View Full Version : KansasCity.com: First draft will test the bonds of Chiefs’ Pioli-Haley marriage

04-22-2009, 06:27 AM
First draft will test the bonds of Chiefs’ Pioli-Haley marriage


The Kansas City Star

They keep calling it a marriage, and the courtship began more than a dozen years ago. It began in hallways brought alive by debate, on barstools held down by challenging but respectful disagreement.
Scott Pioli had his way, and so did Todd Haley. Years back, they found out that they had some things in common. Some aligned beliefs. A pair of meshed philosophies. They went their separate ways, of course, and they were apart in the NFL for a long time. But it’s not hard to believe they’d reunite, Pioli as the Chiefs’ general manager and Haley as Kansas City’s coach.
“You’ve got to understand it’s been a long time,” Haley said last week. “Now, here we are.”
With so much history, the years and discussions behind them, it’s also not hard to believe that, even three months after their paths converged again, they’re already at a point that one completes the other’s sentences.
“The last time we were (together) in a draft,” Haley began last week, “we were …”
“… getting people pizza,” Pioli finished.
They were grunts back then, low men on the New York Jets’ totem pole. They’d come to learn under Bill Parcells, a man who could play both sides and teach his understudies his brand of football expertise: how to find outstanding players and how to coach them, the two great mysteries of the NFL.
Pioli’s lessons, and a later association with Bill Belichick, gave him fame and credibility. And opportunity, with Pioli twisting Belichick’s ear on draft picks and free agents. They won three Super Bowls together.
There’s no question, then, that this weekend’s draft belongs to Pioli. Saturday and Sunday are, in a simplified way, why Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt brought the man to Kansas City and handed over the keys to an ailing franchise.
But it is Haley who stands to gain or lose the most with Pioli’s decisions, the marriage tested for the first significant time when Haley looks back on his first draft weeks and months later, realizing this is the group he has to coach, fit into a style he’s comfortable with, and therefore will determine his own success, credibility and future as an NFL coach.
“The leader is the head coach,” Pioli said last week, “the one who’s motivating the players, coaching the players and teaching the players. Understanding what Todd is and who he is, that’s part of the initial process.”
It’s not an easy thing, marriage. It begins with trust, and that’s not always a given in the NFL. San Diego demolished the brains of a Super Bowl-caliber team three years ago because general manager A.J. Smith and then-coach Marty Schottenheimer couldn’t get along. Even former Chiefs GM Carl Peterson squabbled about draft picks with former coach Dick Vermeil, who famously wanted to draft a defensive player in 2003 when Peterson insisted — and got his way, of course — that Kansas City select running back Larry Johnson.
As the Chiefs approach the draft, observers say Pioli and Haley should continue a round of assertive conversations that began when Pioli recruited Haley from the Arizona Cardinals staff.
“They’ve already gotten on that same page,” NFL draft expert Mel Kiper said. “Todd trusts Scott, and if you have that mutual respect, which obviously they do, then you’re off to the races.”
The men haven’t revealed much about what they discuss behind closed doors. They joked last week that, like the old hallways at the Meadowlands, they’ve grown familiar these days with the film room at Chiefs headquarters.
That’s where they observe, judge and discuss players — and, yes, Pioli and Haley have had their disagreements. Pioli has said that his relationship with Belichick was based sometimes on disagreement. If Pioli said something that conflicted with what Belichick believed, then that was a signal that they needed to study a player or situation more closely before a decision was finalized.
Pioli said he wants the same to be true in Kansas City.
“I want us to have a difference of opinion on players,” he said. “This isn’t about Todd being right, about me being right. This is about us being right.”
Like many first-time head coaches, Haley needs to be right quickly. He is the face of a massive organizational overhaul, and the coach already has ushered in talk of a new defensive system, more intense and disciplined practices, and he at least has had influence on the team’s decision to bring in several aging veterans — a contrast to last year’s strategy of playing almost exclusively youngsters.
Judgment will begin on Haley with his first games: whether he can cut it as a head coach, whether his style is a winner, whether he and Pioli really were on the same page during draft time.
The NFL has no patience for hindsight, and coaches are given up on more frequently than GMs. In an especially chaotic last seven months, 11 of the NFL’s 32 teams have changed coaches, compared with the five non-coach GMs or top personnel executives who were replaced.
“He understands that,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “That’s the good and the bad side of it.
“Everybody has questions. They want an answer from you.”
Now more than ever, a coach has to get it right, and for Haley that means influencing Pioli to choose players who fit the coach’s vision.
“Todd has to let him know what he wants and what he needs,” Kiper said.
Haley, for his part, has seen how the draft works even if he’s never experienced it to the level he’ll dive in this weekend. His father, Dick Haley, was the legendary personnel executive for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Todd Haley became a man by watching game film and noticing what the draft — even the good ones — can do to a man.
Haley said his dad “wandered aimlessly around the house the night before the draft.”
“I grew up in this,” the coach said.
Haley said he’s uncertain how he’ll react, whether his mind will wander or he’ll rise early. He knows it’s an important weekend, and he knows that the future of the relationship that he and Pioli cultivated a dozen years ago will hinge on what happens this weekend — and how those decisions, and the conversations that shaped them, affect what comes next.
“So much of what Scott is talking about I have memories of,” Haley said, “and I think that’s helped so much for our marriage, so to speak. I’ve been around his side of it for most of my life and know how it all works.”

http://media.kansascity.com/smedia/2009/04/21/22/16-CHIEFS_SP_041809_DRE_140a_04-22-2009_2M193IKL.embedded.prod_affiliate.81.jpg (http://www.chiefscrowd.com/sports/football/story/1155417.html)

The Chiefs’ Todd Haley (left) and Scott Pioli will experience their first NFL draft as coach and general manager.