There are no more run-ins with the front office, no more feelings of being watched and wire-tapped by the general manager, no more worries about what you're wearing, when you previously shaved or what concert you might have attended.
Todd Haley is free at last, free from the tentacles that tried to strangle him in Kansas City and eventually pushed him out of town. He is back where it all started, with an organization that his father helped mold into one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history, living in the same area in which he grew up and unabashedly wrapping his arms around a team that he has loved since he was a ball boy for them at training camp.
"Greatest thing that could happen to him after Kansas City," said his father, Dick Haley, who was the Steelers director of player personnel from 1971-91 and the man who shared in the drafting of some of the great Hall of Fame players who produced four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s. "He started going to training camp at 8 years old, so he knows a little bit about that place. He's excited about the whole thing."
What began as a courtesy interview for Todd Haley to become the Steelers offensive coordinator has turned into a successful working relationship for both sides.
The Steelers offense leads the league in third-down conversions, is second in time of possession and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is having one of the best seasons of his two-time Super Bowl-winning career. What's more, the running game has come to life on a three-game winning streak, producing three consecutive 100-yard rushers for the first time in five years.
And Haley? He couldn't be more thrilled to be where he is. And, to a large degree, where he isn't.
Everybody will get a significant reminder tonight at Heinz Field when the Steelers (5-3) face the Kansas City Chiefs (1-7), the team that fired Haley as head coach less than a year ago.
"It's all worked out for the better," Dick Haley said. "He would take that happening to him every day to be where he is."
The Chiefs have come full cycle in the 2 1/2 years since they hired Haley to replace Herm Edwards as head coach.
Haley inherited a Chiefs team that was 2-14 and turned it into a division champion that won 10 games just two years later. Now, less than a year after he was dismissed with three games remaining in the 2011 season, the Chiefs have slipped back into the same hole from which Haley was asked to rescue them.
They are 1-7 and have become the first team since 1929 to never hold the lead at any point in regulation this season (their only victory was in overtime against New Orleans). Coach Romeo Crennel stripped himself of his defensive-coordinator duties, they cut cornerback Stanford Routt after signing him to a three-year, $19.6 million contract in free agency, a Twitter account dedicated to saving the team has 72,000 followers and fans are flying banners over the stadium asking ownership to get rid of general manager Scott Pioli.
But even the fans were ripped by tackle Eric Winston after they cheered when quarterback Matt Cassel was injured.
"Really, I think I've moved on," Haley said. "I'm really happy to be a part of this great organization and really what is a tight-knit family. It's a unique environment that I think is hard to find. I know the Chiefs have moved on and I have a lot of fond memories and am proud of things that were accomplished. I think we came a long way in three years from where we started."
The same could not be said of his relationship with Pioli.
Haley had such a bad and mistrustful relationship with his boss that he thought he was being watched and monitored by Pioli at the team's facility. The Chiefs had installed new safety equipment as part of a multi-million dollar refurbishing of Arrowhead Stadium, including cameras and microphones in hallways and offices that could be used for two-way communication in case of fire or emergencies.
Haley even believed his personal cellphone had been tampered with by the Chiefs, according to a story in the Kansas City Star. The Chiefs denied such actions, but the accusations, right or wrong, point up the level of paranoia under which Haley was operating.
The scrutiny was so bad that Haley even had to worry if his victory beard, which he grew during a four-game winning streak, met the approval of Chiefs management.
Haley was very careful last week to avoid talking about the bad times in Kansas City and whether there was any extra motivation for the game. But anyone who has been around Haley knows he has been looking forward to this game for a long time.
"Like I said, I've got a lot of fond memories of a lot of my players from that time and think a lot of them," Haley said.
Haley didn't waste any time making an impact on the Chiefs.
He lowered the boom on many of the top players -- running back Jamal Charles, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Derrick Johnson, among then. He pushed them, even screamed at them, to be better players. He once benched Charles for a game because he didn't like his attitude.
It was a tactic he learned from his former boss, Bill Parcells, when Haley was an assistant coach with the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys.
"He learned from one of the all-time best how to get the most out of your players," Dick Haley said. "That's the objective of the whole thing -- first you got to get good players, then you get them to play up to their ability. He likes what he's doing and he gets into it."
Haley did that in a short period of time, inheriting a 2-14 team that hadn't won a playoff game since Joe Montana was with them in 1994. He won four games his first season and guided the Chiefs to a 10-6 record and the AFC West Division title in his second -- the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history.
"If he sees something you can do better, he lets you know about it," said former quarterback Kurt Warner, who took the Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers when Haley was his offensive coordinator. "That was a reason for our success."
Warner had several celebrated sideline run-ins with his former coach. But he said he didn't mind them and actually took the heated arguments to heart -- causing him to re-examine what he might have been doing wrong. And Warner already was a two-time league MVP and Super Bowl MVP when he joined the Cardinals.
"I enjoyed playing for him," Warner said. "I'm a guy who loves to be challenged in a lot of different ways, and that's what Todd is about. He pushed me and wanted me to be great. He pushed the guys around me to be great."
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who will start for injured Brady Quinn (concussion) tonight against the Steelers, called Haley "a demanding coach ... [who is] not afraid to get in your face." Cassel also had several sideline dust-ups with Haley.
Asked if he had a problem with that type of coaching style, Cassel said, "There were probably times that I did, but, at the same time, you also respect the process and respect the coaching that's taking place. As a player, it's your job to fix whatever the coach is saying and what he wants you to get accomplished and move forward."
Haley's professional personality always has been a topic of debate wherever he has been, whether it's his relationship with his players or even his fellow coaches.
After the Chiefs lost to the Denver Broncos, 49-29, in 2010, Haley accosted Broncos coach Josh McDaniels on the field and angrily wagged an accusing finger at him rather than shake his hand.
"Everybody has a different personality," said Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, who was hired by Haley to be his defensive coordinator and replaced him as head coach with three games remaining last season. "I've known him for a long time, and I get along very well with him. I don't know exactly what other people were saying or why they were saying what they were saying. Some people don't like my personality."
Haley was just the second coach to be fired in-season by the Chiefs in franchise history. The other was Paul Wiggins, who was fired seven games into the 1977 season.
He lasted 13 games into the 2011 season, even after overcoming an 0-2 start in which the Chiefs were outscored in their first two games, 89-10, and lost their two best players with season-ending injuries -- Charles and safety Eric Berry. After the opening two losses, Haley remembered that the Steelers -- the team for whom he once worked as a ballboy -- opened the 1989 season in similar fashion, losing to the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals by a combined 92-10, and still made the playoffs. So he dug out some old film of the Steelers' 1989 season and showed it to his players to remind them that the season still had a long way to go. The Chiefs responded with a four-game winning streak.
The magic, though, was only temporary.
After winning four in a row, the Chiefs lost five of their next six games, never managing to score more than 10 points in any of those games, including the only victory, 10-3, against the Chicago Bears. After the Chiefs lost to the New York Jets, 37-10, Dec. 11, Haley was fired.
"I'm very proud of the things the players and I were able to accomplish," Haley said. "I thought we made a lot of progress. Even taking the 2010 division win out of the equation, last year I was most proud of because of the extenuating, difficult circumstances -- losing three really good players early in the year and starting as poorly as we did and bouncing back and winning four games in a row, which is hard to do in this league.
"We hung in there, beat Chicago on the road when we were playing with our third-team quarterback at that time. I'm proud of my players from that time and have a lot of good feelings toward all of them."
Crennel can feel Haley's pain.
He was in a similar situation in Cleveland where, one year after the Browns finished 10-6 and he was given a six-year contract extension, he was fired after a 4-12 season in 2008. The 10-6 record in 2007 was the best by the franchise since the Browns returned to the league in 1999.
Like Haley, Crennel was let go even though the Browns had a host of key injuries that season, including quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, running back Jamal Lewis and wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
The Browns, though, had the dubious distinction of failing to score an offensive touchdown in the final six games of the 2008 season. This year, Crennel and the Chiefs own another ignominious feat: They haven't led in regulation at any point all season. Their only victory came on the final play of regulation against the New Orleans Saints.
It is certainly a different atmosphere with the organization he will be facing tonight.
"Pittsburgh has been the poster for continuity," Crennel said. "They've done a tremendous job from top to bottom. That's why they are able to get good coaches that fit into their system and who can last to keep that continuity going. You know in the NFL and in today's society, it's an 'I want it done yesterday' league. It's gotten to that point, and if you can't get it done right away, people look for changes and for something different. That is part of the beast that we have to deal with."
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Gerry Dulac: email@example.com; Twitter: @gerrydulac First Published November 12, 2012 5:00 AM