The conclusion that had been painfully obvious to legions of Chiefs fans for some time finally struck Clark Hunt and Scott Pioli Sunday as they watched the season further deteriorate with a blowout loss to the Jets.
They would have to fire coach Todd Haley.
“This decision,’’ Pioli said, “was going to be made at some point.’’
The only question was the timing. The Chiefs made the move Monday, figuring it was better to get it out of the way now rather than wait for the end of the season.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who had a 24-40 record coaching the Cleveland Browns from 2005 through 2008, will take Haley’s place for the final three games of the season. The Crennel era will begin with Sunday’s game against 13-0 Green Bay at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Timing in this situation is always difficult,’’ Hunt said. “There never seems to be a right time. We just felt the inconsistent play the team had experienced really throughout the season, including (Sunday’s) game, made today the right day to do it. We want to give the guys a chance to finish the season on a high note. Mathematically, we’re still alive for the playoffs and we want the guys to go out and face the Green Bay Packers and play to the best of their ability, and we felt a change was important at this time.’’
Sunday’s 37-10 loss to New York was the fifth for the Chiefs this season by 27 or more points. Hunt, the Chiefs’ chairman, and Pioli, their general manager, believed Haley was at fault.
The Chiefs are 5-8 and in last place in the AFC West. They can still win the division championship, but one loss or one Denver victory over the final three games of the season eliminates the Chiefs from contention.
“Our goal is to build a team that can consistently compete for championships and one that our fans can be proud of," Hunt said. "While there have been some bright spots throughout the season, it is clear to me we are not making enough progress toward that goal.’’
The Chiefs were 19-26 in the regular season under Haley, hired to replace Herm Edwards in 2009. They finished 10-6 last season and won their first AFC West championship since 2003, but even then, some of the trends that disturbed Hunt and Pioli were evident. The 2010 Chiefs also suffered several blowout losses, including the final regular season game against Oakland and the playoff game against Baltimore.
“It’s never one thing,’’ Pioli said. “It was an accumulation of information and thoughts, and we finally got down to talking about where things were and thought this was the best decision in order to create more consistency and progress.’’
The Chiefs were wildly inconsistent this season. They started 0-3, won their next four games but now have lost five of their last six. Season-ending injuries to key players like running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry, tight end Tony Moeaki and quarterback Matt Cassel certainly contributed to the problem.
But Hunt indicated the injuries were not reason enough to give Haley a pass.
“Most years, that’s typical in the National Football League and as a team, you have to find a way to overcome that,’’ Hunt said. “We just weren’t able to do that this year. Our play was up and down . . . at times during a given game. Those really contributed to our decision, the fact that our play was not consistent at all.’’
Haley didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Crennel will be a candidate for the permanent coaching position. Other candidates could include Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, a long-time friend of Pioli’s, former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. He worked with Pioli when they both were with the Patriots.
Asked what qualities the Chiefs will look for in their next head coach, Hunt said, “In a lot of ways some of the qualities that Todd brought to the job in terms of being a competitor, somebody who’s passionate and a good leader. Somebody who’s very smart, somebody who can work well with Scott and has a shared vision of the type of players we’re looking for.’’
Pioli dismissed suggestions that any problems in his relationship with Haley were the reason for the firing.
“We had a good working relationship,’’ Pioli said. “We really did. We communicated as we needed to communicate just as we did in the beginning years. We talked about work as we always do.’’
Pioli didn’t dodge a share of the blame for the Chiefs’ predicament. As general manager, he has the final say on decisions the Chiefs make in the draft and free agency. They were unable to adequately replace Charles, Moeaki and Cassel.
He also hired Haley, who had never been a head coach before joining the Chiefs.
“There is accountability on my part as well,’’ Pioli said. “I made the decision. Clark gave me the ability to make the decision on a head coach. We’re at a place where this didn’t work out. I need to be held accountable. I will be held accountable.
“Ultimately, (building the roster) is my job, and we’re clearly not at a spot where we need to be with our record being what it is and with us being in the position we’re in. Clearly, I need to do my job better as well.’’
But Hunt was clear Pioli would continue to be a part of the Chiefs' management team.
“I have a lot of confidence in Scott and I do believe he’s going to help us be successful over the long run,’’ Hunt said. “Probably no one is harder on himself or holds himself more accountable than Scott. As hard working as he is, I know he’ll double his efforts to make sure that we’re better next year than we were this year and better the year after that.’’