If there is anybody on the Pittsburgh Steelers that knows a bit about the New England Patriots’ mastermind, Bill Belichick, then it would have to be their offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. To the best of my knowledge, he is the only person among both players and coaches who has anything more than a passing working relationship with him.
Three players—Mike Hilton, Xavier Grimble, and L.J. Fort—have had a cup of coffee with the Patriots during the offseason or on the practice squad, but none of them were with the team for more than a week or two. Haley, however, coached with Belichick for a few years while both were with the Jets.
The two overlapped during their coaching tree in the late 90s. Belichick, a year removed from a failed head-coaching stint with the Browns after a very successful run as defensive coordinator for the Giants, took over as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the other New York franchise in 1997, a position he held for three seasons.
Haley, in the meantime, began his coaching career with the Jets. He was a scouting assistant for two years beginning in 1997, and then found himself a rookie coach when Belichick came in during the 1997 season, heading up the wide receivers. Haley was there all throughout the latter’s tenure.
And he only learned to appreciate in hindsight why he got yelled at so much, he told Ray Fittipaldo.
“I had a coach screaming at me that he lined up one yard outside numbers instead of two, and I’m like, ‘what the hell is the difference?’”, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter. One of Haley’s responsibilities was to run the scout team offense, so you can understand why they would be Belichick’s concern as defensive coordinator.
“It tells you why he’s been one of the best coaches in the league”, Haley said. “And why some coaches are good coaches and some guys aren’t so good. It’s the details and continuing to harp and push. Sometimes it involves a little yelling and screaming to make guys understand”.
Having gotten the opportunity to work with and watch how Belichick coaches up close for those three seasons, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator believes he has a relatively good grasp on how his Patriots defenses like to attack a team like his.
“They worry about the people they think can beat them”, he said. “That’s why it comes down to other guys making plays. That’s just the way it is and the way it always has been”. And not that it has ever been a secret. During Belichick’s second Super Bowl loss to the Giants, he was captured basically saying they have to make the Giants depend on somebody like Mario Manningham to win. And they did. And he did.
Haley believes they are capable of taking two players away. You would think that those two players will be Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. So others like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant, and Jesse James will have to make plays this evening.