Q: You’ve talked about the type of player that you want and like for this team and organization, have passion for football and have leadership qualities. Those are important but do you think it’s true that the skills are what really have to make a big jump from year to year?
HALEY: “I don’t know, that’s a little difficult to answer Kent. I think all those variables grow as a player gains experience and with coaching. I think that’s a process for each and every one of these players. Like I’ve touched on a little bit I think skill is skill but it doesn’t come down to the most skilled player. There are a lot of skilled athletes that have missed their opportunity to be in the NFL or whatever professional sport we’re talking about. Skill is skill but the other variables are what separate the skill from talent, the talented players and the truly talented players. I think when you’ve got a combination of skill and some of those other variables then you start talking about great, great players.”
Q: Wouldn’t you rather have a guy whose leadership is just ok but he can play consistently every day than a guy who is up and down but is just a heck of a leader?
HALEY: “Another good question. I think that’s just all part of it, yeah we want consistent guys daily but generally the guys that are real consistent, that are the same guy every day, they generally find their way over to the leadership side. Just from what I’ve seen, when you’ve got an inconsistent player you generally have an inconsistent personality with some ups and downs going on somewhere, whether it’s in his personal life, professional life, whatever it is, that’s just the way I’ve seen it. When you get the dependable players, generally they’re the guys that have a good deal of leadership built in.”
Q: Since you named LB
HALEY: “Derrick Johnson, from day one has continued to make progress. He’s one of the developing young players; he’s on the back end of that because he’s now got more years than a majority of our team. I think he is a good example of the process working. I think that he’s had some ups and downs and for a lot of different reasons last year but he continued to fight and come to work every day and work on the things we wanted him to work on. He was one of our top performers in the off-season. That’s one of our better positions as far as competition goes so I think that Derrick has continued to make steps along the way to try to help this team win. That being said, I told you yesterday I’m kind of throwing that ‘starter’ word out of my vocabulary and it’s for good reason in my mind because as we add players into this group and this team, and I think as competition increases, there are going to be some guys no different than the running backs that we’ve talked about that somebody has to start and I think then what it becomes when you have multiple guys at a position that can play and can help you win, you better find ways to let those guys help you win. I know this team we’re playing on Monday, we’re not nearly as skilled as they are, it’s not close. That’s no disrespect to our guys, I think that’s the way that it is so when we do have multiple players at a position, say inside backer at a couple different spots and running back being another obvious one to me that can play and help you win, you better find ways to use them and that’s what my job as the head coach is to do.”
Q: Is it important for you as the coach to use Derrick Johnson as an example then that if they bust their butts that they will have a legitimate chance to compete and win a starting spot? Does that go along with your coaching philosophy moving forward?
HALEY: “Again I just wouldn’t make too much of one-this or one-that. We’re in the business of trying to win games. We’ve got a real game coming up here Monday night that’s going to count in our 16-game record and that’s the winning that I’m worried about, that’s the winning that I know my coaches are worried about and that’s the winning that the players, it appears to me, are worrying more and more about. How that happens and how we’re able to accomplish that is the critical thing right now because we’re playing a team that’s more skilled than we are and for us to have a chance we’re going to have to have all 45 guys in pads, or like I said yesterday, maybe 44 or 43 sometimes that are contributing on one, two or three snaps but multiple snaps and they have to come from somewhere. It’s going to be a work-in-progress but I feel good about the direction and the mindset that we have and I’m judging that strictly off our players and how they’re operating and acting.”
Q: San Diego QB Philip Rivers had some of the best numbers in the league last year. When you look at him, what does he do that can give the defense a headache?
HALEY: “I think you can tell there is some stability on the Charger team. That generally starts with the coaching staff and coach (Norv) Turner has been one of the top coaches in the league for a long time, he’s had great success at a couple different places and he’s now been there for awhile and Philip Rivers is ’04 in the league, is that correct? So he’s now an experienced quarterback that was clearly pretty highly thought of coming out in the draft and has backed that up and I think this guy has shown me at least that he’s just getting better and better every year. Because of that factor, he’s got a real quick release, he’s big, he makes real good reads and decisions and gets the ball out fast, for both those reasons, release and decision-making and that makes things happen fast on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve got a bunch of weapons on the offensive side that he spreads the ball to, that includes a real good tight end, one of the top tight ends now for a bunch of years, a couple of backs, three backs that can really hurt you in the passing game and they use them and receivers, now adding WR (Patrick) Crayton to the mix. Like I said it’s going to be a major test. I’m just looking to see that we’re making progress. This is our first real one and it’s a real good team on all sides of the ball.”
Q: You guys have tested RB
HALEY: “You said test, Kent, I didn’t say anything about testing Jamaal Charles. I think our mode of operation as a coaching staff and as an organization is to be bring in the most talented players that we can, not skilled, the talented that we can over time, develop the players that we have here and that’s what I’ve seen happen with Jamaal. I think that if you didn’t see Jamaal at a game or in a uniform and he was healthy there was a clear-cut for it, and that reason is he wasn’t the guy that gave us the best chance to win on that particular Sunday and that’s the facts. The easy thing to do when you see a guy like Jamaal Charles, who was a highly-thought-of player – not in the Philip Rivers category as far as where he entered the league – a successful college player that comes into the NFL, trying to find his way on how to best succeed, staff changes, his own position coach changes, those are all adjustments that a player has to make at whatever position they’re playing, so now the player’s going to do one thing or another, he’s either going to improve and get better or he’s going to get worse. Very rarely are guys staying the same and that’s what’s happening. Everyone sees Jamaal in and out of the lineup and not doing much but as the season progressed and for a lot of different reasons, numbers one and two being the way he was being coached and the way he responded to that coaching, he gets into a position where we feel confident that he’s becoming a dependable player that we can count on, not just simply carrying the ball as a running back, the most critical thing a running back has to do is protect. He has to understand blitzes and where they’re coming from and if I’ve got a running back in the game that doesn’t understand that and he misses an assignment and we end up with bad plays or even worse an injured quarterback because of that then I’ll have a team mutiny because the guys know how we expect it done. Jamaal has continued to develop. That started last year. He became in our eyes, a more dependable player that we could count on in all areas of his job performance. He had excellent, excellent success for the last half of the season, they say the best that anybody’s ever done from a production standpoint strictly running the football and it’s continued into the off-season – he had a big rehab on his hands that he had to go through and now we went through training camp and I wouldn’t ever say any of that was a test. They become tests for players I think and after the fact you look and you say wow, he really responded to this adversity, whether it’s an injury or it’s not getting to play a lot. I think that’s the way we look at it. He’s progressing and I’m looking for more and more because I think that’d be great for all of us.”
Q: With the new stadium opening, how people are going to spend their entertainment dollars in the future, do you think about how many people will jump on the bandwagon with a win on Monday night or at the same time, how many people you can lose almost immediately in Week One of the season, do you think about that or discuss that?
HALEY: “No. I wouldn’t say that ever enters my thoughts or the coaching staff’s thoughts. Now just from an experience standpoint you know that the better you do the more people tend to get on board. I think that’s why winning at home is always an important factor. You get eight home games and there is a clear-cut advantage to being at home for a lot of different reasons, and the fans being one of those. There are all kinds of factors that go into winning at home but I think it’s important to go out there and be your best. I don’t think it matters whether you’re home, away, in Canada or playing over in Europe; our job is to play better than the other team plays each time we’re out there. This is our first real game, it’s important for us to come out and show that we’re making progress.”
Q: Having said that, do you understand what kind of event this is for this franchise, for this city, do you know what this means to be back on the national stage again for this team?
HALEY: “Yeah, Adam, I think I understand your question. I think I have a full understanding of what football teams mean to communities. I think I have a full understanding of that. I grew up in a place that wasn’t a lot different than Kansas City. When I happened to be growing up I had a grandfather and two uncles in the steel and coal industry and that had all kind of gone downhill and I watched Pittsburgh go from a down-and-out kind of place to now, I think the way I understand it, one of the top couple places to live, however they figure that out, for a running number of years. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that that coincided with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ consistent success over the years. I think you look at the New Orleans Saints and what went on in New Orleans, a catastrophe, it’s a totally different situation, as bad a situation as a city, state, area can be under and I think we’ve all watched that city rally around a football team. I think that’s the special thing about the NFL that I would never lose sight of, just again with my background and some of the things that I’ve been involved in. That’s something that I talk about with the guys because this isn’t just cut and dry as much as we talk about it as win-loss, all those things, I think we have a bigger duty as coaches in the NFL, players in the NFL and we’ve had a couple real good people here in the recent months for that reason just to talk to all of us about what this platform means because it’s a big job. As I’ve said a number of times it’s the greatest job in the world as far as I’m concerned other than getting to be one of these guys that goes out there and plays on Sundays or Mondays. I think it’s something I’m very aware of and as this process continues I think that part of it will grow, Adam, but again, we are in the process. It’s a big job and there are steps you make. We’re by no means past the halfway point. We’re just making progress and I think if you lose sight of that, the bottom line that we do have to progress, make strides and you let that get you off track because you’re thinking about too many other things and you end up not having success, then the big picture is defeated anyway. The focus is there for all of us right now to become a better team and I think as that continues to occur and success follows, I think that the other real positives for everybody in this room, anybody that spends any time here, that has kids living here, or you’re living here or have been living here, it’ll be important to everybody. It’s not something that’s ever lost but I think the focus has to stay where it is right now for us.”
Q: You always say that you have the greatest job in the world. What do you love about it so much?
HALEY: “This is what I grew up in. This is what my life revolved around. My wife’s made up some t-shirts for all the other wives, ‘football first.’ It’s a way of life when you’re in this business and I don’t know that there is anything quite like it. I don’t know that I could pinpoint one thing because there is nothing like game day, there’s nothing like when the clock gets to 0:00 and you know you’ve won a game…the leadership, the coaching, the teaching, the helping young men and not-so-young men continue to develop in their life to become dependable people, not only on the field but off the field, dependable teammates. That’s the process we’re in and I know we’re making progress.”
Q: Last year QB
HALEY: “I think the only thing I want him remembering is those are games that are part of our scouting report, so-to-speak, so we’ve been seeing those games going back any off-season work we’ve done on our division opponents and we’ve continued to see them this week. Matt Cassel is making progress. He’s focused on the task at hand. I think this falls into get yourself ready to play your best game, that’s for this game, the next game and the game after and that’s what he’s doing. I’ll say this pretty firmly, I know he’s not worrying about that aspect of it other than how he can get better.”