The departure of Todd Haley as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs leaves more questions than answers. A good Google search leaves you with columns that blame Haley's failures as the head coach while others target Scott Pioli as the general manager. Others question the timing of the firing and wonder why it couldn't wait until seasons end. There's money that wasn't spent, moves that weren't made and gametime decisions that leave people wondering. The whole season has been a mess, in short.
Yet one of the bigger mysteries lately is that of the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback position, which hasn't made any real sense since the NFL lockout was lifted. The Chiefs entered the season with three guys, like most teams: Matt Cassel as the incumbent starter, Tyler Palko as the primary back-up and Ricky Stanzi as the new developmental rookie fifth round choice.
As the season went on, a few things became clear. For years, Matt Cassel's ceiling had been a source of questions since he barely played in college at USC behind guys like Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer. Yet that ceiling was now becoming clearer in 2011 and that's not a good thing. If anything, Cassel presents a solid game manager, a guy who can limit turnovers and execute smart decisions given the right personnel. Place the team behind, however, and he's not exactly carry-the-team-on-my-shoulders material.
Yet it's also clear that he was the most talented quarterback. Once Cassel went down with an injury, Palko, the 28-year-old journeyman, was thrust into the starting line-up. One game in, and it was clear what he could (and could not) do. Three interceptions in the first game gave way to three more in the second game. While the Chiefs defense kept things close, it's also clear that Palko was a man in over his head. The bottom line was clear: the Chiefs cannot win with Palko as their starting quarterback.
Yet Todd Haley continued to go with Palko again and again. While he substituted him with the newly acquired Kyle Orton, the veteran QB waived by the Denver Broncos, once Orton went down with an injury, Haley went right back to Palko and now the Chiefs' season is sunk. Once the team was in the first place and now they are in last, holding on to slim mathematical hopes that they can make the playoffs. It's an equation only Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind could conjure for KC to make the postseason. Yet if it's still a possibility, the team has to go with what works and Palko didn't work.
Yet Haley went to Palko over and over despite having yet another option on his team. The crowds would chant "Stanzi." The media would question him about playing Ricky Stanzi. Yet it didn't matter. For some reason, the former Iowa Hawkeye never donned a Chiefs helmet yet. While other late round rookies are playing (and winning, like T.J. Yates of the Houston Texans), Stanzi is holding a clipboard.
Think about this: Todd Haley would have to be a completely naive idiot to know his job wasn't on the line. He'd been asked point blank about the hot seat he must have been feeling and about any tension involving Scott Pioli. He knew that despite a playoff appearance in 2010 that he might not make it past the 2011 season. And he knew that winning despite the loss of Cassel was paramount for his future. And his choice was Palko.
There are two logical conclusions to follow from Haley's actions as head coach (and one that makes no sense):
1. Todd Haley Wanted Out
It's entirely possible that Haley didn't really want to be in Kansas City anymore. Anyone who has lived through it can attest how miserable it can be working for a boss who doesn't appreciate you and an environment where communication is poor. If there's tension between employer and employee, it's natural to want out. And perhaps Haley was just ready to go down with the ship.
2. Todd Haley Said "Screw You"
Scott Pioli picked Stanzi straight from his close friend Kirk Ferentz. What better way to make your boss completely irate than refuse to play the guy he wants you to play. Perhaps that's even why the team had to get Kyle Orton because Pioli knew Haley wouldn't play another quarterback so he had to give in and find another veteran. That much is impossible to say. While it seems a bit ridiculous, there's no way the tension could play out in a public setting. That's a good way to never get hired anywhere ever again. But a power play coming through roster decisions and playing time? That's very understandable.
Now all of this is clearly conjecture. Maybe Stanzi just doesn't know the playbook. Maybe he's secretly injured. Maybe Haley was truly going to start him the next game. It's all impossible to say one way or the other. But when something doesn't make sense, the answers have to be there somewhere. And perhaps they can be found in the unstated power play that ultimately cost Todd Haley his job.