Catching up on some stuff I missed last week, it was announced late Friday night that the Pittsburgh Steelers had fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. This announcement came as a bit of a surprise to most as Bicknell has generally been credited for doing a pretty good job this season. If there was ever an example of making chicken salad out of chicken shit, what Bicknell did with our crew of journeymen and underachievers was it. I can’t fathom how much more the Steelers expected from him.
That is, if he was coaching the line at all. Our old friend Ian Rappaport, through his ever-popular “anonymous team source” – who we know is just the kid in the Steely McBeam costume feeding that nobody bogus scoops – tweeted that he heard Bicknell had been stripped of all on-field duties by the end of the year. While not a single one of the crack local beat reporters bothered to report this during the season, Jerry Dulac at the P-G did mention – shortly before Rappaport broke his “news” – that he had heard offensive line assistant Shaun Sarrett had taken over around mid-season. If that’s true, I guess we already know who the next O-line coach is.
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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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That was $29 million well spent…
[intlink id="23" type="category"]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] right tackle [intlink id="85" type="category"]Willie Colon[/intlink] was evidently injured some time during the season opening debacle against Baltimore. You’ll have to forgive me for failing to mention this in my game recap as the difference between a healthy Colon and an injured one is barely noticeable. This is a bizarre situation as [intlink id="45" type="category"]Mike Tomlin[/intlink], in his post-game press conference, did not list Colon as being among the wounded. News of the injury only emerged late Monday evening, when the Steelers’ crack medical staff discovered what is reportedly a torn triceps.
If Colon did indeed suffer a torn triceps, his 2011 season is over. Man, it sure was great the Steelers made like Pacman at a strip club and rained millions of dollars down upon him the second free agency began. Not only was re-signing Colon, who missed all of last season after tearing his Achilles in OTAs, their top priority, it led to a domino effect where the entire line was revamped in an effort to accommodate his ridiculously undeserved contract. Max Starks and Flozell Adams, who formed the finest bookend tandem this team has had in years, were released because the Steelers inexplicably felt Colon was better than either of them.
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Another day, another move along the offensive line.
The Pittsburgh Steelers released veteran Flozell Adams after he refused to renegotiate his contract. He signed a two year deal last year which was to pay him approximately $5 million for the upcoming campaign. The Steelers, already feeling a salary cap crunch, wanted him back at a lower number. This move leaves an already questionable offensive line dangerously thin at almost every position.