INDIANAPOLIS — The sour mood Todd Haley often carried through his first year with the Kansas City Chiefs began to change when his team hammered the Denver Broncos in the season's final game.
It further lightened when shortly after season's end, Haley hired veteran coaches Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis as coordinators for the defense and offense.
Throw in the fact he's no longer a rookie head coach and a few other factors and Haley's outlook is suddenly rosy. He said at the scouting combine last week that he believes that after just 10 wins in the past three seasons, the worst for the Chiefs is mercifully over.
"You can feel that things are going in the right direction and that's what has us all encouraged and excited," Haley said. "The key thing is that the guys, the players, continue to work and continue to see progress.
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"It was up and down. We had some games that we would have liked to have won. To end in the manner we ended... all of them kind of felt the same thing. I had multiple players come to me after the Denver game and say, 'I wish we could play so-and-so again. We'd beat them this time.' You've got to have (positive) results."
The Chiefs were 4-12 last season and had lost five straight games before heading in to Denver and beating the Broncos 44-24. As thorough as that victory was — Jamaal Charles rushed for a club-record 259 yards and Derrick Johnson returned each of his two interceptions for touchdowns — the Chiefs still allowed more than 500 yards and led by only a field goal heading into the fourth quarter.
There can be a danger in putting so much emphasis on one game and Haley said he agreed with that notion. But he said the Chiefs had the right to celebrate that victory, particularly with it happening at the end of a difficult season.
"There's always that (danger)," Haley said. "When we beat the Steelers, my biggest worry was, and I said it to the guys, 'Don't let this be our Super Bowl.' It really was. It was a big win for a young team and we didn't handle it very well. The next time around, we've got to handle it better.
"But it's all right to be excited about that."
Haley indicated moments after the Denver game had finished that he planned changes on the coaching staff. He then immediately went after Crennel and Weis.
Haley worked with both years ago when they were all assistant coaches with the New York Jets. Since then, Crennel and Weis went on to become head coaches, Crennel with the Cleveland Browns and Weis at Notre Dame.
Haley indicated that having veteran and familiar additions to his coaching staff will make a difference.
"You have a wealth of knowledge and experience of guys that have been in my position," Haley said. "At the same time, I know them well on a personal basis. I've worked with them when the bullets are flying. Our entire building, on the personnel side and the coaching side, we're all like-minded thinkers, which is priceless."
Haley could have used that help during his first season. That rocky year featured clashes with several players, sideline eruptions and the firing of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey in the preseason.
Haley said he will be better prepared heading into his second season now that he's more aware of the job's many challenges.
"I know so much more about the job," he said. "You can't prepare for until you do it. To have that year under my belt and that experience is huge for me... "
The development of Charles was perhaps the season's bright spot. Haley said he was encouraged about seeing how much better Charles could get but another reason for his optimism is the presence of quarterback Matt Cassel.
"He had ups and downs like all of us, but the thing about Matt is that he did continue to improve," Haley said. "He's an extremely tough guy, mentally tough, because it was not an easy year to be the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs. He withstood that onslaught and didn't show any signs of cracking.
"I think he's got the ability to continue to get better."
Schottenheimer into Chiefs Hall — Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who along with general manager Carl Peterson revived a dormant Chiefs franchise in the 1990s, was introduced as the 40th member of the Chiefs Hall of Fame on Saturday.
"This to me," he said, pausing to gather himself as he broke into tears, "is the highlight of my career. It's quite a treat for me to find myself in this situation."
Coaching the Chiefs from 1989-98, Schottenheimer had a regular season record of 101-58-1. His .634 winning percentage is the best among any coach in Chiefs history. Seven of his 10 Chiefs teams went to the playoffs, though none advanced to the Super Bowl.