By Kevin Braig
The Quant Coach
Here’s a cold hard Christmas football fact.
If Bob Cratchit had been 5-8 like Todd Haley or 4-9 like Tony Sparano the Christmas morning after Mr. Scrooge surveyed the league with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Mr. Scrooge would have canned Cratchit's ass the next time he set his eyes upon his loyal assistant.
NFL owners want to hoist Lombardi Trophies, not Tiny Tim.
Miami’s dismissal of Sparano has been expected since owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland chased after Jim Harbaugh last offseason like a couple of Black Friday shoppers. Their termination of Sparano was the right decision.
The reality is that both Sparano and Ireland were simply pieces in former Miami president Bill Parcells' master plan to acquire as much of former Dolphins owner Wayne Fezziwig's--err, Huizenga's--money as possible. Miami was coming off a 1-15 year. There was no direction for the Dolphins' stock to go but up. Parcells’ plan worked to perfection. Nobody in NFL history has ever understood how to trade coaching like a Wall Street stock as well as Parcells. Mr. Scrooge would have been quite impressed.
Initially, it looked like things might work out well for Sparano too, although the QuantCoach doubts that this was ever a critical piece of the overall plan. In Sparano’s first year, the Dolphins finished a suprising 11-5, won the AFC East, and hosted a playoff game.
But what most people, including perhaps Sparano, did not realize is that the quick turnaround mostly was the result of quarterback Chad Pennington falling into the Dolphins lap when the New York Jets traded for Brett Favre and cut Pennington.
Although Pennington was somewhat physically limited, he was one of the savvier on-field play designers in the NFL. In 2007 when the Dolphins won just the single game, Miami’s turnover differential was minus-7. In 2008, with Pennington at quarterback, the Dolphins were an NFL-best plus-17.
Without Pennington, Miami went 7-9 in 2009, 7-9 in 2010, and would have to win its last three games to get to 7-9 in 2011.
The firing of Haley, in contrast, is shrouded in mist, especially given that the Chiefs have been devastated by injuries in 2011. Indeed, it’s so misty that ESPN’s Jason Whitlock blamed Parcells because Chiefs’ general manager Scott Pioli is the Big Tuna’s son-in-law.
“Bill Parcells, the ESPN know-it-all and media darling, is responsible for producing two of the worst teams in the NFL today—the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs,” Whitlock bombastically wrote.
That is an absurd amount of speculation and hyperbole, but it is probably true that Pioli’s past has something to do with Kansas City’s present.
The QuantCoach speculates that Pioli’s hiring of Haley was more likely an attempt to find another Bill Belichick than to follow any Parcells recipe.
Like Belichick, whose father Steve was a long-time scout at the Naval Academy, Haley is the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers’ scout Dick Haley. Also like Belichick, Haley studied film with his father as he was growing up
and seems to have the ability to learn from his study and develop successful play designs from his study.
“I always thought he had an aptitude for it,” the elder Haley said
. “He’d tell me things I wouldn’t even think about. He had an eye.”
However, problems can arise when one person sees things that others cannot see. After Pioli hired Haley, the young coach immediately did not see eye-to-eye with respected offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who was let go just prior to the 2009 season.
The Chiefs finished a dismal 4-12, barely better than their 2-14 record in 2008, despite Pioli’s acquisition of quarterback Matt Cassel from New England. Cassell, of course, had stepped in for an injured Tom Brady in Pioli's last season with the Patriots and directed New England to an 11-5 record.
Nobody knows for certain, but it is fair to guess that Pioli probably started to doubt his hiring of Haley after Kansas City's bumpy 2009 season.
What we do know is that before the 2010 season Pioli brought in Belichick’s right-hand and left-hand from the New England glory days, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Weis, in particular, is a strong-willed play designer who after being hired by Notre Dame in 2005 told his players that henceforth they would have a “decided schematic advantage” against their opponents.
Pioli’s mixture of Haley, Weis, and Crennel worked well enough during the 2010 regular season for the Chiefs to finish 10-6 and win the AFC West title. But the season ended with a 30-7 playoff loss to Baltimore amid conflicting reports
that Haley may have seized play-calling duties from Weis
at halftime of the game. In andy evet, Weis soon departed to give the Florida Gators a decided schematic advantage over the rest of the Southeastern Conference and recently accepted the position of head coach at Kansas.
Now Haley is also gone, but a huge question remains unanswered.
Does Haley have “the gift” or not? Can Haley see the game like a Belichick or a Walsh or a Lombardi (or even an Andy Reid)? Can Haley see all 22 players on the field simultaneously?
“That takes special talent,” former Navy and Detroit Lions coach Rick Forzano, a mentor of Belichick, once said. “I didn’t have it. I couldn’t see the 22 players out there. Some people can, and that’s a special vision.”
The only reason we know Bill Belichick has that special vision is because Robert Kraft gave him a second chance after forces beyond his control (and perhaps some of his own immaturity) cost him his first chance in Cleveland.
That’s why, if the QuantCoach still wrote letters to Santa Claus, he would ask the Big Elf to give Todd Haley a second chance to be an NFL head coach as a present at some Christmas Yet to Come.