There's a cliche that's often used when teams are struggling and things look as if they'll never get better. It's always something along the lines of "It's when things are going badly that one's true character is tested". It's an often overlooked expression because the only times you'd really hear something like that is when things are going very, very badly. And right now things are going very, very badly for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Todd Haley and Matt Cassel share this expression right now. But it's much more than just words on a paper for these two. They are at a crossroads in their careers. Many times coaches don't get a fair shot at building a team because it's all about 'what have you done for me lately' in today's NFL, and pretty much today's society. They are often let go before their plan has had a chance to take shape. There are both positives and negatives to this line of thinking because it does make sure that coaches are held accountable, but at the same time it could hamper a coaches ability to truly feel comfortable with the decisions they are making. If they feel as if every little decision they make could ultimately cost them their job then they won't ever be successful. That kind of thinking would be a detriment to anyone in any profession. Haley has had chances to make decisions he thought were best for the team.
Matt Cassel is in the same boat as Todd Haley right now. Although it's not the same team like many have wanted to compare, the end of the 2010 season and now just two games into the 2011 season, things have looked pathetic for the Kansas City Chiefs. In his last five games (including the Baltimore playoff game), Cassel has thrown 1 touchdown and 9 interceptions. A few of the interceptions, including two yesterday, were the result of the wide receivers not being able to catch a ball that went right through their hands. But regardless of who's fault the interceptions were and even looking past statistics as a whole, this is a time in Matt Cassel's career that will follow him for as long as he stays in the NFL. Whether he likes it or not.
This is a defining moment in the careers of both Todd Haley and Matt Cassel. It's more than a "how will they handle this adversity?", they are fighting for careers right now to not be defined by what's happened over the past two weeks. They have plenty of excuses to quit or throw in the towel. Overcoming the losses of Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles to season-ending injuries would be enough for most people to understand why they might struggle. But it's not whether they struggle or not that will define them or follow them in their careers, whether that continues in Kansas City or somewhere else, it's how they handle that struggle to the people around them.
Not many coaches have the opportunity to see how they'd handle a challenge like the one that faces Todd Haley right now. There aren't many quarterbacks that are thrown into a situation like Matt Cassel has been handed right now. The situations are different but the outcome will be the same. It's obvious that something needs to change for the Kansas City Chiefs. What they have been doing and how they have been preparing has not worked. Whether that change comes from Haley himself adapting to a new plan of thinking, or whether Pioli decides to head in a new direction at head coach, a change is needed.
It doesn't make sense for the Chiefs to not let Todd Haley finish the season as head coach. Unless they feel as if the next head coach is already on staff, which I don't think is true, changing head coaches now and then again after the year would be a lot for these players to handle. The only scenario in which relieving Haley as head coach makes any sense is if the team has completely given up on him. That's only something that Pioli and the players would know.
Matt Cassel is fighting for a job in the NFL at this point. I don't think a lot of the criticism towards Cassel for the Lions loss is justified, but at the same time he has showed us his ceiling. He is a fantastically average quarterback in the NFL that can help a team that is built well around him. He is the piece of the offensive puzzle you add when the rest is already set, most Chiefs fans are looking for the piece you start with. Thus the reason for all of the Andrew Luck talk already. The trade that brought Cassel to the Chiefs from the Patriots was the right move at the right time. He stabilized the most important position on the field for the Chiefs at a time when it was needed. The front office could then build up the team around him and give him every chance to succeed. But it's obvious that things are not working right now and when things are going bad for a football team it will always start with the head coach and quarterback.
Before the season most Chiefs fans were predicting wins for the first two games of the season against the Bills and Lions. After two epic beat-downs by a combined score of 89-10, they are staring down the barrel of a San Diego Charger matchup in San Diego, where they lost 31-0 last year.
It has all the makings for a continued collapse for the Chiefs. But it also provides the big-stage opportunity needed for both Todd Haley and Matt Cassel to make a statement not only for this season, but for their careers as well. It may be a longshot to expect anything less than another embarrassing loss, but they have the opportunity to show something to all of those who will be questioning them all week long as to the type of coach they want to be and the type of quarterback they can be. Some people in this kind of situation are never given a shot at redemption. Will they take advantage of it?