Cook: Ousting Arians is unwise

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Seems like everyone is saying the Steelers need to spend more time and money on constructing a better offensive line. The team has invested $102 million in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Doesn't it need to do a better job keeping him healthy?

Well, here are two more questions:

Isn't it important to keep Roethlisberger happy?

If so, why are the Steelers on the verge of forcing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to retire?

It makes no sense.

The decision to push out Arians apparently has been made by team president Art Rooney II. The most recent time I talked to Arians about his future, he made it clear he wants to come back. "These young guys have made it so much fun for me," he said of the team's young wide receivers. It's believed coach Mike Tomlin wants Arians back. At his season-ending news conference after a wild-card playoff loss to the Denver Broncos, he said he anticipated his coaching staff remaining intact.

But Tuesday, Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette that a few Steelers coaches are considering retirement. Surely, any official announcement about Arians -- perhaps this week or next -- will make it sound as if the retirement decision is his alone. Don't be fooled. That doesn't mean it isn't Rooney who has decided it's time for Arians to go.

It hardly matters that I think it's a big mistake. What does Tomlin think? He's a Super Bowl-winning coach and he's being told he has to fire a coordinator who he wants? No one is arguing that Rooney isn't the boss. Make no mistake, he is. But is this a good thing to do your coach? To emasculate him even a little bit? It's not as if the Steelers have been dreadful for a long time, as they were when Rooney's father, Dan, forced Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll to make staff changes. They went 12-4 this season before losing to the Broncos.

Firing Arians now is just as wrong as it would have been after the 2009 season when there was media speculation he was out. The Steelers went 9-7 and missed the playoffs that year, although the offense wasn't nearly as much to blame as the defense, which blew five fourth-quarter leads, and the special teams, which allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Roethlisberger went to management and Tomlin and argued to keep Arians. It's hard to say what impact he had, but Arians stayed. Good thing because the team made it to the Super Bowl in '10. In '08, it won Super Bowl XLIII with Arians calling the plays, including those on the late, 78-yard winning drive.

It's nice to think Rooney will realize he's making a mistake and change his mind before the official Arians retirement announcement is made.

There's no doubt Roethlisberger will fight for Arians again, if he hasn't done so already. Last year, he said of Arians: "He gets way, way too much blame and criticism. It's kind of unfortunate because he's so good. If you ask the players, we know." Only days before a playoff loss Jan. 8 in Denver, he said of Arians and the offense: "We've got something special here. We've got a lot of great young players. As long as they don't get crazy and change the offense -- that can really set you back -- the sky is the limit for this team."

It's no secret Roethlisberger and Arians are close. "I can talk to him about anything," Roethlisberger has said. That has led some to suggest Roethlisberger needs more of a coach than a friend. I disagree. Tomlin is his coach. Roethlisberger needs that relationship with Arians -- or one similar to it -- to be the best he can be. Arians has helped him to become one of the NFL's top quarterbacks and has him on a path headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sure, maybe the next coordinator will be better for Roethlisberger and the offense. But maybe not, too.

"He's been able to break down the playbook to exactly what Ben likes," Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch said of Arians. "This offense is Ben's offense ...

"People always are going to have flak because of the way the offense performs, but Ben is the first one to step up and say, 'This offense goes how I go. If I play well, we win. If I don't, we lose.' "

Roethlisberger always takes the blame after bad games. He has said Arians puts him and the offense in the best position to be successful.

"If I tell him I hate a play, he won't call it," Roethlisberger said. "He doesn't have an ego that way. He doesn't ever say, 'We're going to do it my way.' It's the same way with the receivers ... he has enough faith in his players to do that. He's a players' guy."

Batch said Arians brings something to Roethlisberger and the Steelers that Rooney should understand and appreciate as the boss of a franchise that has had three head coaches in the past 43 years.

"He brings consistency," Batch said. "You don't want to change that right now when Ben is actually entering into the prime of his career. I don't see why you would want to change."

Really.

Why would you want to change?


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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