BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Todd Haley’s Steelers roots are deep.
Haley’s father, Dick, played for and served as the team’s director of player personnel.
Haley was a ball boy for the team and watched film with his dad growing up prior to spending the last 6 years as their offensive coordinator.
Now he’s traded the black and gold for orange and brown where he’ll try to help head coach Hue Jackson resurrect the doormat of the AFC North – and NFL for that matter – the Cleveland Browns and their offense.
“I’m looking forward. This is a really exciting challenge, and I think it will be really great to be part of helping turn this great organization around with a rich, rich history,” Haley said. “Having grown up in Pittsburgh, I hated the Browns, but I liked a bunch of players a lot. Sam Rutigliano befriended me years ago, and I get excited every time I get a little note from him because on the front it is him and Brian Sipe. Obviously, Jim Brown; I have heard stories from my dad about him trying to tackle him.
“It is a rich, rich history. I think the fans are tremendous. The times that I have ever been in here, whether it was Kansas City or with the Steelers, it is a great crowd. All I can visualize is what it would be like when we are winning games.”
The Browns, who ranked last in scoring and 24th in total offense last season, officially hired Haley on Jan. 24 after the Steelers declined to renew his contract after it expired.
Haley declined to discuss any details of what led to his ouster in Pittsburgh, including reported clashes with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“I don’t have a lot to say about it,” Haley said. “I do know that how I was mentored and taught early was that a coach’s job is to come in and coach the players and develop the players first and foremost. That has to be No. 1. That is really how I go about business.
“I have nothing but fond memories. After sitting down and talking, it was obvious it was time for me to move on to a new challenge.”
Haley will assume control of the Browns offense, talking a major task off the plate of Jackson, who seems to have welcomed the idea of relinquishing control and delegating the work that comes with it rather than resisting it.
“He wasn’t hesitant at all with me,” Haley said.
It was Jackson who recruited Haley after the Steelers elected to let him walk.
Now the question becomes, how will Haley’s and Jackson’s offensive philosophies blend?
“We are working through some of that,” Haley said. “I’m a big guy of anytime you say ‘system’ to me, I’m not a ‘system’ guy so to speak. I have a language and terminology I have used for a long time that I think works. The big change really will be that – really just terminology.
“What I believe in is playing to every player’s strength that you have as best you can. Putting players into position to succeed, playing to their skillset. Wherever I have been, that is what I have really tried to do.”
Haley replaced Bruce Arians in 2012 as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh where the Steelers have averaged the third most yards per play since. In the last four seasons the Steelers ranked behind only the Patriots in scoring. Pittsburgh’s offense ranked third in 2017, seventh in 2016, third in 2015 and second overall in 2014 after being ranked 20th and 21st in 2013 and 2012 respectively under Haley.
It also helps that Haley had the three-headed monster of Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown to work with too.
“You have to develop players in this league,” Haley said. “I brought up Antonio Brown. When I got there, Antonio Brown wasn’t the Antonio Brown everybody knows. There was great development there. In this league, if you don’t develop players, you are probably going to fail.”
It is expected that the Browns, who own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, will pick a quarterback with that top selection.
“When you have a couple of really high picks like we do, it is a great opportunity,” Haley said. “As my father always said to me, ‘When you are picking in the top 10, Todd, you better be right most of the time.’ That will be the challenge for everybody involved.”
In addition to avoiding discussing specifics about current players, Haley didn’t want to get into any evaluations of the current QB class that includes Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen or Wyoming’s Josh Allen but he did provide a glimpse into the type of player he prefers play the position.
“You are looking for highly-competitive guys with ability to weather the storms that are going to come up as a young quarterback in the league,” Haley said. “You are looking for physical and mental toughness. Obviously, you have to have an NFL-type arm. You have to have great feel and awareness and great leadership.
“It is a tough position to evaluate. It always has been, and there evidence of that year in and year out throughout the league. Like I said, that is one of the great challenges, and I’m excited about that process.”