The Angriest Todd in the World

On A Particular American Way of Failure
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I fantasized about firing Todd Haley, even before the Chiefs got 2 close 2 my fantasy last week. I am not alone in this, although I don’t have the excuse of being a Kansas City Chiefs fan. I don’t think I saw more than three games worth of Haley’s coaching during his three seasons in charge at Arrowhead, but that didn’t prevent me from being captivated by what a tool he seemed to be. In fact, those brief glimpses of Haley cultivated a medium-strong contempt for Todd Haley, a rewarding, self-propelled, amusing kind of hate.

Part of my animosity can be written off as cultural bias: Todd Haley has the misfortune of looking like a huge asshole. Fleece vests, intermittent shitty beard, jocko-dickwad sunglasses, things dangling on a lanyard, golf visors (the worst), even right down to being named Todd—a first name that’s been repurposed as a common noun meaning “alpha douche.” I hate dudes like Todd Haley, and that reflects poorly on me. Such bigotry isn’t fair to the specific dude named Todd Haley, who is statistically speaking probably a loving father/husband/non-felon/proud alumnus of the University of North Florida.

But another part of it, a bigger part of it, is more rational: Todd Haley also has the misfortune of actinglike a huge asshole. While dressed in fleece vest, shitty beard, golf visors (the worst), right on down the line, which amplifies everything. His sideline demeanor as a coach was like a composite sketch of the worst possible Little League dad. If he wasn’t screaming at Matt Cassel, he was berating his coaching staff. If he wasn’t screaming at his players or coaches, he was screaming at the refs. Or scolding opposing coaches. Often times he screamed at multiple groups at once. Nearly every time I saw Todd Haley, he was screaming at someone (usually an employee) from like two feet away, in public, while wearing a NFL-licensed-apparel golf visor (cultural biases are really hard to kill entirely) (to be fair he’s not even wearing a golf visor in almost all of those videos).

So, to conclude, Todd Haley looks like a mean yuppie dad on a sherm high. Also, people who constantly scream negative things run the risk of alienating bystanders. But I actually have a point here, apart from Todd Haley’s incipient meme-dom, smothered in its crib so cruelly. A Chiefs fan with less prejudices than myself might have appreciated Haley for what he’d accomplished with Scott Pioli’s help, at least before 2011’s annus horribilis. Was Todd Haley a good coach? I have no idea. Do you know?

What is the point of firing someone less than a season after they led a team to a division title and a playoff appearance? It only speaks to Todd Haley’s bizarre reverse-charisma that we’re not even talking about Tony Sparano, who was basically a Dennis Farina impersonator who wore sunglasses at all times and got pretty brutally sold out by the Dolphins during Jim Harbaugh NFL’s debutante season, and like Haley, got s-canned last Monday (harder to say that Sparano didn’t get a fair hearing, but his wasn’t the fairest hearing ever).

Kelefa Sanneh’s recent (excellent) profile of Jon Gruden, coach in exile, is worth reading, mostly for Sanneh’s subtly touching portrait of the manic Gruden, who wakes up at 3:17 a.m. to memorize the packages and personnel of Haley’s Chiefs, about to be ritually executed by the Patriots on MNF.  But Sanneh also nails an idea about football and executive leadership:

To see football from a coach’s perspective is to see almost nothing but failure: a grim parade of misaligned bodies, incorrect decisions, missed signals, and bad ideas, occasionally interrupted by a heads-up play or a feat of physical genius. Football is entertainment, but the players dissected on Gruden’s screens seem less like performers in the spotlight than workers under surveillance.

On different surveillance screens, it's easy enough for fans to notice that a team sucks; it's much harder to parse out why Sam Bradford's 2011 is so much worse than his 2010, or to see the defensive adjustments that turned the wildcat offense from football liberation theology back into a risky gimmick (I'm still waiting for the A-11 to reach the NFL). It's a cliche to say "Football is complicated!"; though it sure is.

What's confusing is why some NFL franchises have started making like Robespierre with head coaches. Todd Haley went 19–26 in his 2.8 seasons in KC In comparison: David Shula went 19–53 in 4+ years before Mike Brown decided enough was enough. Football is not nuclear war, contra Don DeLillo, but fielding a winning team is complicated. You’d think that NFL franchise owners, who are all incomprehensibly rich, would understand what can happen when you constantly replace managers.

The NFL has yet to evolve quants, although I’m sure we can look forward to a trend piece on that topic in a few years. Football coaching, for all the Mikes Leach and Martz of the world, is mostly just about winning.  Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy has as much swag as a wet-dry vac, but he knows well enough to grab the back of Aaron Rodger’s belt and hold on. Kim Jong-Bill Belichick has subsumed himself Daniel Day-Lewis-style in the role of “hermit dictator,” but his act is just a fanciful elaboration on the gospel of macho bullshit, a faith in which football coaches are high priests.

American audiences—be they fans, stockholders, or moviegoers—have a soft sport for Mametian executive-kabuki bullshit. In the otherwise muddled Margin Call, Jeremy Irons is beyond great playing a sort of mashup of Dick Fuld and Hank Scorpio, a perfect evocation of the vapid, domineering XY leadership pap that football coaches excel at. Irons looks like a Midtown version of Todd Haley—fleece vest upgraded for $4,000 suit, golf visor swapped for Patrick Bates haircut. Haley had the macho bullshit part down; he just had bad luck with the football part.


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