At 4-3, this thing seemed imminently winnable, didn’t it? With Jason Campbell out, Tim Tebow in, and Philip Rivers doing his impersonation of David Caruso’s career, the AFC West seemed, in a word, surmountable (never mind that a playoff berth would have only resulted in another mercy killing at the hands of Tyler Palko’s old backup, Joe Flacco). Looking back at the list of mostly backup signal callers that gave the Chiefs their handful of victories this season, the 1-5 interim stretch feels closer to on point.
I intentionally used the word “gave” because I can’t recall a single instance where I thought the Chiefs’ offense played well enough for four consecutive quarters to merit a win. Even Trent Dilfer’s Super Bowl Ravens squad that anchors the ever triter “defense wins championships” mantra topped 30 points about once a month. The 2011 Chiefs haven’t done it yet. Who do we blame for that? In the wake of head coach Todd Haley’s dismissal Monday morning, it’s easy to focus much of it in his direction.
Some of that is deserved. Haley allowed Palko, who should not even be on an NFL roster, to start four games. Haley permitted Bill Muir to continually put the rock in the clearly incapable hands of Thomas Jones. Haley permitted Bill Muir to call plays in the first place. Haley did not, however, have full autonomy over the roster. I think it’s more or less a foregone conclusion that Matt Cassel is/was Scott Pioli’s project, not Haley’s, but Cassel is/was not the only mistake on the roster. Only Pioli could have executed the release of Jared Gaither and Keary Colbert. Furthermore, to that end, only Pioli could have signed off on the release of Brian Waters. Haley may have fully supported and perhaps even initiated all three of those transactions, but GMs have the capacity to tell their coaches no.
Thus, instead of asking “who do we blame?”, maybe the better question is “who don’t we blame?”. Haley, Pioli, Muir, Cassel, and Palko all share some degree of responsibility, though I think I’ve psychologically somewhat exonerated Cassel and Palko on the grounds that I earnestly believe both tried to the best of their ability. The coaches and GM are ultimately responsible for the product on the field, and trotting out players who simply cannot play has to fall back on them. All of them. In the words of Stanley Kubrick, it’s a huge shit sandwich, and they’re all gonna have to take a bite.
Todd’s already taken his. While it was well deserved, in the long run I don’t bear any malice toward him. He was shackled to a quarterback he didn’t want, but he tried to make the best of a bad situation. At the end of the day, a good coach can’t outcoach a mediocre quarterback, just as a good quarterback can’t out-quarterback a mediocre coach. There was no realistic chance of Haley overcoming that substantial an impediment. He did, however, manage to break through the seemingly thick skulls of a couple of his most naturally gifted players. If the Chiefs are successful going forward, it will be in no small part due to the transformation Haley exacted in Derrick Johnson and Dwayne Bowe.
What makes me okay with the decision to part ways with Haley, however, is the concession of the entire length of the field in penalties. It was painful enough watching Romeo Crennel’s defense once again be run over roughshod due to an untenable discrepancy in time of possession (what the hell can you fairly expect when you strand a defense on the field for 38 minutes?). Watching the Jets essentially be giftwrapped an escorted trip to the endzone, however, was downright unbearable. The fact that Haley was directly responsible for 15 yards of that himself on an unsportsmanlike conduct call is borderline inexcusable. I won’t go so far as to suggest that Haley’s actions were a means to assuring his release, but a head coach simply has to have the wherewithal to know that when his team is already going to great lengths to put themselves in a bad position, he absolutely cannot do anything that adds to the problem. That’s basic leadership. Haley did not lead.
What happens next is a big part of why I’m not a big fan of late season coaching changes. Romeo Crennel has three games to prove his mettle with a roster stripped of its best players and void of any significant talent at the most important position. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to assert his worth as a potential championship caliber head coach (I don’t know if he is or not, but I certainly don’t think it’s out of the question). If he has the bug to be a head coach again, but isn’t considered a serious candidate by Pioli and owner Clark Hunt, the Chiefs lose the best defensive coordinator in two decades, and probably the only proven commodity they’ve still got. They can’t afford that. Take away Crennel and leave Cassel in place, and this franchise can rationally expect a decade akin to the one the Oakland Raiders just concluded.
Kyle Orton is a known quantity, and not an exceptionally great one. Crennel’s best shot might be to go for broke and throw Ricky Stanzi to the wolves. If Stanzi succeeds in taking down the undefeated Packers and/or the mighty Tim Tebow, both of them will look like geniuses, and they very well might turn this franchise around. If Stanzi fails, neither will have done significant damage to their perceived value. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Come to think of it, there’s another place Crennel can affect a little change. Bill Muir, don’t worry about calling plays anymore. Jim Zorn is gonna take a crack at that. Your sole responsibility between now and January 1st is to teach Jon Asamoah something–literally anything–about run blocking. And once the season is over, a delegation from this website will be happy to teach you a thing or two about how to pack a suitcase.