In the wake of his re-election Tuesday, Obama undoubtedly stands by that sentiment. However, for NFL coaches with a chance to stick it to their former bosses – with Denver Broncos head coach John Fox and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley as this weekend's prime examples – there's an even better form of vengeance: winning, as decisively and embarrassingly as possible.
Fortunately for Fox and Haley, they're in a great position to do just that.
NFL coaches, as a general rule, are some of the most hyper-competitive, petty and humorless men on the planet (and I say that with great affection). While Fox and Haley defy the humorless part of that stereotype – they both routinely crack me up, at least – don't even consider the possibility that their minds aren't filled with punitive thoughts this week.
Fox, who felt he got a raw deal toward the end of his nine-year tenure with the Carolina Panthers, returns to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday with a chance to add to Jerry Richardson's misery.
Richardson, the Panthers' owner, allowed Fox to be a lame duck two seasons ago, and mutually assured dysfunction ensued. Now, Fox coaches a 5-3 Peyton Manning-quarterbacked Broncos team that is poised for a second consecutive AFC West title, while Carolina (2-6) is just lame. Richardson fired longtime general manager Marty Hurney last month and put Fox's successor, Ron Rivera, on notice that he might be next. Good times.
Haley, attempting to rebuild his reputation with the Steelers (5-3) after a tumultuous, three-year stint as the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach, will call plays for Ben Roethlisberger against K.C. at Heinz Field on Monday night. While Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin will be the one to decide how merciless his team might dispatch the 1-7 Chiefs, he might at least get some lobbying from his offensive coordinator.
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Though Haley has a lesser title in Pittsburgh, he's thoroughly enjoying his role in the organization where his father, Dick, was a highly successful player personnel director for two decades. He is especially indebted to Tomlin for hiring him to replace Bruce Arians despite the negative perceptions of Haley as an unhinged hothead.
"I'm so thankful that he saw through that and gave me a chance to be evaluated on my merits," Haley said Thursday night. "He's a smart guy – there's a reason why he's so successful. When we decided to do this, he said, 'I want you to be you. That's why I'm hiring you.' It's been phenomenal."
It's not hard for Haley to trace the origin of the stigma. Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli, the man who fired Haley with three games remaining in the 2012 season, might be the basis of a character for a potential Horrible Bosses sequel, what with the paranoia and the micro-managing and the insecurity and the ego-driven bullying.
Now there is mounting pressure on Chiefs owner Clark Hunt to fire Pioli – some fans paid for a plane to fly over Arrowhead Stadium displaying a banner urging the move during a K.C. home game last month – and you can bet Haley wouldn't be devastated to play a part in hastening the GM's descent.
Though Haley, who has been lauded for the Steelers' offensive balance during their current three-game winning streak, wouldn't cop to vengeful motives in our phone conversation Thursday, he didn't have to: As one NFL coach who knows him said Wednesday, "You know he wants to put it on them. Fox too. We all think that way. It's how we're wired."
In both cases, any lingering spite will likely stay concealed. That's because both Fox and Haley are so thrilled with their current circumstances that it's hard to be bitter, regardless of what happens in these potential payback scenarios.
Fox, who was not offered a new contract after nine seasons (and one Super Bowl appearance) in Charlotte, got snapped up immediately by new Broncos executive vice president John Elway and made the most of the opportunity. After a rocky start in 2011, Fox made a quarterback change, gave in to Tebowmania and completely transformed his offense in the process. The end result was an unlikely division title and a shocking playoff upset of the Steelers.
Then, the Broncos underwent another dramatic transformation in March by signing Manning. Again, Fox allowed the team's offensive scheme to be completely altered to match the strengths of his starting quarterback. While it's not necessarily a stretch to do that for one of the best ever to play the position, not every NFL coach would be so adaptable.
The results thus far have been impressive, and Manning and the Broncos appear to be on a mile-high trajectory.
Pittsburgh, too, is trending upward. After a 2-3 start – beginning with a defeat to Manning and the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and continuing with unseemly road setbacks to the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans – the Steelers have rebounded with victories over the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins and New York Giants.
During the Steelers' streak Haley scaled back the team's attack and recommitted to the running game, with backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman shining in relief of the injured Rashard Mendenhall. This is part of a larger, more concerted effort to keep Roethlisberger from absorbing undue punishment and forcing balls into coverage.
Given Roethlisberger's reputation for being headstrong, egocentric and a bit of a drama queen – and the fact that he was adamantly opposed to the firing of Arians, the team's coordinator from 2007-11 – there seemed to be serious potential for him and Haley to clash. Though their early interactions were somewhat distant, the coach and quarterback have gradually warmed to one another and have forged a happy football marriage.
Currently second in the AFC with a 101.1 passer rating, Roethlisberger (16 touchdown passes, four interceptions, a 67.1 completion percentage and 2,203 passing yards) is on pace for a career year. He has been sacked just 17 times and, in general, is being hit considerably less, as Haley attempts to minimize the occasions on which the quarterback relies upon his tremendous improvisational abilities.
"I can understand there being initial apprehension on his part," Haley said. "He's a guy that has been to three Super Bowls, and won two, and has been an elite quarterback in this league. If I were him and saw the perception of me – not that it's right, but what was out there – I could see saying, 'Whoa, this isn't gonna go well.'
"But from my perspective, I went in understanding that. I go by what I see, and I just ask that he does, too. There's a perception about him, too, and I didn't judge him based on that."
While encouraged by Tomlin to be true to his personality, Haley has essentially sublimated his irascible, combative side since coming to Pittsburgh. That, Haley said, is simply a function of necessity, or lack thereof.
"Good coaches, I believe, coach the way that's required to give you a chance to succeed," Haley said. "If you're coming to a team that's won two games the year before [as the Chiefs did in 2008], it's a lot different than coming to a team that's won 12 the previous year, and a whole lot before that. You can't be a robot. If you've got a lot of high-character veterans who play and practice hard, you don't need a lot of ballyhoo."
While Haley prefers not to reflect back on his time with the Chiefs, there's a new appreciation for him in Kansas City, where Pioli has replaced him as the primary target of the fans' ire. Haley's 19-26 coaching record included a 10-6 mark and AFC West title in 2010, when he helped finesse a Pro Bowl campaign out of otherwise beleaguered quarterback Matt Cassel.
Haley was fired after a 5-8 start last season, with Pioli tabbing Romeo Crennel (who went 2-1 as the team's interim coach) as his replacement. Looking back, Haley deserves credit for fighting through a disastrous start and avoiding the type of wholesale collapse that has plagued Crennel's team in 2012.
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The 2011 Chiefs were outscored 89-10 in their first two games as three significant players, including star halfback Jamaal Charles and standout safety Eric Berry, were lost to season-ending injuries. After improving to 1-3 with a victory over the Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City headed to Indianapolis as reports surfaced that a defeat to the Colts would cause Pioli to fire Haley. Down 24-7, the Chiefs rallied to win, ultimately becoming the first team in NFL history to win four consecutive games after a 0-3 start.
While Haley redefines himself in Pittsburgh, this year's Chiefs are redefining feeble. Their lone victory came in overtime against the Saints, and halfway through a nightmarish season they have yet to hold a lead at any point of regulation in any game.
For all the speculation about Haley hoping to run up the score against his former team, I suspect that keeping that ignominious streak alive – and preventing Pioli from enjoying even that tiny pleasure – is a more salient goal.
After all, for most scorned NFL coaches, humiliation is the best revenge.
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