KANSAS CITY, Mo. —It can be difficult to see now, with the season that began with promise having deteriorated to the point where the Chiefs with three games remaining felt compelled to fire coach Todd Haley.
But next season doesn't necessarily have to get down to the final games with the Chiefs carrying a similar feeling of despair. The Chiefs could well be a factor in the AFC West race at this time next year.
"I wouldn't be surprised one bit,'' ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "If they stay healthy, which is something that didn't happen last year, they could easily be in the division race next year. They're in a quick turnaround mode.''
That's something the Chiefs are counting on.
"I do believe we have a strong foundation in place with a core group of talented players,'' chairman Clark Hunt. "I am confident in the future of the team.''
How quickly the Chiefs can again become contenders rests on who the Chiefs hire to replace Haley, his philosophy and systems and how he feels about the rest of the coaching staff and the players.
Going to continuity would make sense if the Chiefs are looking for a quick turnaround. They named defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel the interim head coach and general manager Scott Pioli said Crennel would be a candidate for the permanent job,
However the Chiefs fill the position, there will be some expectations.
"I think we have a locker room that not only has talent,'' Pioli said. "I think we also have good makeup and character in that locker room. We need to continue to improve this roster and continue to improve the depth on this football team.
"We've made some progress the last couple of years and then we came to a point where some of that progress has slowed down. We have as good strong core of players here. I don't put time frames on things but clearly I need to get to work if we're going to be a good football team and continue to get better and consistently compete for championships. I need to make sure we have a good roster.''
Whatever the Chiefs do, they won't have to start over as they did in 2009 when they hired Haley. That was a complete overhaul as the Chiefs transitioned from the administration of general manager Carl Peterson and coach Herm Edwards.
The Chiefs hacked away at the roster, the coaching staff and the way of doing things until what remained was almost unrecognizable.
"Todd did a really nice job getting a lot of things into place,'' Dilfer said. "He changed the culture. He established discipline. He got things moving in the right direction. He developed young players. The problem is that a lot of them got hurt.
"So the next guy has a great opportunity. He doesn't have to be burdened with those kinds of things. He doesn't have to spend time and energy on a lot of that stuff. He can work right away on getting his systems into place.''
The Chiefs are 5-8 heading into Sunday's game against Green Bay at Arrowhead Stadium. They have five losses by 27 or more points and have only the slimmest of playoff possibilities. One Chiefs loss or one Broncos win in the final three games eliminates the Chiefs from postseason contention.
That's not the profile of a team with a realistic shot at making the playoffs the next season. But some factors made the Chiefs look uglier than maybe they really are.
One is Haley's training camp and preseason plan, which obviously failed. NFL teams had no off-season training programs or practices because of the lockout, so camp was more about conditioning than football.
Predictably, the Chiefs weren't ready when the regular season started and lost their first two games by a combined score of 89-10.
"We did win the division title last year so we're right there,'' Crennel said. "This year has been a different year, not only for us but for everybody else in the NFL. As you look through the league and you look at every other team (except the undefeated Packers), there have been ups and downs. A lot of that has to do with the fact there was no offseason.
"Next year will be a more solid year because we'll have the offseason, we'll have (off-season practices), we'll have a training camp where we know what to expect. With the young guys we have on this team, that would have benefitted those guys a great deal. As a result, that's why we were up and down a little bit. We'll be better as we go forward.''
The Chiefs also lost four of their most indispensable players _ quarterback Matt Cassel, running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry _ for the season with injuries. All could return for the start of next season.