TAMPA, Fla. – They argue like brothers sharing a room, text like teenage girls and talk to each other more than they do their wives.
What Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and offensive coordinator Todd Haley don’t do is wonder what the other is thinking. If something is on their minds, it’s just renting space.
“My wife thinks I’m having an affair with Todd because we text so much and talk so much,” Warner said. “She gets a little jealous.”
The relationship between Haley and Warner is a major reason the Cardinals have developed one of the NFL’s more prolific offenses. Both watch hours of video on opponents and constantly think of ways to counter defensive schemes.
“If something pops into my head,” Warner said, “the first thing I do is text Todd and say, ‘What do you think about this?’ Or ‘On this play, I saw this and was thinking this.’ And he will do the same thing back to me. We push each other to be better at what we do.”
In interviews, the two talk about each other in measured tones, and the compliments flow. Warner, said Haley, works as hard as any quarterback he’s coached. And Haley, Warner said, is as willing to listen to a player’s ideas as anyone who’s coached him.
Game days, however, are something else.
Warner has ‘the look’
If something goes wrong on the field, Warner comes to the sidelines looking as if someone stole his car. If a receiver ran a wrong route, Warner lets him know it. If a protection call was blown, he’ll point that out.
His receivers refer to it as “the look.”
“It’s like you did the worst thing ever,” receiver Steve Breaston said. “You try to hide but he’s going to come find you.”
Haley is no different. He challenges players and believes that creative tension produces results. Besides, doing it any other way is foreign to him.
“I’m more to the confrontational side,” Haley said. “I can’t hold things in. It’s something you have to balance all the time. You have to have some semblance of control.”
So when Haley and Warner meet on the sideline, words can fly. Warner shouts and gestures. Haley flips up the mouthpiece on his headset and emphatically makes a point. More than once, Warner has walked away shaking his head.
Warner’s wife, Brenda, often asks her husband after the game what caused this week’s argument with Haley.
“That’s what makes it go,” Haley said of the relationship. “I can push his buttons and he can push mine.”
That’s one reason the Cardinals downplayed Haley’s sideline confrontation with receiver Anquan Boldin in the NFC Championship Game. They had seen similar confrontations with Warner, although those didn’t happen while Haley was trying to call plays.
“I think the quarterback-coordinator relationship is critical,” Haley said. “I think we have a good coach-to-player relationship but I think we also have a good person-to-person relationship.”
Similar alpha dogs
Haley and Warner have a lot in common off the field. Haley, 41, is only four years older than Warner. Haley and his wife, Chrissy, have five children, while the Warners have seven.
The two tease each other as much as they argue. Late in the season, Warner talked about how nice it would be to have a running game to rely upon, which struck Haley as funny, given that Warner is always lobbying to throw. So Haley sent a text to Warner, asking what happened to the guy who earlier in the season said he wanted the ball in his hands as much as possible.
When their tempers have flared, coach Ken Whisenhunt has been understanding. He once shared a small office with Haley when both were assistants with the New York Jets, and they battled each other constantly.
“We’ve almost come to blows at times,” Whisenhunt said, “but then the very next day we’re best friends. I’ve seen that dynamic, I’ve lived that dynamic. I think it’s been good for both of those guys.”
What it comes down to, Haley said, is trust.
“He counts on me on Sunday that when my voice comes into his helmet, that we’re putting him in the best position to succeed,” Haley said. “And that’s a lot of trust. And I’m trusting him that when I make a play call that he’s going to do what gives us the best chance to succeed.”
SUPER BOWL XLIII
vs. Pittsburgh (14-4)
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Tampa, Fla.
Line: Steelers by 6.5
WARNER THIS SEASON
Att.-Comp. 401-598 61-92
Yards 4,583 770
TDs 30 8
INT 14 2
QB rating 96.9 112.1