When the season ended for the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple months back, I wrote that it appeared we were in for an off-season filled with upheaval. I said that because with something like a dozen unrestricted free agents, a half dozen restricted free agents and a number of overpaid veterans, it seemed a pretty safe bet the roster was going to see significant changes. I never thought those changes would extend to the coaching staff as well. Looking back, change was probably inevitable coming off such a massively disappointing season.
We knew the Steelers were losing offensive line coach Sean Kugler since he announced during the season he was leaving to become head coach at his alma mater (UTEP) at year’s end. Kugler might be the most significant loss as he’s done a tremendous job with the Black and Gold’s offensive line since replacing the awful Larry Zierlein in 2010. Every year we talk about the team’s “new look” line and every year one player goes down almost immediately with several more falling as the campaign marches on. Last year, the team used a different starting O-line combination nearly every week. The line didn’t exactly remain steady no matter who they plugged in – the run blocking, for example, fell apart when Willie Colon was lost – but the fact they could throw an untested undrafted rookie like Kelvin Beachum out there and watch him hold his own speaks well of Kugler’s coaching ability.
Kugler is being replaced by Jack Bicknell Jr. That name probably means more to college football fans than those of us who follow the NFL. Bicknell is the son of longtime Boston College head coach Jack Bicknell. Bicknell Jr. was a starting O-lineman for his dad during the Doug Flutie years before moving into coaching himself. He’s been a career OL coach with the exception of a seven year head coaching stint at Terry Bradshaw‘s alma mater, Louisiana Tech. In recent years, Bicknell Jr. was an assistant OL coach for the Giants for a few seasons before moving on to the Chiefs last season. I don’t pay attention to KC but the G-Men have had some really good lines so let’s hope he was a big part of that.
The Steelers most recent loss was wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery. The official story is Montgomery left to become offensive coordinator at Duke. However, Uncle Eddy Bouchette at the P-G in his role of unofficial PR man has floated the story (no doubt fed to him by team officials) that the team actually booted him out the door. It sounds a lot like the Bruce Arians story where instead of straight out firing BA, they encouraged him to “retire.” And like the Arians situation, word is the reason Montgomery fell out of favor with Steelers brass as they saw him as too buddy-buddy with the Young Money crew. I’m not enamored with Art Rooney II‘s idea that coaches should be hard on their players but those idiots definitely need someone who will put boots to asses.
The new WR coach is Aliquippa native Richard Mann. Mann is a 30 year veteran of the NFL coaching ranks although he has been out of the league the past three years, working as a consultant who prepares college guys for the draft. Mann prior job was as the WR coach/assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs under Raheem Morris. Mann spent 8 seasons in Tampa, several of which saw him coaching on the same staff as Mike Tomlin. During his tenure, the Bucs won a Super Bowl and had at least one 1,000 yard receiver every year except the last. He’s known as a very detail oriented guy so let’s hope he can bring some discipline to that group of underachievers.
Now, I’ve saved the best for last. The Steelers special teams were an absolute joke last season yet ST coach Amos Jones was inexplicably brought to Arizona by his old buddy Bruce Arians as the ST coordinator down there. I don’t think a single member of Steeler Nation lost sleep over that development. After reaching out to a number of candidates, the Black and Gold finally hired Washington Redskins ST coach Danny Smith. Smith, who started his coaching career at Central Catholic, has bounced around the league since then, coaching ST for the Eagles, Bills and Skins while also enjoying short stints as TE coach for the Lions and DB coach for Philly.
Interestingly, Smith was the team’s first choice back in 2010 but Washington wouldn’t let him go so we ultimately settled on Al Everest. Also, as this comprehensive look at Smith’s eight year stint in Washington mentions, he was the man in charge when Shaun Suisham endured one of his notable meltdowns. Suisham has revitalized his career here in Pittsburgh so it’ll be interesting to see if his resurgence continues under the man who oversaw one of his biggest failures. To be honest, I’d almost be willing to trade a slight drop-off in accuracy if it means a kickoff unit that doesn’t get flagged for holding on every return.
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As a wise man named Theodore Logan once exclaimed, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers fired special teams coordinator Al Everest yesterday afternoon. It’s strange because teams don’t normally boot a coordinator two and a half weeks before the start of the season. It’s also strange because this firing came out of nowhere with no real explanation as to why subsequently given. Local reporters literally saw Everest leaving Steelers HQ with his belongings in a box moments before Jay Glazer of FOX sent a tweet confirming he had been dismissed.
This sent the Trib’s Steelers beat writer into a mini-hissy fit over Mike Tomlin‘s veil of secrecy. I don’t know what team Kaboly has been following the past few years but I have no idea why he’d be shocked or surprised that a national guy trumped the local beat writers. As I’ve mentioned before, the Glazers and Schefters of the world always beat the local guys to the punch. That’s because the local media are all deep in the Rooneys’ pockets and instead of digging around trying to find stories like they do in other cities, our media types basically run with whatever bones the team throws their way.
As such, I don’t expect we’ll be hearing why Everest was fired any time soon. Tomlin only released a nonsensical statement that he was being let go because they wanted “to go in a different direction.” This is ridiculous because Everest coaches special teams, it’s not like offense where you can emphasize several different methods of attack or defense where you can be a disciple of any number of different base formations. Punting and kicking are punting and kicking. The only areas which need coaching are returns and coverage and there are only so many ways you can scheme “run down the field and tackle the guy with the ball if he comes at you, bro.”
I can’t imagine what Everest did to get himself fired. Some people have speculated that perhaps he was unhappy because he was unable to make personnel decisions. In other words, some are thinking maybe he wanted to keep rookie kicker Daniel Hrappmann over Miss’em Suisham and was overruled by the higher ups. I don’t buy that because I doubt any special teams coordinator gets to pick his own players. Besides, I don’t even think Tomlin has much say over who the team keeps/cuts, there’s no way a lowly special teams coordinator is going to pull a power play.
I also doubt Everest was fired because of anything performance related. Special teams coordinators are basically at the mercy of the guys they employ. Get a kicker that booms kickoffs into the first row on the reg and you look like a genius. Put Skippy out there and tell him to pooch every kick so your lousy coverage unit might tackle somebody before he gets to mid-field and you get fired like Everest’s predecessor, Bob Ligashesky. Good special teams coordinators can add wrinkles like fake punts or concoct gimmicks which sometimes lead to blocked kicks but you’re talking about trick plays that a team runs maybe a couple times a year. It’s hardly something that’ll have a major impact on a season.
Everest’s special teams have done pretty well past couple seasons. Suisham is what he is and the punters have been around league average. The coverage unit has been mostly excellent since his arrival. During Ligashesky’s final year, the team would give up ridiculously long returns left and right to the point starters James Harrison and Ike Taylor once begged Tomlin to let them cover kicks because they were sick of watching the other team start every drive at mid-field. The return unit has also been quite good with Antonio Brown making the Pro Bowl last season as a returner.
Everest was almost certainly not fired over performance. Why he was given the boot we don’t know and may never find out. In the meantime, assistant special teams coach Amos Jones will take the reins. The schemes probably won’t change and the talent (or lack thereof) is still in place so I don’t expect much upheaval over this last minute switch.
Which begs the question, why was Captain Kangaroo let go in the first place?