected the Bills and Lions to be quite as good as they are. Games that appeared entirely winnable when the schedule was released proved to be anything but.
Compounding an already difficult situation was a poor preseason approach by Chiefs coach Todd Haley. Haley favored less hitting and more conditioning early in camp. He also slowly waded his players into the preseason pool by hardly playing his starters in the first two exhibition games. The goal, Haley said, was to get his players ready for their September 11th game against the Buffalo Bills.
Unfortunately for Haley, his plan turned out to be a blunder. The Chiefs’ starters looked awful in the last two preseason games and they carried that poor play into the first two games of the season. Poor tackling and even worse ball control seemed to indicate that what the Chiefs really needed in the preseason was more practice actually hitting one other. It took until the third game of the season for the Chiefs to even look competitive.
As if things weren’t bad enough, the cherry on the top of Haley’s misfortune sundae came in the form of season-ending injuries to Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki.
I’ve been quite hard on Haley for the way he handled the preseason. I believed it was a colossal mistake that could end up causing the coach his job should he not right the ship quickly. After blowout losses to the Bills and Lions, I expected an even worse beating when the Chiefs went to San Diego to face the Chargers.
Only something unexpected happened. The Chiefs showed up to play.
Oh, make no mistake, the team is still dreadful in many areas and will likely have difficulty winning all season long. But the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t given up. I don’t know if they are playing for Haley or playing for themselves. That part is really irrelevant. What matters is that after those first two losses, Haley very well could have lost his team. He hasn’t and if we are going to hit him over the head with a frying pan for the way the team played the first two weeks of the season then we have to pat him on the back for the way they bounced back, albeit still in a loss, to the Chargers.
After the first two games of the year, I figured Haley had to go into the bye week with a record of at least 2-3 in order to keep his job. I figured the team would get blown out by the Chargers and that a loss to either the win-less Vikings or the win-less Colts would be enough of an excuse for Chiefs GM Scott Pioli to dispatch of his head coach midseason. I said I wouldn’t be able to blame Pioli for firing Haley if the season played out that way.
Last Sunday’s effort against the Chargers, however, has me thinking the Chiefs might just be able to get it together enough to sneak away with wins against the Vikes and Colts. If that happens, there is no way Pioli can fire Haley during the off week.
Unfortunately for Haley, I think Pioli might just be hoping that the Chiefs do lose one or both of their next two games.
In fact, I fear he may be trying to make certain they do.
It’s crazy, I know. Why would any GM want his team to lose? If the team loses, so does the GM. He would look just as bad as the head coach if the Chiefs started 0-5 a year after going 10-6, right?
I’m not so sure.
It is no secret that there is tension between Scott Pioli and Todd Haley. We’ve heard from multiple sources, including Adam Schefter and Mike Silver, that there is internal strife between the GM and head coach.
Here is what Silver had to say on the issue:
“The fact that they get along like vegetarians and Gates Barbecue shouldn’t be enough to get Haley fired, but the combination of that and a season from hell could certainly do the trick. Haley’s deal is up after 2012, so the Chiefs have to do something at the end of the year – extend him, or get rid of him – unless they’re fans of the lame-duck thing, which always works sooooo well in the NFL (see: Fox, John, Carolina 2010). At this rate, I’m not loving Haley’s chances of survival. We know Pioli’s not going to take the fall himself, and unless owner Clark Hunt decides he wants to get rid of both of them (don’t hold your breath), Haley likely will be the one to go.”
So even if Pioli plans to fire Haley before he becomes a lame duck, why doesn’t he just wait until after the season is over to do it? Why do it midseason?
While it may not seem like it at first, Pioli dumping Haley midseason actually makes a lot of sense. The longer the season goes on, if the Chiefs continue to struggle, critics are going to start looking past the head coach and at the GM. They will question why, after three years, the team is still so shallow in depth at so many positions. They’ll begin to highlight some of Pioli’s more questionable moves like the entire 2009 draft, led by bust-extraordinaire Tyson Jackson.
There is also the outside chance that Haley gets the team going in the right direction after the bye week. It is a slim chance but if it were to happen, it would be hard for Pioli to justify canning Haley. Should he rally his team to a few wins with no Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki and with Matt Cassel, whom Haley traded for when he arrived in KC, playing QB, Haley will look like a coach who helped his team play respectably despite a season of devastating injuries. His preseason strategy would quickly be forgotten should the Chiefs get it together and win some late-season games against marquee opponents like the NY Jets, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. Sure, it’s a long-shot but a season-ending winning streak once bought Eric Mangini an extra season in Cleveland, and we all know now that Mike Holmgren should have cut ties.
If Pioli really wants Haley gone, he needs to do it at a time when anger about the head coach’s preseason plan and the team’s poor performance is at a boiling point. A 1-4 or 0-5 start would be the perfect time for Pioli to swing the axe. It will give him a built-in excuse for the rest of the season. If the team continues to struggle, he can point to Haley as the reason for the team’s troubles and say “Look, this guy messed up so badly that I had to fire him midseason!”
Pioli also has two perfect interim coaches already on staff. He could easily promote Romeo Crennel or Jim Zorn to stand in for Haley. My guess is that it would be Crennel. Should the team rally under Romeo, it would further strengthen Pioli’s position that the whole thing was Haley’s fault.
It would also be a win for Crennel, who could make a case for being awarded Haley’s job permanently while also auditioning for the rest of the NFL.
With someone else in charge, Pioli could lean on the new coach to bench Cassel and start playing Ricky Stanzi, whom Pioli drafted in 2011. This would go a long way toward helping folks forget that it was Pioli who brought Cassel to KC in the first place. The longer Cassel drags the Chiefs offense through the season, the more fingers critics can point at Pioli. Getting Stanzi in there, however, offers Pioli yet another chance to look like a genius. Should Stanzi play well, the GM looks great and still has Haley as his fall guy. Should he play poorly, it is no real skin off Pioli’s back. He is just a rookie after all and Haley already destroyed the team. The most important thing will be that instead of people talking about how badly Pioli messed up on Cassel, they’ll be talking about whether or not Ricky Stanzi is developing.
For Pioli, it is all about buying time to make up for his mistakes.
For all of this to play out, Haley has to go down and in my opinion there are signs that Pioli is trying to help that situation along.
As I wrote in a column last week, Pioli has been totally silent throughout KC’s turmoil this season. Fans and media members alike are questioning his franchise QB and the job security of his head coach. They are also questioning the stability of his relationship with Haley.
Yet Pioli has said nothing. It is reasonable to believe that if everything was fine, Pioli would rush to his Haley’s aid. He could put out a lot of the fire and help end the distractions by just telling some reporters that he has absolute faith in Todd Haley and Matt Cassel and that Haley is the coach of this team and will remain so for the rest of the season.
On top of not vocally supporting his head coach, Pioli seems utterly uninterested in improving the roster, despite the devastating injuries. How else can we explain why Sabby Piscitelli is still on the roster? When Eric Berry went down, Pioli left Haley with the likes of Jon McGraw and Piscitelli to step up. Both are flat out awful and have played accordingly each week.
When Jamaal Charles went down, I thought for sure the Chiefs would sign a RB. After all, Thomas Jones is averaging less than three yards per-carry and Jackie Battle only belongs on an NFL roster as a special teams player.
Yet Pioli did not so much as put in a waiver claim on Steve Slaton when the Texans released him. Slaton may not be the answer to anyone’s problems but at 25, he’s a damn sure better option than a washed up Thomas Jones. Slaton could have paired with RB Dexter McCluster to give the Chiefs some life in the running game. Instead, every carry to Jones (14 last week) is a blown play. McCluster can’t carry the ball more than a handful of times a game due to his size. Yet Pioli, who couldn’t have possibly made the team’s running game any worse by putting a claim in on Slaton and waiving Battle, didn’t budge. The only thing Pioli seems to be interested in doing is cutting and resigning bad tight ends.
I’m not saying there are pro bowlers out walking the streets that Pioli is just ignoring. I know that no midseason waiver claim or free agent signing is likely to replace the likes of Berry or Charles. But players like Piscitelli and Jones are actually liabilities. One is a drive killer and the other a drive maker. For Pioli to not even try to find replacements or upgrades at these positions stinks to high heaven to me.
Don’t underestimate the things these folks in the NFL will do to save their own skin. The season is already likely over in KC. Pioli knows it. Competitive or not, I’d not be shocked at all if he was hoping for two more losses so he can get rid of Haley.
Conspiracy theory? Maybe. But you can’t deny it’s a possibility.
Based on Pioli’s silence and lack of action, it sure looks like Todd Haley is on his own because Scott Pioli likely has no intention of going down with the ship.