Bill Belichick is the poster child for failed head coaches who swallowed their pride, returned to their coordinator roots, earned a second shot and made good. But Belichick is the exception, not the norm. Most second-time head coaches, who worked their way back from assistant up to head coach, do no better in their do-over. Romeo Crennel, Dick Jauron, Wade Philips, Ken Whisenhunt, Norv Turner and Joe Bugel all failed as second-time head coaches while the Detroit Lions’ Jim Caldwell is on the hot seat this season.
That’s why, no matter how many points Pittsburgh scores each week, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is no shoe-in to get a second chance to run a team, let alone succeed at it.
But before addressing Haley’s chances at earning a head coaching job sometime next spring or any other time, consider the status of another former NFL head coach who returned to the sidelines as an assistant a few years back and is now running one of the league’s most potent offenses.
It seems a foregone conclusion that Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, will soon be the hot coaching candidate, especially because of his work with New England’s quarterbacks. He’s already won three games with three different starters this season. Furthermore, he’s won a Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator and he may well be desperate to redeem himself after his embarrassing tenure as Denver’s head coach ended in 2010. All these factors point to McDaniels taking whatever the best job available next year, whether it’s Detroit, Jacksonville, San Diego, Cincinnati, Indianapolis or somewhere else.
Haley’s situation is much different than McDaniels’, and not just because he is 9 years older. He doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring in Pittsburgh and his run as a head coach in Kansas City wasn’t nearly as disastrous as McDaniels’ was: At least Haley’s team made the playoffs.
Perhaps he doesn’t want another shot at being a head coach and enjoys the far more focused and comparatively simpler task of offensive coordinator … although that’s unlikely. So, assuming he does want another shot, what are the chances someone hires him?
From a pure numbers standpoint, Haley is as good a candidate as anyone. In his offense, the Steelers have finished in the top three in yardage each of the last two seasons, and — aside from a significant hiccup against Philadelphia — Pittsburgh’s offense has been as good as any in the league in 2016.
But Haley might not be that hotly sought after given the ugly way in which his run in Kansas City ended. Four days before the Chiefs fired him late in the 2011 NFL season, Haley told a reporter about his fears the front office was bugging his phone and spying on him and his assistants.
That report is not widely known and there’s a chance teams in search of a head coach will ignore or forget it. But NFL front offices do have long memories and that quirky story could make the difference. The time he left a “Chiefs Suck” note on a check at a restaurant might also serve as a minor red flag to a general manager and team president.
Still, owners who are looking for someone to resurrect a dormant offense are likely to look past all that and make the best hire. Haley has done such a masterful job with the Steelers, especially developing Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown into superstars, as well as molding Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates into playmakers. Teams will at the very least show interest in him. And in the end, if he is willing to leave Ben Roethlisberger and that fine collection of skill players, Haley is probably destined to get a second chance as a head coach.
And how that will turn out is anybody’s guess. Mike Mularkey, a twice-failed head coach who went from Titans offensive coordinator to Titans head coach last year is 2-3 and oversees one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NFL. Meanwhile, Jack Del Rio, who was run out of Jacksonville before taking over as Denver’s defensive coordinator in 2012, now has the Oakland Raiders tied for first place in the AFC West.
As for Haley? Well, now that Snoop Dogg seems to be off his case, neither staying in Pittsburgh nor taking a head coaching job elsewhere would be the wrong move. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s the right move, either.