Biggs: Haley reaches moment of truth with L.J.
The Todd Haley of two years ago might have chosen a different path Monday when addressing the Larry Johnson situation.
Haley might have teed off on Johnson’s tweets, then sawed the player in half in assessing his on-field production. That might have come after a nose-to-nose confrontation, and the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-year head coach has a history of those.
But as he grows into the job -- and there are real growing pains with the Chiefs 1-6 and coming off a 37-7 demolition at Arrowhead Stadium by the San Diego Chargers -- Haley has provided evidence in this instance that he’s growing up as a coach. The Chiefs have informed Johnson to stay away after he insulted Haley on his Twitter account, used a gay slur on the same account and finally told reporters Monday to “get your faggot asses out of here’’ when they entered the locker room.
It won’t be surprising if Johnson, who is 75 yards short of Priest Holmes’ franchise rushing record, never carries the ball for the Chiefs again. The team and the NFL are investigating the matter one year after he sat out games for separate nightclub incidents involving women. The Associated Press reported the team could be looking to see if Johnson violated terms of his contract, allowing it to perhaps recoup some of the money that was paid to him in a $45 million, five-year extension he signed in 2007. Johnson apologized Tuesday, but his remarks Monday probably took it too far for him. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has called on the NFL and the club to take action.
Many were surprised the regime of new general manager Scott Pioli and Haley kept Johnson on board. He got a second chance with the organization and reportedly had been on good behavior to this point. But it’s not like Johnson was producing on the field. He’s rushed for 358 yards the hard way — 2.7 yards per carry. At least Terrell Owens produced in Dallas when Haley was the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator there and they didn’t get along. Haley reportedly told Cowboys owner Jerry Jones he couldn’t take the Cowboys job in 2007 if Owens was still there. The Cowboys finally realized Owens wasn’t good for them earlier this year, and they’ve found a replacement in Miles Austin who cut his teeth in the league under Haley in 2006.
Haley is an emotional coach who wears his heart on his sleeve, sometimes too much. That’s why the Johnson flap is a key moment for him. Other players are watching how he handles it to see how he responds. He had an infamous sidelined flare-up with Anquan Boldin in Arizona during the playoffs last season, but that was a heated moment between a coach and player. He didn’t back down from Chicago Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop in 2003 when the season was spinning out of control and Shoop wanted him barred from offensive meetings. Haley won. He’s a Bill Parcells disciple who offers no apologies for being loud and demanding.
In the court of public opinion, Haley could have bought himself a continuance had he stuck with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. The Chiefs don’t have winning-caliber personnel, and had Haley ridden out his first season with Gailey, a holdover from the Herm Edwards’ regime, fans would have rallied behind a decision in January for Gailey to go and Haley to take over as the play caller. Instead, he made that call in August, and he’s taking his lumps. The decision was probably based on Haley believing the Chiefs would be better in September and definitely better in January after a season with him running the offense. That hasn’t made it easier for him for the time being.
He’s taking his shots now, and the schedule has been unrelenting. Kansas City has played one team with a losing record to this point — Washington, which represents the lone victory — and has already rolled through the NFC East playing Dallas, the New York Giants and Philadelphia. The Chiefs are entering their bye week and will hold practices through Thursday before a three-day weekend. Maybe the Johnson situation will be resolved by the time they get back to work on Monday in preparation for a Nov. 8 game at Jacksonville.
The reality is Haley’s team needs to come out of the bye playing better football. He’s succeeded in the past, although never as a head coach, and has a history of run-ins. The impressive thing here is that Haley has managed to avoid a blowout with Johnson.
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