KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Todd Haley's reputation as a coach who can transform so-called diva wide receivers has been clearly established. One of his former pupils, Larry Fitzgerald, and one of his current projects, Dwayne Bowe, stand as testimony to Haley's skills in this area.
Haley willingly took on another challenge last month when the Chiefs selected University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin in the first round of the NFL draft, a player who established himself as a me-first player upon declaring for the draft after his junior season.
On his way out the door, Baldwin blasted the Pitt coaching staff and quarterbacks, saying they were the reason for his subpar 2010 season and that returning to school for his senior year would only further endanger his draft standing.
Perhaps emboldened by his success with Fitzgerald and Bowe, Haley has joked publicly about any potential clash with Baldwin, saying they'll get along well once the rookie realizes he can't act like a diva.
Getting to that point can be and has been painful for some. Haley has had much-publicized sideline squabbles over the years with receivers Terrell Owens in Dallas and Anquan Boldin in Arizona. Haley had to bench Bowe during their first training camp together in order to get his point across.
Haley will probably use the same strategy with Baldwin as he has used with the others: draw a line with regard to Baldwin's work ethic and then relentlessly stick to it, regardless of the cost.
Fitzgerald was a good if not premier receiver for the Cardinals before he spent two seasons under Haley's tutelage as Arizona's offensive coordinator. A big receiver, but not as big as Baldwin, who is 6-feet-4 and 230 pounds, Fitzgerald at the time of Haley's arrival had little more than the basic ability to run down the field and outjump defenders for passes.
Under Haley in 2007 and 2008, Fitzgerald caught 196 passes for more than 2,800 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. Fitzgerald said Haley was responsible for turning him into one of the game's great receivers.
"He would call me a one-trick pony," Fitzgerald said last fall before the Chiefs played the Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium. "He would just play these little tricks with me every day. He'd tell me that if I wanted to be a regular good player in this league for a long time, that's fine, I could be that. But if I wanted to be great, this is what I would have to do: buy into it every day, film study, doing all the things that the Jerry Rices and guys like that were doing.
"I was a good player when he got here, but I was far from a complete player. I never watched film, I didn't study my opponent. We started at 8 o'clock. I was getting in the building at 7:55. We were done at 3 o'clock, and I was out of the building at 3:05. I came to work and did my job, but that's about it.
"Todd made me understand that to be... a great player, you have to do more. You have to do extra. I've taken that to heart even since he's left. I continue to do things he taught me: run routes after practice, catch extra balls."
In response, Haley said, "Larry was one of my favorite guys to work with. He was willing to do anything and everything to reach his goals. He was thinking football all the time."
Nobody has described Baldwin as being that way. But Haley said Baldwin was justified in expressing some frustration after a season that saw his stats drop, in some cases sharply.
"Guys like Jonathan, they are super competitive and they want to help and be a part of it, and when things don't go the way you planned or the way they went the year before, that makes for a difficult year," Haley said immediately after the Chiefs drafted Baldwin. "But sometimes those types of years are what can really build the type of character we are looking for."
Baldwin said immediately after being drafted by the Chiefs he would use Bowe as his role model in adapting to the NFL game. If Bowe proves to be a good example for Baldwin, that doesn't just make Haley's job with the rookie receiver that much easier.
It also might be Haley's greatest achievement.