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CHIEFS WIDE RECEIVER DWAYNE BOWE wanted to get the inside scoop on his new coach, Todd Haley, so in February he grabbed his cellphone and dialed up Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was coming off a record-breaking postseason with Haley as his coordinator.
"He told me that Todd's going to be on me because he's used to coaching Pro Bowl guys," Bowe recalls. "He said Todd's going to make me one of those guys, too, but I've got to buy into his program. Don't talk back and just go hard. He said it will pay off."
Bowe's first two seasons featured flashes of brilliance but ultimately were as dull as a December sky. He had 70 catches for 995 yards as a rookie and 86 receptions for 1,022 yards last year.
But this could be his breakout season, thanks to the departure of tight end Tony Gonzalez (his 96 catches and 10 touchdowns have to go somewhere) and the arrival of the pass-happy Haley, who was the receivers coach when Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson had stellar seasons with the Cowboys and the Jets, respectively. Haley also played a major role in Fitzgerald's setting playoff records with 30 catches for 546 yards and seven scores last season.
"I know with Todd in there, he's going to push Bowe to be great," Fitzgerald says. "Todd has a proven track record. He gets the best out of guys wherever he goes. I just know that the combination of Bowe's athletic ability and raw talent with Todd's coaching will help Bowe jump out of the gate quick—and because he has a topflight quarterback."
In March the Chiefs traded for Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, who threw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2008. His arrival is crucial, because he brings not only playmaking ability to the position but also stability.
Bowe played for two starting quarterbacks in his first season and for three in his second, and had a different position coach each year. The constant turnover contributed to his inconsistencies, but it wasn't the only factor. Bowe didn't help himself with imprecise routes and, at times, a lack of discipline.
Even this off-season, when the team gathered for Haley's first minicamp, Bowe showed up at 228 pounds. That was 10 more than his coach desired. It also raised the question of whether the former first-round pick is consumed with becoming great or content with being good.
"Bowe has a lot more athletic ability than I have," says Fitzgerald. "He's faster than me. He's a better jumper than me. He's a better pure athlete. I know if he can get his weight down and Todd can work with him on the nuances of the game, he can really take off."
Bowe will also have a better idea of those nuances after training with Fitzgerald this summer in Minnesota.