Tuesday, December 6, 2011 Updated: December 7, 11:33 AM ET
'Jets Midwest' coming to MetLife
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
When he was hired to rescue the New York Jets in 1997, Bill Parcells assembled one of the best coaching staffs in recent memory -- a Dream Team that produced four NFL head coaches, a major-college coach and a certain future Hall of Famer who migrated north and has been tormenting the Jets ever since.
Oh, yes, and the front office and scouting department wasn't bad, either: It included three future general managers, including the Jets' current boss, Mike Tannenbaum.
On Sunday, a good portion of that old group returns to New Jersey, dressed in red. It's the Kansas City Chiefs, with a staff directory that reads like an old Jets media guide.
Say hello to "Jets Midwest."
Forget about 'Tone Time, this is Tuna Time.
The Chiefs are run by GM Scott Pioli, who worked with Tannenbaum when they were young, front-office pups learning the business under Parcells. Pioli, who would become Parcells' son-in-law, made his bones with the New England Patriots, serving as Bill Belichick's personnel guru for nine years and winning three Super Bowls.
When he took over the moribund Chiefs in 2009, Pioli hired Todd Haley, who received his first coaching gig in '97. He worked as a quality-control assistant on Parcells' staff -- the bottom rung of the coaching ladder -- along with another coaching wannabe, Eric Mangini.
"Todd and I used to play basketball," Tannenbaum recalled Tuesday. "He was very competitive. It's no surprise that he's a head coach."
If Parcells, Vinny Testaverde and Curtis Martin showed up Sunday at MetLife Stadium, it would be like a reunion of the '98 Jets, one of the best teams in franchise history. That team -- that watershed era -- was the handiwork of Parcells, who lifted the organization out of its darkest period with his larger-than-life persona and ability to surround himself with good people.
Romeo Crennel (back right) is one of many current Chiefs staffers who worked with Bill Parcells during his tenure with the Jets.
Some were proven coaches he knew from his days with the New York Giants, and some were unknowns, like Tannenbaum, Pioli and Haley. They're part of his legacy.
"All those guys, you can't help but be proud," Parcells said Tuesday in a phone interview, sounding grandfatherly. "I've been very lucky, with some of the success they've had. They're their own guys, and they've done it themselves, but I'm proud."
Haley's staff includes seven with ties to the Parcells Jets. You can start with Mo Carthon (assistant head coach), Romeo Crennel (defensive coordinator) and Bill Muir (offensive coordinator/line coach), all of whom are former Jets assistant coaches. Parcells has known Crennel for more than 35 years, and one thing hasn't changed.
"Romeo is a good defensive coach -- and he's been good for a long time," said Parcells, recently named a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Haley also hired three former players from the '98 team -- Richie Anderson (wide-receivers coach), Anthony Pleasant (defensive line) and Otis Smith (defensive-quality control). Bernie Parmalee, who played for the Jets in 1999 and 2000, is the tight ends coach.
"Hey, it's interesting, really interesting, to see how they've grown up and changed as people," said Parcells, alluding to a coaching tree that includes three Super Bowl winners -- Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton. "Some have gone on to great things."
Haley had no prior coaching experience when Parcells took him in and assigned him to do some work with the receivers, a unit headed by Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet. Haley is the son of the venerable Dick Haley, the former longtime personnel director of the Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
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The elder Haley, a holdover from the Rich Kotite regime, clicked with Parcells. They were old-school football guys with similar philosophies, and he became Parcells' sounding board. Haley mentioned that Todd wanted to get into coaching, and that's how his career started.
When Parcells returned to coaching with the Dallas Cowboys, he hired Todd, who later went to the Arizona Cardinals before reuniting with Pioli in Kansas City. In two-plus seasons, Haley, 44, is only 19-25, but he won an expected AFC West title last season. The Chiefs have slipped to 5-7, but they've been hit hard by injuries and Haley deserves at least another season.
In the watered-down AFC West, the Chiefs still have hope. It sets up a compelling dynamic Sunday: Tannenbaum's team vs. Pioli's team.
They used to be close friends, but Pioli followed Belichick to the Patriots and -- well, you can imagine how the acrimony of the Jets-Patriots rivalry might affect a relationship. Tannenbaum said they still talk, but it can't be the same. How can it be? Too much stuff has happened over the years. SpyGate, anyone?
"He does a good job," Tannenbaum said matter-of-factly. "He's built a good team out there. I respect the job he does."
Back in the day, Tannenbaum, Pioli and Parcells met daily at 6 p.m. to discuss "family business," the Godfather -- er, Parcells -- called it. They talked about the salary cap, the waiver wire and potential roster moves, each day a learning experience for the two young executives.
It was a special time. Down the hall, they had Haley, Mangini, Crennel and Al Groh, future NFL head coaches. They also had Charlie Weis, who would go on to coach Notre Dame before reuniting last season with Haley as his offensive coordinator. The scouting staff included Trent Baalke, currently the San Francisco 49ers' GM.
Parcells has rooting interests all over the league, and Sunday there will be a bunch of his guys in the same stadium, fighting for survival in the playoff race. In most places, blood is thicker than water, but not this place.
"You can't help but take an interest," Parcells said. "These guys, I root for them. I mean, I'm watching the Giants-Packers, and it's hard. It's like I'm involved in it, but I'm not. But, hey, it's good. I have no complaints."