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PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Just one month ago, in this space, it was written that confidence should belong to the Steelers despite their Al Riveron-assisted loss to New England at Heinz Field. They showed themselves to be the better, more talented, more complete team. Perhaps had they won home field advantage they wouldn’t have had to face Jacksonville at all, and wouldn’t have had the cold truth laid bare in front of them in a 45-42 loss to the Jaguars.
That truth is, the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers were as ill-prepared and poorly coached as they were talented, and someone has to answer for that truth.
That someone is Mike Tomlin.
Don’t get me wrong. As a staunch fan of Mike Tomlin, even in the face of the loons who still cackle “He won with Cowher’s players!” I am not advocating for the firing of a man who, in his first 11 seasons has won games at the rate of names like Don Shula, Chuck Noll, and Bill Belichick. Tomlin could coach for another quarter-century and go down as one of the greats.
This should serve as a wake-up call to him if he wants that to happen, though.
A head coach whose strongest attribute is that he’s a leader of men needs to take this opportunity to lead the organization. He needs to take the first step by improving his own work, both in week-of preparation, as well as in clock and situational management. No more trade requests. No more provocations of the enemy. No more honest-and-open conversations with your old boss on national television. No more mouthing off or looking ahead, no matter what the feelings may be internally. No more silly reviews, no more chasing points early in games on two-point conversions, no more uncalled-for onside kicks, and no more awful clock management.
The first step for Tomlin and the Steelers is for Tomlin to improve himself, to Belichize himself, for lack of a better way to put it, and go from being ‘very good’ to being ‘great.’
Before that though, the messy stuff will need to be done.
The meticulous clean-up of Todd Haley’s and Keith Butler’s hot mess must begin immediately. New coordinators must be found. Failing systems and failing coaches on both sides of the ball have led to a waste of some of the prime years of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Cam Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Stephon Tuitt, and Ramon Foster.
Replacing Haley should be painless. You have a veteran quarterback who should be making the bulk of the calls on his own already, and a Quarterbacks Coach, Randy Fichtner, who gets along well with that QB. Elevate Fichtner and hope he doesn’t have the same off-field proclivities for bar fights, property destruction, and general boorishness that Haley has shown over the years in multiple stops around the league. It’s time to admit that Coach Todd isn’t his father. It’s time to let Haley walk.
It’s also time to remind Ben Roethlisberger that as the unquestioned leader of his team, and a de facto co-coordinator of the offense, he should be more careful with the football and more willing to make the responsible call when audibling at the line of scrimmage. The 10th highest interception rate, which he had this season, and refusing to check into a QB sneak at any point in the last four years, are unacceptable.
On defense, the solution could be more difficult. While General Manager Kevin Colbert has re-stocked the depth chart with talent – seven of his last eight draft picks in the first and second rounds have been spent on defense, and six of those players have ended up starters – as the man charged with morphing the defense, based on that talent, into a hybrid 3-4/Tampa Two, Keith Butler has failed, and miserably. The writing that was on the wall when Tomlin was hired over a decade ago is now standing out in bold, teal-and-black contrast to everything else around it: It’s time for Tomlin to turn away from the Capers-LeBeau-Butler tree that’s run the Steelers’ defense for the better part of the last 25 years. It’s time for him to put his stamp on the defense, beyond just encouraging the coordinator to use linebackers in coverage and more 4-3 style fronts. The Steelers’ next Defensive Coordinator should be Tomlin’s call, and his protégé.
In fact, once Haley and Butler are dispatched with, and the quarterback is told he’s being given the keys to the offense, it’s time to put the onus for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ success or failure in what remains of the Roethlisberger Era on the one man whose leadership of men failed most this season: Mike Tomlin.
This is Tomlin’s mid-career wake up call. And if it doesn’t work, then he’ll finally and ultimately be the one to answer for it.