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Of all the teams changing coaches this offseason, it’s the Chiefs who are doing the biggest about-face in terms of coaching style. Where Herm Edwards would be more inclined to hug it out, new sheriff Todd Haley is a bit more abrasive.
Haley comes out of the Bill Parcells coaching tree, but we’ve already seen his individual personality on display in tiffs with Terrell Owens in Dallas and Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin in Arizona. And he’s applying that same tough love in Kansas City in hopes of turning around a franchise that has six wins over the past two seasons.
Okay, so the tone will be different. And with ex-Patriots wunderkind Scott Pioli helming the front office, there are changes from the top on down. The defense has already begun a radical shift from a 4-3 to the 3-4, but what might be in store for the offense?
That, as they say, is the million dollar question.
Despite the general house-cleaning in KC, the Chiefs retained offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. However, Haley is expected to handle the play-calling duties; he also brought with him from Arizona running backs coach Maurice Carthon, who added the title of assistant head coach. That leaves Gailey and his 35 years of coaching experience—16 of them in the NFL, two as a head coach and seven as a coordinator—potentially answering to two guys with considerably less experience.
Gailey’s greatest strength, on display in full force last year, is the flexibility to adapt his system to his personnel. When the Chiefs were forced to the bullpen for Tyler Thigpen last year, Gailey came up with a modified spread offense that allowed KC to field a competitive, if not always victorious, offense. Gailey is also credited with devising the “Slash” scheme in Pittsburgh in which Kordell Stewart thrived.
Perhaps Haley will use Gailey as the good cop to his bad cop when it comes to dealing with young Chiefs like Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, and Dwayne Bowe. He’d also do well to accept Gailey’s input in scheming the offense. Haley, known for his aggressive play-calling with the Cardinals, will have considerably less firepower to work with in Kansas City. It’s one thing to be aggressive with Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin; it’s quite another to take the same approach with Cassel and Bowe.
The trade of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez shouldn’t impact the new offense dramatically, as Haley had little use for tight ends in the Arizona offense. However, the Chiefs will need Mark Bradley and Bobby Engram to step up if Haley’s KC offense is to bear any resemblance to his Cardinals attack. Also, Haley may want to lean on Gailey when it comes to his quarterback; Cassel parlayed one good season in a solid system with elite receivers into a franchise tag, but he lacks the same supporting cast in KC. If Gailey can make Thigpen and Stewart look like legitimate NFL quarterbacks, Cassel should give him plenty to work with.
If for no other reason than to protect a defense that will be transitioning to a 3-4 despite having personnel from a 4-3—and a lousy one at that—the Chiefs will do well to run the ball as often as possible. Feature back Larry Johnson began the offseason by proclaiming he didn’t see a role for himself in Kansas City, but he’s still with the team and could benefit from Gailey’s running game acumen; Gailey was at the helm when Jerome Bettis was putting up big numbers with the Steelers, and his Dolphins and Cowboys also had success rushing the football.
Interestingly—and kudos to the Chiefs’ fan blog Arrowhead Pride for their stat-crunching—the play-calling of Haley and Gailey, last year at least, didn’t differ all that dramatically. So even if the head coach keeps the play-calling gig for himself, philosophically he and Gailey should be on the same page. And Haley, who grew up in the NFL with his dad serving in the personnel departments of the Steelers, Jets, and Dolphins for almost 40 years, has to know the value of the wisdom Gailey has to offer.
So maybe the burning question in KC isn’t who’s calling the plays, but rather how the Chiefs’ personnel respond to Haley’s fiery style. The right combination of Haley’s aggressiveness and Gailey’s innovation could yield some interesting results in Kansas City—even with the existing personnel.