Chiefs coach Todd Haley (left), then the offensive coordinator for the Cardinals, congratulates receiver
Larry Fitzgerald after Fitzgerald's 64-yard catch-and-run in Super Bowl XLIII.
Todd Haley’s lasting impression on the Arizona Cardinals could be his constant yelling on the practice field, or the infamous verbal battle he had with Anquan Boldin at the end of the NFC Championship game, or the close relationship he formed with quarterback Kurt Warner.
But long-term, it’s probably the phrase “One-trick pony.”
That’s what he called wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had already made a Pro Bowl (and then a second in coach Ken Whisenhunt/Haley’s second season). Fitzgerald’s game was about catching and falling, in Haley’s opinion. Haley wanted him to break tackles, to get yards after the catch, to become a downfield threat he hadn’t yet become.
Fitzgerald could have told him to go to h-e-double-hockey-sticks. Instead, “I took it to heart.”
“I think Todd is a great coach,” Fitzgerald said Wednesday, a few days before the Cardinals and Haley’s Chiefs – for whom Haley is now the head coach – play in Kansas City. “He’s fun to play for. Everybody says he’s a hard ass and this, that and the third, but at the end of the day when Todd came in the locker room he’d give you the biggest hug.
“He wanted it so bad for us. He prepared so much and he pushed us. I remember after the NFC Championship game he was in tears. Those moments are what I’ll remember.”
Haley’s persona seems to have finally settled in as a fit as a head coach. Haley was hired by the Chiefs following the Cardinals’ stunning Super Bowl run after the 2008 season. Haley then spent the 2009 season mucking through a 4-12 season.
The Chiefs continued to upgrade, however, and began this season 5-2 before a recent two-game losing streak heading into the game with the Cards.
“To have success in one of these situations, you have to have a plan and you have to stick to it and you have to be able to withstand a lot of scrutiny and criticism,” Haley said. “You’re trying to get 60 grown men to change their ways and change is difficult.
“That’s the hardest part, trying to make guys, a group of men, believe that what you’re telling them is the right way and even though it’s going to be uncomfortable, it’s going to be hard, and there’s going to be sacrifice, and when you’re not winning games to stay with that plan and to keep letting them know that it’s going to turn out the right way.”
It’s sounds a lot like what Haley went through in Arizona, when Whisenhunt was brought in as head coach and hired his old friend as offensive coordinator.
Whisenhunt and Haley knew each other from back in 2000, when both served at the bottom of Bill Parcells’ staff with the New York Jets. At the time, they shared a tiny office, battled on the basketball court, and while they didn’t talk about each becoming head coaches, Haley said they did talk about one helping the other down the road if needed.
So Whisenhunt brought Haley aboard in 2007, for what was two years of the best Cardinal football in a long time. The two butted heads at times, but Whisenhunt said that was expected.
“He has a definite opinion on how he thinks things should be done,” Whisenhunt said. “He was always great to work with. It’s just like having a brother or sister you fight with. A lot of good things come out of that. When you have someone like that and you spend that much time with them, it makes you both better.”
Both Whisenhunt and Haley insisted this game doesn’t mean any more to them than others, although it’s hard to believe it doesn’t given their history and competitiveness.
Haley certainly hasn’t changed. Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel acknowledged it was hard at first to get used to Haley’s abrasive personality, until players finally understood it was Haley’s way to push them to get better.
That’s what he did in Arizona.
“Some guys hated him, some guys liked him, but you knew what you were going to get,” running back
“On the field, he was going to be disciplined, he was going to yell, there was always going to be a sense of urgency. You can hate it all you wanted to, but I think most guys respected it. There had to be a certain level of respect for a guy who is always the same person, in good times and bad times.”
That’s why Haley came up to a Pro Bowl receiver with the Cardinals and, basically, insulted him. In a good way.
“I will never be referred to as a players’ coach I don’t think,” Haley said. “I come in and make it pretty clear it’s not about you liking me. It’s about that in the end, I’m trying to get the most out of you.”
It worked while Haley was in Arizona – the Cards got to a Super Bowl with him in the mix. It’s also provided lessons that stick with Fitzgerald to this day.
“We miss him a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “He was a great coach, but moreso, he was a friend. When you lose people like that, it’s definitely different. I am happy he got a head coaching job but we have to put all that aside this weekend.”