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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The ongoing soap opera that is the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers took yet another turn yesterday. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters that he apologized to Mike Tomlin, the Rooneys, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley for seemingly throwing Haley under the bus following the team’s disappointing loss to Dallas. “I came in (Monday), and I apologized to Todd, I apologized to Mike (Tomlin), and I apologized to Mr. (Dan) Rooney because I let my frustrations jump out after a game,” Ben told a group of reporters.
Why was Ben apologizing? I mean, sure, he came across as a whiner for bitching about play calling when his poor execution of said plays was the primary problem but it’s still strange he felt the need for mea culpas. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t apologize to anybody even though he was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.” I suppose creating this semi-controversy on the heels of the most pivotal game of the season wasn’t the best example of leadership from our starting quarterback. At the same time, are Tomlin and Haley so thin-skinned that they can’t stem even the slightest bit of criticism?
What is even odder is he apologized to the Rooneys, specifically Dan Rooney. I’ve heard plenty of players apologize to the Rooney family although it’s almost always following an arrest or some sort legal entanglement. This is the first time I can recall a player apologizing to them for some sort of on-field controversy. It’s also some what interesting that he specifically mentioned Dan, who is reportedly stepping down from his Ambassodorship and coming back to take a more active role with the team. Where this leaves the team president, his meddlesome son Art II, remains to be seen.
As for his relationship with Haley, Ben went on to say of course they don’t always see eye-to-eye. “I‘m sure it‘s that way with every position player and their coach. That doesn‘t mean anything.” Which is exactly what I said yesterday.
It still doesn’t change the fact this bizarre season keeps getting weirder. And it all started when the Steelers experienced a shocking loss to the Denver Broncos followed by the
retirement dismissal of Bruce Arians which led to the hiring of Todd Haley. Hopefully when we close out the year, it won’t be on the heels of another heartbreaking loss and more coordinator controversy.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers officially introduced Todd Haley as their new offensive coordinator this afternoon. It was a brief fifteen minute affair where Haley said all the right things. He smartly emphasized his local connections and his father Dick’s ties to the Black and Gold, saying stuff like, “All of my early memories in life somehow revolved around the Steelers. The Steelers are a big part of who and what I am.” That goes a long way toward winning points with us Yinzers who always tend to cut local guys more slack. See Wannstadt, Dave or Cowher, Bill.
Speaking of Bill Cowher, one interesting bit to come out of Haley’s press conference was his admission that Cowher offered him a job as wide receivers coach back in 2004. He declined, choosing to join Bill Parcells in Dallas instead. Considering he broke into the NFL job working for the Jets when they were being run by Dick Haley, I have a feeling Toddy’s decision was motivated by the desire to establish he belonged in the NFL on his own merits, not because he was being handed jobs by his daddy’s current and former teams. In a weird bit of irony, Cowher hired an ex-Browns offensive coordinator as WR coach instead, a fella by the name of Bruce Arians.
While Haley was busy charming the local dirt sheet writers, the Steelers were already hard at work at trimming the roster in an effort to get under the salary cap. As I’ve written about before (see headlines up top), the Steelers are somewhere between $10-20 million over next year’s cap. They redid LaMarr Woodley‘s contract, which is one of their tricks to convert yearly salary (which all counts against the cap) to bonus money (which is spread out over the length of the contract). That probably bought them $5 million or so in space.
They also released Arnaz Battle and Bryant McFadden. Both are small fish and easy cuts, saving only around $4 million in total salary combined. Battle was signed to replace Antwaan Randle El as a special teams returner and veteran fourth wide receiver. When the Steelers hit the receiver jackpot in the 2010 draft, Battle saw his role shrink to nothing. He exits the Steelers having never caught a regular season pass.
B-Mac’s story is a bit more complex. He was a fifth round Steeler draft pick back in 2005 and the coaches thought he’d break into the starting line-up before long. He spent the majority of his career as the nickelback, never quite being able to beat out ageless wonder Deshea Townshend for the starting job. In 2008, he finally took over halfway through the season and started every playoff game all the way through the Super Bowl. The Cardinals must have been impressed because during the off-season they signed him to a big money free agent contract.
He was a disaster with the Cardinals. Before the year was out, he had lost his starting position. Meanwhile, his replacement on the Steelers, Will.i.am Gay, was also struggling mightily. The Steeler swung a draft day trade with Arizona to bring B-Mac back for the 2010 season. He started opposite Ike Taylor and once again the team made it to the Super Bowl. This season, McFadden was the nominal starter but was injured in the pre-season. Gay played extremely well in his place while another former draft pick with high expectations, Kennan Lewis, finally showed something as the team’s nickelback. By the time he was healthy, B-Mac had fallen completely off the radar and wound up spending most of the year as a special teamer. He was actually really good in the role but he’s probably not quite at the point in his career where he’d accept being a role player.
By the way, for all the people down on Face Me Ike in the wake of his epically bad performance against the Broncos, note this. When B-Mac was down in the desert, Gay was the most picked on corner in the league. Last season, B-Mac was the most picked on. There’s a reason teams stay away from Ike, people.
Anyway, neither of these players are big names. Between them, the retirement of Chris Hoke, and the impending exit of Aaron Smith, the easy decisions are all but done. The Steelers are going to need to make more cuts to get under next year’s cap. Time for the tough decisions to be made.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally found their man. Or, more accurately, Art Rooney II found his man. After all, the Deuce seems to be the one calling all the shots these days. I wonder if he even bothered to consult his head coach or superstar quarterback before making his latest move.
It appears former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley will be named the Black and Gold’s new offensive coordinator. This will be a homecoming for Haley, a native of Upper St. Clair and the son of former Steelers player and director of player personnel (1971-90), Dick Haley. Upon graduating from Florida in 1991, where Todd’s athletic resume consisted solely of playing for the Gators vaunted golf squad, young Haley hooked on with the New York Jets as a scout and later as an offensive assistant under Charlie Weis while the elder Haley served as their player personnel director. Ah, I love the smell of nepotism in the morning.
Despite getting a foot in the door because of his dad, Haley did work his way up the NFL food chain on his own merit. He served as an offensive assistant/wide receivers coach in Dallas under Bill Parcells, then became Ken Whisenhunt’s offensive coordinator when he moved down to Arizona. This would be the first time the Steelers recycled something from
Pittsburgh West Arizona instead of vice versa. Anyway, after helping the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl, Haley left for the head coaching job in Kansas City. Under Haley, KC had a miserable first season but rebounded to go 10-6 and capture their first AFC West title in seven years in his second. This year was shaping up to be another wasted campaign although that was only marginally on Haley as he lost his starting quarterback, All-Pro running back and top wide receiver all by mid-season.
Of course, coaches have seasons where they’re snakebitten and survive, especially when they’re coming off a division title. The reason for Haley’s sudden dismissal is the same reason I’m worried about him joining the Steelers. The Chiefs were stuck playing Tyler Palko and GM Scott Pioli saw exactly what Pitt fans saw in Palko; not much. So Pioli picked up Kyle Orton off the waiver wire which for some reason irritated the stubborn and paranoid Haley. Despite Palko’s obvious incompetence, Haley refused to play Orton, almost daring Pioli to fire him. He got his wish.
This isn’t the first time Haley has run afoul of his co-workers. His career is littered with a history of not getting along with management, fellow coaches and/or his players. In KC, Haley kept another Steeler alum, Chan Gailey, on as OC when he took over, only to relieve him of his duties about a month into the season. The next year, they brought in former Patriots and Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis but Weis left abruptly after only one year for what would seem an inferior job as OC at Florida. While in Arizona, Haley feuded with several players, most publicly being a sideline blowup with Kurt Warner and shouting match with Anquan Boldin. At Dallas, Haley was said to have a poor relationship with a number of players, most notably Terrell Owens. Okay, I can’t hold that one against him.
But I am worried how his abrasive personality will mesh with a veteran and, frankly, accomplished team like the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t some raw rookie who needs a boot up his ass. Maybe the young receivers could use a little discipline but I’d think that’s the quarterback’s job. I can just see Haley reaming out Ben on the sideline and Ben being all, “See these two rings? How many do you have? Zero? Then shut the f@ck up.” That’s not exactly the kind of team unity that spells championships. In fact, it sounds a lot more like the circus in Dallas than the Steeler Way.
Then again, the Steeler Way has always been the coaches coach and the owner doesn’t interfere. Art II’s meddling already blew that tradition all to bits so if he’s going to be another Jerry Jones, why not bring Cowboys-style chaos to Pittsburgh as well. If Haley can deliver a 4,000 yard passer and two 1,000 yard receivers next year, I’ll certainly eat my words. However, I have a feeling Haley’s Comet may not have been worth the
76 year five year wait.
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Talk about getting left at the altar…
Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler had a change of heart over the weekend, deciding not to join the Indianapolis Colts as their next defensive coordinator. Over the past couple off-seasons, Butler has been the go-to choice for teams looking for a new D-coordinator. He turned down a job with the Dolphins two years ago and the Steelers refused to grant him permission to interview with the Cardinals last summer. The consensus is Butler has been tabbed to take over for Dick LeBeau whenever the master decides to retire although his brief flirtation with the Ponies seems to indicate he’s worried about getting JoePa’d. All parties involved are stating no promises have been made in regards to transitioning Butler into the top job in the near future.
Which naturally means promises were made regarding transitioning Butler into the top job in the near future.
Butler to the Colts was never an ideal match. Indy still plays Tony Dungy’s 4-3 Tampa-2 while Butler is a disciple of LeBeau’s 3-4 Zone Blitz scheme. With the Colts in full rebuilding mode, perhaps they were willing to devote the next couple drafts to bringing in the proper defensive personnel to run the Steelers’ system but it would be a few years before they’d have the right players in place. My feeling is Butler has been patiently waiting to take over the Steelers’ defense for the past three years but with LeBeau still going strong, perhaps he’s feeling a bit desperate. The fact he opted against joining the Colts signals to me that 2012 will probably be LeBeau’s final season as D-coordinator.
In other coordinator news, former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell will not be coming to Pittsburgh to take over offensive playcalling. *Whew* As I mentioned on Monday, he would’ve been an absolutely horrible choice for O-coordinator. He’s never been an offensive coordinator on any level and his football credentials primarily consist of being Dungy’s friend and fetching coffee for Peyton Manning. The Ratbirds ended up hiring Caldwell as QB Coach which is hilarious on a number of levels. The main one being the idea that zombie will somehow be able to transform Bert Flacco into another Pey-Pey.
The newest offensive coordinator prospect is former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. The Steelers official website even posted a blurb about Haley meeting with Mike Tomlin, which is very unusual for that super-secretive organization. Haley, as noted before, is a Pittsburgh native and his father, Dick Haley, played for the Steelers before serving as the team’s director of player of personnel (Kevin Colbert’s job today) during the Steel Dynasty. Haley wouldn’t be the worst choice in the world as he managed to turn a talent-barren Chiefs team into a respectable offense and made his name as the O-coordinator for Ken Whisenhunt’s Super Bowl runner-up Cardinals. The problem with Haley is he has a reputation for being an unbearable prick, having alienated players on both the Chiefs and Cardinals with his abrasive personality.
One thing is for sure, the Steelers better make a move soon because the pool of decent offensive coordinator candidates is rapidly thinning out. The Fins hired Green Bay’s O-coordinator, Joe Philbin, as head coach which means QB coach Tom Clements will likely be promoted there. Caldwell and former Raiders coach Hue Jackson have found jobs elsewhere. The Steelers have the option to promote their QB coach, Randy Fichtner, to the top job but I don’t see how he’d be a huge change from Arians. A dark horse candidate I’ve heard thrown around is former Pitt Panthers quarterback Alex Van Pelt. It’s an intriguing name but Van Pelt’s previous NFL experience has been overseeing pathetic offenses in Buffalo and Tampa. I’m not sure that’s the guy you entrust with a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.
So, who should be the Black and Gold’s next offensive coordinator?