According to Ed Bouchette, the Pittsburgh Steelers may soon be in the market for a new offensive coordinator as Todd Haley interviews with the Arizona Cardinals for their vacant head coaching position. Haley only arrived in Pittsburgh last year, but was a head coach with Kansas City Chiefs previously as well as an offensive coordinator with the Cardinals before that. Although he hasn’t appeared to endear himself to fans or his quarterback, the Steelers would likely prefer not to have to endure another coaching staff change after just one season.
Should Haley leave, the Steelers will be intent on keeping running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who has also been under consideration for potential roles elsewhere this off-season. Wilson was initially a candidate to be the offensive coordinator last season, but a house fire that hospitalized him took him out of the running. Wilson’s running backs haven’t exactly impressed during his tenure, but he was hired by Mike Tomlin in 2007, which would work in his favor. Much like the Steelers learned with Sean Kugler, it is unwise to use the performance of the player’s being coached to judge the actual work of the coach. Instead it must be clear that the man involved is a good fit in the specific role that needs filling.
If Wilson, or anyone else, is to be fit in the role of offensive coordinator for the Steelers, there are a few alterations that must be made.
Although it wasn’t completely his fault, Haley’s relationship with Ben Roethlisberger was key to the Steelers’ failings this year. Roethlisberger never appeared to buy into the Steelers’ offensive ideal. Haley was brought in to establish the running game and reign in Roethlisberger’s punishment by establishing a short passing game. Because Roethlisberger was blatantly still upset with the release of Bruce Arians, combined with the simple fact that this offense required him to be more disciplined and play an unnatural game, the Steelers never got the best out of him this year.
Not only is Roethlisberger the best offensive player the team has, he is also the best player the team has. Furthermore, as the quarterback, the franchise’s future hangs almost conclusively on what he can do. This is not the Troy Polamalu-era, nor the James Harrison-era. It’s the Ben Roethlisberger-era and the Steelers need to act accordingly. Instead of replacing Haley (presuming he leaves) with someone who can effectively implement the current scheme, the Steelers should seize this second opportunity to accept what Roethlisberger is and play to his strengths.
Under Arians he may have taken too many hits and held onto the ball too long, but he also made plenty of plays and did more than enough to help the Steelers win consistently. Roethlisberger doesn’t have pinpoint accuracy or a great ability to diagnose defenses before or after the snap, but he does have an innate ability to avoid pass rushers and hit receivers on the move. Instead of trying to box him in for his own safety, the Steelers should find an offensive coordinator who will allow him to drop into the shotgun consistently and use three wide receiver sets not to run from, but to repeatedly pass. Much like the Dallas Cowboys use Tony Romo, the Steelers need to put the ball in his hands and look for big plays instead of asking him to act like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.
Roethlisberger won two Super Bowls by being a play-making quarterback who first complemented a strong running game and then a historically good defense. Ken Whisenhunt and Bill Cowher somewhat limited his impact during his first two seasons, but since then he has never worked well with a leash holding him back. The Steelers can’t try to extend Roethlisberger’s career if that career is one of a mediocre quarterback. Three elite seasons is much more valuable than seven of what was put on show this year.