Cook: Making Arians a scapegoat is unwarranted


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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made all the predictable points in his season-ending session with the local sporting media yesterday. He talked of a "somber meeting" with his players Monday after their 9-7 finish left them out of the playoffs. He took "responsibility for everything" for the team falling short of its goal of winning another "Lombardi." He promised to make "appropriate changes" before next season.

But Tomlin didn't deliver the news that many people in Steelers Nation most wanted to hear. He didn't fire offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

At least not yet.

You almost could hear the screams of anger around town, across the country and throughout the world in all places where the Terrible Towel is considered sacred.

At least two people are happy for now, though: Ben Roethlisberger and I.

And one of our opinions really should matter.

The Arians dismissal still could happen, of course. ESPN Radio 1250 reported yesterday afternoon that Tomlin will fire him, perhaps before the end of the week. For his part, Tomlin announced that quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson is retiring but wouldn't discuss his plans for the rest of his staff, begging off the topic until after he meets with each coach later this week.

I'm hoping the radio report is wrong. I can't think of one good reason why the Rooneys and/or Tomlin would make that move with Arians. They are too smart to try to placate the frustrated masses by giving them his head. Arians doesn't deserve that. Letting him go would be a huge mistake. It wouldn't rectify what really ails the Steelers. It only would add to their troubles.

Listen ... . There are those screams again.

I'm sorry, I've never seen as much irrational animosity directed at one coordinator as there was toward Arians this season. In a lot of ways, his offense was magnificent. Roethlisberger had his best year as a quarterback. Wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, tight end Heath Miller and running back Rashard Mendenhall put up huge numbers. Certainly, Arians' offense isn't the primary reason the Steelers are out of the postseason. It ranks a distant third behind the overrated defense and the underachieving special teams on the list of causes for the mess that Tomlin is trying to sort through this week.

Today's NFL isn't your father's NFL. It's no longer strictly about power football -- "3 yards and a cloud of dust" if you will. It's about being able to beat increasingly complicated defensive schemes by throwing the football often and with great precision.

The NFL's top 10 passing teams this season were Houston, Indianapolis, New England, New Orleans, San Diego, Dallas, Green Bay, Minnesota, Philadelphia and the Steelers. How much do you want to bet that one team from that list wins the Super Bowl next month and a second team plays in it?

The top 10 rushing teams were the New York Jets, Tennessee, Carolina, Miami, Baltimore, New Orleans, Dallas, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Jacksonville. Only New Orleans and Dallas from that group would appear to be capable of winning the title.

Arians is no kid -- he's 57 -- but he has kept up with the times.

He gets it.

It's hard to say that same thing about many Steelers fans. They conveniently forget that Arians' offense was plenty good enough to help the team win the championship last season, especially during a magical fourth-quarter drive in Super Bowl XLIII. But they can't wait to blame him for the failures this season, unfair as that blame is. If I received a nickel every time somebody said he needs to be more committed to the running game, I'd be a wealthy man. It's ridiculous.

Do those people really believe it was Arians' fault that the Steelers blew five fourth-quarter leads in losses this season?

Roethlisberger is another guy who gets it. You can say he has a biased opinion about the passing game, and I won't argue. Any great quarterback -- and Big Ben clearly is among the two or three greatest in the game today -- likes throwing the ball more than handing it off. It's no wonder he loves his offense just as it is.

But Roethlisberger has been extraordinarily productive under Arians. This season, he threw for a team-record 4,328 yards with a 100.5 passer rating. He had 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. It's indisputable that he and his offense did their part and more to help the team try to get back to the playoffs and have a chance to defend its title.

But there's more to it than just numbers.

Roethlisberger has a wonderful working relationship with Arians. That should not be underestimated. The Steelers have $102 million invested in their quarterback. They should be doing everything they can -- within reason -- to keep him happy.

Firing Arians won't do that.

Nor will making Roethlisberger work with a new coordinator and learn a new system when there really was nothing wrong with his offense as it was.

That's not just wrong.

It's unnecessary.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com . First Published January 6, 2010 5:00 AM


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