Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Chiefs fired coach Todd Haley on Monday with the team he led to the AFC West title less than a year ago stuck at the bottom of the division following a series of devastating injuries and discouraging blowouts.
The Chiefs dropped to 5-8 after Sunday's 37-10 loss the New York Jets. Kansas City committed 11 penalties for 128 yards in another dismal performance, including a 15-yarder on Haley for unsportsmanlike conduct that may have ultimately sealed his fate.
"This was a difficult decision but one that we feel is best for the future of the Chiefs," Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said in a statement released before a scheduled afternoon news conference. "Although there have been bright spots at different points this season, we have not made meaningful progress."
Romeo Crennel was named the interim coach. Crennel, the former Browns head coach, served as Haley's defensive coordinator.
"We felt that it was necessary to make a change," Hunt said. "We appreciate Todd's contributions during his time with the club, and we wish him well in the future."
There had been rumblings about Haley's status ever since training camp, when the NFL lockout caused him to take an unorthodox approach. Rather than going full speed throughout camp, Haley opted instead to spend the majority of the time on conditioning and strength training.
He hoped that would cut down on the risk of injuries given an abbreviated offseason.
Instead, the Chiefs lost linebacker Brandon Siler to a torn Achilles in camp, and starting tight end Tony Moeaki went down with a torn knee ligament in their preseason finale. Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry sustained the same injury in Week 1 against Buffalo, and All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles tore a ligament in his left knee the following week at Detroit.
After three lopsided losses to start the season, Kansas City managed to rattle off four straight wins and pull into an improbable tie atop the division. Haley was being applauded for keeping the team together despite such adversity, and there was a happy-go-lucky attitude at the practice facility.
That all changed when the Chiefs lost to previously winless Miami at home, the start of a dismal stretch in which they dropped four straight and five of their last six. Along the way, quarterback Matt Cassel broke his right hand against Denver and landed on injured reserve, and the lack of depth behind him forced Haley to start journeyman Tyler Palko the past four games.
Kansas City has managed only two touchdowns with Palko under center.
Besides the lousy performance on the field, it was not a secret within the walls of the team's practice facility that there was friction between Haley and general manager Scott Pioli.
Pioli has said he values consistency in an organization, and that he's used the Steelers as a blueprint for rebuilding the Chiefs. But the decision to part with Haley was just the second in-season firing of a head coach in franchise history — Paul Wiggins was fired after seven games during the 1977 season — and leaves the team in tumult with three games remaining.
"We believe change is important at this time," Pioli said in a statement.
Haley is the second coach fired this season after Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio last month.
The combustible Haley, who took over a team that won six games the previous two seasons under Herm Edwards, leaves with a 19-27 record in his first NFL head coaching job. But despite a surprise AFC West title last season, it's hard to tell if the team improved under his watch.
The quarterback situation is a mess, even with Cassel healthy, and the offensive line has three players in Ryan Lilja, Barry Richardson and Casey Wiegmann who may not be back next season. Despite having a background on offense, Haley only managed to coax the unit into averaging of 293.8 yards, which ranked 28th in the league, and 177.4 yards through the air — 30th out of 32 teams.
Previously, Haley was the offensive coordinator for Arizona when the Cardinals won the NFC title in 2008. He also was an assistant coach with Dallas, Chicago and the New York Jets.
The biggest bright spot this season has been on defense, where despite missing Berry and Siler the Chiefs have still managed to keep themselves in games. They lost 17-10 to the Broncos and 13-9 to the Steelers over the past month, and their only victory — 10-3 at Chicago — came when they piled up seven sacks, forced three turnovers and prevented the Bears from converting a single third down.
Along with previous head coaching experience, that's the biggest reason why Crennel was selected as the interim coach. Crennel is considered one of the game's premier defensive minds, though he was just 24-40 in four unsuccessful seasons as the head coach in Cleveland.
It's unclear whether Crennel is the frontrunner to take over full time, but he could make a bold statement for getting a look if he can rally the Chiefs following Haley's dismissal.
The Chiefs are still mathematically alive in the AFC West.
"Todd helped this team in many valuable ways over the past three seasons, and I am thankful for his contributions," Pioli said. "Unfortunately, we have not been able to establish the kind of consistency we need to continue building a strong foundation for the future."