Kansas City, Mo. — Todd Haley is finding success to be just as fleeting as all the goodwill that comes with it.
The Chiefs coach was on the short list of just about every award after taking a 4-12 team his first year to a 10-6 finish last season. With emerging stars such as Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, Kansas City won the AFC West and was thought of as a team on the rise.
Well, Charles and Berry are out with torn ACLs, along with tight end Tony Moeaki. The Chiefs are off to one of the worst starts through two games in NFL history, getting blitzed 89-10 by a pair of teams that won just 10 games last season. And all the positive vibes that come with success are but a distant memory for an angry fan base calling for Haley’s job.
“I’ve said this to a few people; that’s not something I generally have worried about or thought about at whatever level or whatever I’ve been doing,” Haley said. “Kind of been raised that way and believe that way — that you focus on the task at hand and focus on the things that you can make improvements and do your job to the best of your ability. The NFL is a team results business.”
Therein lays the problem.
The results have been terrible.
Going back to the end of last season, the Chiefs were trounced by the Oakland Raiders in their regular-season finale and the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs.
The preseason schedule wasn’t much better — a shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, lopsided defeats to the St. Louis Rams and Ravens, and a narrow loss to the Green Bay Packers when Kansas City played its starters nearly the entire way against the Super Bowl champions’ backups.
Haley vowed the Chiefs would be ready for the regular season, and they wound up losing 41-7 to the Buffalo Bills. Then came last Sunday’s disaster in Detroit, where the Chiefs lost Charles for the season and what was viewed as a must-win game by the unsightly score of 48-3.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier.
Haley said his approach has always been to go “full-steam ahead, trying to be the best I can be, and that solves a lot of problems.” But that might not be enough to solve all the problems surrounding a floundering franchise with a fan base pining for a contender.
“Teams will never be judged on individual results, and that goes for coaches and players alike,” Haley said in a rare moment of candor. “When you lose, it’s tough. When you win, it’s a lot better.”
But the losses are mounting and statistics are sobering — or, perhaps more accurately, enough to make Chiefs fans of legal age pour a stiff drink at their next tailgate.
They’re on pace for 72 turnovers after committing six more against the Lions, three of them on interceptions by Matt Cassel. The lone turnover that the Chiefs forced in that game, an interception by safety Jon McGraw, was given right back to Detroit seconds later when he fumbled it on the return.
Kansas City has been outscored 150-27 during its four-game skid. The offense ranks among the worst in the NFL, and the defense is just as bad. Even normally reliable punter Dustin Colquitt has been battling the shanks, and kicker Ryan Succop is 1 for 3 on field-goal attempts.
“We don’t feel sorry for ourselves at all. You can’t,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “When you start feeling sorry for yourself it’s going to be a long year, and the outcome of the games are not going to change, and we definitely don’t want that to happen.”
But the fact remains that only a handful of teams ever have been outscored by more points through two games. The 1961 Raiders lost by a combined 99-0, the ‘73 Saints were outscored by 92, the ‘89 Steelers dropped their first two games 92-10, and the ‘78 Colts by a combined 80 points.
Even the odds-makers in Las Vegas are having a hard time putting the Chiefs’ miserable start in perspective. They installed the San Diego Chargers as 13-point favorites for Sunday, and people immediately poured money on them to cover. Hours later, the line was more than two touchdowns.
The outlook is so bleak that many fans in Kansas City have begun a “Suck for Luck” movement in which they plan to openly cheer for the opposing team so that the Chiefs finish with the worst record in the NFL, land the No. 1 choice in the NFL draft and select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, whom most scouts consider the closest thing to a sure-fire franchise quarterback.
If the Chiefs do indeed play poorly enough to land the top overall pick, it likely means that Haley is out of a job, even though it’s something that he insists does not enter his mind.
“My focus is, and will continue to be, and has been on, ‘What can we do to be better?’ It was the same the first year, last year and this year, and right now, we’ve done some things that have caused us to lose a couple games,” he said. “Right now we’re 0-2 in the first quarter of the season, and the head coach — and I know the players and the staff — will be doing everything in our power to change the results.”