The Steelers have a long and successful history of promoting offensive coordinators from within their coaching ranks -- Tom Moore, Chan Gailey, Mike Mularkey, Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians. Three of them left to become head coaches in the NFL.
But, if Arians doesn't return as offensive coordinator in 2012, the Steelers might have to go outside their organization for the first time in 13 years to hire his replacement. And that hasn't been a successful proposition.
Since Chuck Noll became coach in 1969, the Steelers have gone outside their organization to hire an offensive coordinator only three times -- Joe Walton in '90, Ray Sherman in '98 and Kevin Gilbride in '99. The Steelers never made the playoffs in the five years those outsiders served as offensive coordinators.
Arians, who has been the offensive coordinator since Mike Tomlin became head coach in '07, might not return for the '12 season. It is uncertain if he is considering retirement -- something he pondered a year ago -- or not having his contract renewed. A decision is expected this weekend.
If he doesn't return, it's likely his replacement isn't on the Steelers staff.
Running backs coach Kirby Wilson probably was next in line to be offensive coordinator, but his health, after suffering severe burns over 45 percent of his body in a fire Jan. 6 at his home, precludes that possibility. Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner is a possibility, but not considered a likely candidate
The previous time the Steelers hired an offensive coordinator from outside their ranks was '99 when Bill Cowher brought in Gilbride, a former head coach with the San Diego Chargers, to run his offense. Gilbride lasted two non-playoff years before he was fired, primarily because he couldn't work with quarterback Kordell Stewart.
Gilbride was hired because his predecessor, Ray Sherman, who was hired from the Minnesota Vikings in '98, lasted only one year on the job. He resigned before he was fired.
Before that, the Steelers had gone to the playoffs every year since Cowher became coach in '92 -- first with Ron Erhardt as offensive coordinator from '92-95, then with Gailey running the offense in '96 and '97.
Gailey was the wide receivers coach before being promoted to replace Erhardt, who was let go after the Super Bowl XXX loss to the Dallas Cowboys. When Gailey left after the '97 season to become Cowboys head coach, Cowher went outside to hire Sherman. The Steelers did not make the playoffs in the three years Sherman and Gilbride were the offensive coordinators.
Since Gilbride left, the Steelers have missed the playoffs only three times in 11 seasons with three different coordinators.
They went to the AFC title game in '01 and the divisional playoff round in '02 with Mularkey as offensive coordinator; went to back-top-back AFC title games and won a Super Bowl in '05 when Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator; and went to two Super Bowls, winning one, when Arians was the offensive coordinator. Each of them was promoted from a position coach on the staff.
Even Noll, who served as the offense coordinator for many years, didn't have luck when he went outside the organization to hire an offensive coordinator.
When long-time offensive coordinator Tom Moore left after the '89 playoff season, Noll brought in Walton, a former New York Jets coach, to run his offense. That decision led to a near-revolt among the players, who complained that Walton's playbook was too expansive and too complicated.
The Steelers never made the playoffs in two years with Walton as offensive coordinator. Noll retired after the '91 season.
Safe to say, it has not been a successful process.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published January 20, 2012 5:00 AM