THE RIGHT WAY TO START
APR 09, 2009, 8:59:22 AM BY JONATHAN RAND - FAQ
Page one for any coach taking over a losing team is working on its attitude.
The Chiefs’ Todd Haley said he’s expecting “everybody to be about winning.”
We all know that talent wins more games than oratory, but a new coach has to start somewhere. He tries to accomplish what he can, when he can – which this time of year means working on a team’s physical conditioning and frame of mind.
Considering that 31 other teams are executing a similar routine, this work won’t necessarily give the Chiefs an edge. But that shouldn’t stop them from looking for one.
The Miami Dolphins provide the league’s best recent example of a mind-boggling turnaround. Near the end of a 1-15 horror show in 2007, they hired Bill Parcells to run their football operation. It was hard to imagine that even Parcells’ force of personality and resume as a turnaround specialist could bring major improvement in just one season.
Yet the Dolphins improved by 10 victories and won the AFC East title. Parcells, a mentor of both Haley and Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, remade the team from his head coach on down.
He also remade the team’s attitude. He got rid of all returning team captains, a not-so-subtle message that he wanted new leadership in his locker room.
None of Parcells’ initial personnel or psychological moves, admittedly, improved his team as much as signing Chad Pennington. That veteran quarterback with a highly accurate arm suddenly became available in August when the Jets ditched him for Brett Favre.
Pennington threw for 3,653 yards and 19 touchdowns and recorded a 97.4 passer rating. There are no statistics to measure the impact of a new regime’s management style.
Considering that any coach has to be among the best in the NFL to become a head coach, it’s hard to imagine any coach tolerating a toxic locker room. But sustained losing is a guaranteed attitude-killer that sneaks up slowly on a team, and there’s not much that most coaches can do to stop it.
When Herm Edwards came to the Chiefs in 2006, he told his players he expected them to be smart, tough and disciplined. Those qualities went AWOL as they lost 23 of their last 25 games.
Even as the losses piled up, Chiefs coaches and players insisted they weren’t giving in to futility. But there are only so many losses any team can withstand before it starts to buckle.
It’s clear, with 20-20 hindsight, that critics will say that too much attention was paid to the youth movement. Few benefits ever accrue from a 2-14 season. Perhaps low expectations for a rebuilding season gave the Chiefs an excuse for losing – and no coach ever wants to give his players that.
It doesn’t cost a dime to be optimistic, and every year, we see NFL teams that turn pre-season predictions into trash. The Dolphins and Falcons were unlikely playoff teams last season, and who expected the Cardinals to reach the Super Bowl?
But all enjoyed big years from their quarterbacks and received attitude transfusions from new regimes. The Dolphins and Falcons started from scratch, and the Cardinals’ staff was entering its second year. None of those franchises had fielded a winner since 2005.
“I’m trying to offer hope,” said Haley, the offensive coordinator during the Cardinals’ ascent and quarterback Kurt Warner’s comeback. “I’ve been in a place where there wasn’t a whole lot of hope.”
Haley already has a promising quarterback, Matt Cassel, and a bushel full of hope. It will take a lot more than that to bring back the Chiefs, but recent experience tells him that’s the right way to start.