TAMPA - Has anybody co-starred in more sideline blowups with diva wide receivers than Todd Haley?
It isn't an official statistical category, so we might never know for sure. But we have seen the Arizona Cardinals' offensive coordinator on our TV screens jawing back and forth with Anquan Boldin (in the NFC Championship Game victory over the Eagles, when Boldin was left off the field for the game-winning drive). We have seen Haley as Terrell Owens' target on the Cowboys' sideline at the Linc in 2006, T.O. unhappy with his role in a loss to his former team. ESPN analyst and former wideout Keyshawn Johnson, an enthusiastic booster of Haley's head-coaching candidacy, has been quoted as saying he had many, many loud confrontations with the coach, during their time working together with the Jets and the Cowboys.
"I don't know that," Haley said, when asked if he holds the record, during yesterday's media-day circus at Raymond James Stadium. On Sunday, Haley's high-powered Cardinals offense will take on the top-rated Pittsburgh Steelers defense in Super Bowl XLIII. "I will say, though, the other night they were showing clips of [Bill] Parcells, back in the Giants days, and I didn't feel so bad. I'm like, 'There's my guy.' He's getting after [quarterback Phil] Simms and getting after the defense. It's the way I am. There's a lot of great coaches that are quiet leaders, and a lot of great coaches that are emotional guys. I just happen to fit into the emotional, fiery side, I guess."
Haley, who turns 42 in a month, was a Pittsburgh-area star high school third baseman and college golfer at three schools. He didn't play football in high school or college, but he began his NFL career in 1995 in the Jets' scouting department, following the path of his father, Dick, a former Steelers corner who became Pittsburgh's player personnel director during the Steel Curtain dynasty days. In 1997, Todd moved to coaching, under Parcells and then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. He had to take a 50 percent pay cut, he said, when he accepted the bottom-rung coaching job, but Haley said he sensed he could learn a lot.
"I'm grateful that coach Parcells started me with Charlie Weis and the receivers," Haley said. "Originally, I was supposed to be with coach [Ron] Erhardt and the quarterbacks. It kind of set the direction I was going; they're a unique group, generally, at the wide-receiver position. There's a lot of characters involved, and the fact that for 12 years I was able to coach that position has been great for me . . . I think that if you can handle that group, you can handle any group."
Speculation holds that after the Super Bowl, Haley might get a chance to handle the Kansas City Chiefs' group - not just the wide receivers or the offense, but the whole team, as the prospective successor to fired head coach Herm Edwards.
New Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and Haley started out together in personnel with the Jets.
"Scott and I were kind of young guys in the business at the time we were together in New York," Haley said. "I think highly of Scott; I think he's done a terrific job, he did a terrific job in New England. I think they have the blueprint on how to work together and succeed."
As is often the case with a hot assistant at the Super Bowl, Haley is uncomfortable with the idea that he has his bags packed for Kansas City. He tried to discourage that perception yesterday, 2 years after leaving the Cowboys when Parcells stepped down, and interviewing for that head-coaching job. There were reports that he might have been hired except for his demand that owner Jerry Jones get rid of Owens.
"This is true, it comes from my heart: I love where I'm at," Haley said. "I love living in Arizona. I love my boss, I love the guys I work with. The guys I coach, I can't say enough about. I'm happy with the job I've done - I feel like I've excelled - and I'm happy to be in the Super Bowl. It's what we sacrifice so much of our lives [for], and as coaches, we truly sacrifice. I have five kids, and I have to sacrifice a lot of time with them . . . I'm just really trying to enjoy this moment."
But everybody wants to be a head coach, right?
"I don't know that you can say everybody wants to be a head coach. I didn't get into this business to be a head coach," Haley said. "As you move further along and you move up the ladder, I think it's something you start to think about - 'Could I do this job? Could I not do this job?' I have great confidence in my ability, and if the right situation presents itself, I think I'd like to do that."
In other words, if Pioli's hiring, Haley's listening.
Haley's deep connection with the Steelers is one of those Super Bowl ironies that seem to dot the history of the event. He worked at their training camp as a youngster, often as a ballboy, and eventually became an official ballboy for games, stationed on the visitors' sideline at Three Rivers Stadium.
"He was a fine young man," said 76-year-old Steelers owner Dan Rooney. "He really was."
Steelers president Art Rooney II, Dan's son, said he isn't surprised to see his franchise working to thwart the schemes of his former ballboy.
"I was fairly close with his father," the younger Rooney said. "I think his dad was hoping he'd become a professional golfer. Somewhere along the line he made a mistake and got back into the football business. He's doing a great job . . . He comes from good stock, he grew up in the business."
Haley talked yesterday about how, because he was so young and didn't know better, he took for granted his position rubbing elbows with all-time greats. And all the winning, as well.
"I was just a kid enjoying the ride, but I thought Super Bowls came around every other year," Haley said. "You thought you made it to the [conference] championship game, you lost, you came back and you made it to the Super Bowl. I have such a great appreciation now for where I'm at because it's now been 30 years since my father's last Super Bowl. And he's worked hard, for many, many years."
Dick Haley left the Steelers in 1992 to work for the Jets. He has been with the Dolphins since 2007. Todd considers his father his greatest influence, he said.
Haley has a very close relationship with his quarterback, Kurt Warner; they text-message so often that Brenda Warner has kidded with her husband about having an affair with his coordinator.
"I can't say enough about the job he's done and what he's brought to the table for our football team," Kurt Warner said yesterday. "Really, how he's pushed me and helped me develop as a quarterback."
Somebody asked Boldin if he ever sees Haley struggling with his emotions, struggling to "hold it in."
"He doesn't hold it in," Boldin said. "He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He's a guy that's very high-motored, a guy that's very vocal, a guy that's very passionate about what he does. I don't think he holds it in.
"I think he has a great shot to be a head coach. He possesses all the qualities of a head coach. So, you know, I think he will get a shot one day."
Maybe one day very soon. *