Erroneous perceptions dog Haley
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There's a perception out there that Steelers new offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a tyrant. It's one thing to be emotional, a good thing actually in a sport as competitive as football. But many say Haley frequently steps over the line, that he is headstrong, confrontational and difficult to work with and for. Certainly, he will be a giant pain in the butt for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and the players.
There's also a perception that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a pampered baby. Many say he was too chummy with former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The two have offseason homes in the same Georgia development. They have golfed together and vacationed together. Certainly, Roethlisberger will chafe under Haley's strong grip and be a detriment to the team after taking advantage of his relationship with Arians and running the offense his way.
Heard it said that perception is reality?
I don't believe it in either case.
Haley has enemies, just as Tomlin does and Bill Cowher did and even Chuck Noll did. All coaches have 'em. They don't have friction-free relationships with all their assistants and players.
It's also beyond dispute that Haley is fiery. He has been caught on tape having sideline arguments with many former players, including Keyshawn Johnson, Terrell Owens, Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin and Matt Cassel. He even had on-field disputes with former boss Bill Parcells. You might say he's a chip off the Parcells block.
And this is a bad thing?
I say not necessarily.
For more insight I give you a player whose opinion I respect greatly -- Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He played for Haley when Haley was the Cardinals offensive coordinator in the 2007 and '08 seasons and said this about him late in '10 when Haley was leading the Kansas City Chiefs to the AFC West title as their head coach:
"I think Todd is a great coach. He's fun to play for. Everybody says he's a hard ass and this, that and the third, but at the end of the day when Todd came in the locker room he'd give you the biggest hug. He wanted it so bad for us. He prepared so much and he pushed us. I remember after the NFC championship game" -- a 32-25 win by the Cardinals against the Philadelphia Eagles that put Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers after the '08 season -- "he was in tears. Those moments are what I'll remember."
I'm not naïve. I know that endorsement doesn't guarantee Haley will be successful with the Steelers. But it does tell me that Haley isn't always the monster he's portrayed as being. And even if his tough-love coaching style is tougher than most, it doesn't guarantee that his players will hate him and he will fail.
Give the man a chance.
I know Roethlisberger will.
I think it's foolish that many have suggested Roethlisberger is so angry about losing Arians that he will take his football, quit on the Steelers and go home. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, Roethlisberger is close to Arians, who landed as the Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator a week after Steelers president Art Rooney II forced him out last month over the wishes of Tomlin. "We love Bruce," Roethlisberger told NFL Network before Haley was hired. "I love Bruce and have a great relationship. All of the offensive guys do."
It's also true that Roethlisberger, like many of us, isn't thrilled with change. He knows what he had in Arians. He has heard the stories about Haley -- good and bad -- but he has no idea what to expect from him. "It's going to be definitely different for us," Roethlisberger said. "The powers that be make decisions and we live with it and go with it. We'll just have to see where we go from here."
But beyond his fondness for Arians and his fear of change, Roethlisberger is a professional. He's also an extraordinary competitor. He'll learn to like any coach who can help him and his team win.
As for that change business, it's hard to imagine Haley bringing in an entirely new offense. During his time with the Cardinals, his head coach was Ken Whisenhunt, who was the Steelers offensive coordinator from '04-'06 and put in much of the offense that the Steelers still use. The transition from Arians to Haley -- at least from an X's and O's standpoint -- should be relatively painless.
The Steelers offense doesn't need an overhaul. It just needs a "tweak," to use the words of Rooney, who, considering the way Arians was removed, might have pushed Tomlin to hire Haley.
In any case, Haley is in a wonderful spot after being fired by the Chiefs in December after a 5-8 start. The Steelers are coming off a 12-4 season and will be a playoff contender every year for as long as Roethlisberger is in his prime and stays healthy. The young wide receivers are terrific and the running backs are solid, especially if Rashard Mendenhall is able to come back from a serious knee injury. The key is the offensive line. Rooney has said he thinks it's plenty good enough if the big guys stay healthy.
Haley has shown he is willing to coach to his team's strengths. With the Cardinals, he had quarterback Kurt Warner throwing the ball all over the field to Fitzgerald and receiver Anquan Bolden. With the Chiefs, he ran it more. It's nice to think he'll be able to use everybody with the Steelers and find a little more of the balance that Rooney seems to want.
Forget the erroneous perceptions.
Haley and the Steelers -- especially Roethlisberger -- have a real chance to be a nice match.
First Published February 8, 2012 12:00 am