It seems odd, but when NFL coaches are fired, it's not typically a termination "for cause." In fact, one of the few instances in which a team refused to pay the termination amount in their contracts (nearly every coach has such a clause in their contracts, and if they don't at this level, they should probably hire a new agent) was when Oakland fired Lane Kiffin after four games of the 2008 season, citing "cause" for doing so.
Most, if not all, NFL coaching contracts are guaranteed, but if a team has evidence showing a coach acted outside the the contractual terms, they can claim the termination came with cause.
Raiders owner Al Davis successfully showed an arbitrator in 2010 Kiffin had "a stunning lack of concern for the terms of his contract and for the rules of the club," according to club executive John Herrera. Kiffin did not recoup the money remaining on his contract, according to Davis, because he told lies and was generally representing the Raiders in a negative light.
While using the Raiders in the context of normalcy really isn't the best way to present a view point, a letter Davis sent Kiffin dated Sept. 12, 2008, really seems to spell out his expectations of his young coach clearly.
For example, with the exception of Gibril Wilson, you were involved in recruiting all free agents and determining salaries for them and you were explicit about your desire to sign Javon Walker and DeAngelo Hall amongst others. All were a must to sign in your eyes, Hall, in particular, because he played for Greg Knapp in Atlanta and Knapp gave him high grades. Do not run from that now.
Kiffin was seeking approximately $333,000 to offset the balance of the contract amount he had with Oakland for the remainder of 2008 and the money he made coaching the University of Tennessee in 2009.
Kiffin left Tennessee after one year (much to the anger of followers of the program) and now coaches at USC, where his program was fined recently deflating footballs before its game against Oregon.
Tales of the Raiders and Kiffin are encyclopedias on their own. As far as Haley goes, the Chiefs, likely at the behest of Minister of Information Scott Pioli, have not revealed any particular details behind why such a rare act (firing with cause) was instituted.
Pioli gave the standard "we wish him luck" spiel at his termination press conference, and considering there was only three games left in the season, Haley could not have been owed a large sum of money in proportion to what he had already been paid.
A Chiefs forum suggested Haley's comments made in a Kansas City Star report suggesting his phone calls were being recorded and listening devices were planted around the office may have had something to do with his termination for cause.
The article, written by Kent Babb, is dated Jan. 14, 2011, approximately one month after Haley's termination. It begins with a narrative run-up of an interview at Chiefs headquarters with Haley. It does not quote him directly, but describes the actions of a man cleary uncomfortable with his surroundings. Haley was fired four days after the interview.
It's very likely the Star contacted the Chiefs in wake of its story, asking for their side of it.
Ironically, if a publication ran such a story without contacting the Chiefs, and Pioli, giving them a chance to respond to the accusations, it would likely have resulted in multiple terminations with cause.
If that's why the Chiefs are holding back what Jay Glazer of FOX sports reports as "millions of dollars," one may understand their reasons. But that doesn't mean Haley, who was three games shy of completing his third season as head coach, has to like it. Considering he had that much money riding on it, and he was a reasonably experienced head coach, why would he choose to take Lane Kiffin's route of publicly discrediting his employer with his name on the record?
Kiffin was 32 years old when he was hired and 33 when he was fired. He had never been a head coach before, and had never worked in the NFL as anything more than a quality control coach (the lowest rung of coaching in the pro level) before Davis hired him.
The things Davis accused him of were at least somewhat reflective of other coaches and players have said about the organization under Davis, who died in 2011. That's not the way the Chiefs have run their franchise at all.
Or, at least the Star wasn't running long features with quotes from several people talking about the alleged maniacal rule of the general manager over every facet of the organization before Pioli arrived.
There's very little chance Haley has any evidence of the allegations in the article, and with the amount of time that passed between Haley's termination and the publication of the article, it seems reasonable to suggest the Chiefs weren't aware of it anyway. We may never know the specific reasons behind the "with cause" part of his termination.
There may not be a smoking gun. It very well could be just a personal issue between Pioli and Haley. That's just as much reason for Haley to ensure the Steelers were extra sharp in practice leading up to the game against the Chiefs.
On one hand, Haley is being forced to fight for the money he was guaranteed in his contract, and on the other, a man associated with SpyGate coming into Pittsburgh, jugular exposed, and likely on his way out of his current job.
The water around Heinz field is Chiefs-red right now, and the Steelers have noticed.