By Ed Bouchette
Hitting the books at age 30 has produced two tangible items for Ben Roethlisberger these days, one a college degree, the other a headache.
He earned a degree in education from Miami University Sunday by completing course work left languishing for nearly eight years while he pursued a career in professional football. He earned a post-graduate headache going over the course work of professor Todd Haley, who introduced his new playbook to the Steelers offense after the draft.
"That one'ss a little harder than the Miami ones I was doing," Roethlisberger said after he left another of Haley's classes at the Steelers facility on the South Side Wednesday. "I joke and say that my final paper for Miami on Tibet was a lot easier than the Rosetta Stone we're doing now here."
Haley's new playbook may be thicker than anything Miami offered, only there will be no cap and gown ceremony for graduates. There will be a series of exams that begin Sept. 9 in Denver.
For Roethlisberger and the rest of the veterans on offense, it's like learning a new language and a new way of doing things. What's different?
"Everything," Roethlisberger said. "The similarities would be on a shorter list. Off the top of my head, from what I've seen so far, there's a 90 percent change."
Coach Mike Tomlin hired Haley after Steelers president Art Rooney did not renew the contract of Bruce Arians, their offensive coordinator since 2007. As offensive coordinator in Arizona, Haley leaned heavily on the pass. As head coach in Kansas City, his Chiefs ran the ball a lot. He has said he will adapt his Steelers playbook to the personnel.
"Right now we're practicing the pass because it's more complicated," Roethlisberger said. "Steelers fans and coach Tomlin and the Rooneys apparently thought B.A. was throwing the ball too much. But yesterday in coach Haley's office, we were talking about using the no-huddle and throwing the ball and how much we have to use our weapons."
Roethlisberger said fans won't notice much difference, but it's a big change for the players who have been used to doing things entirely different ways for most of their careers. They are way behind where they would have been had things stayed the same, but they have four months to get it down.
"Does that mean we can't catch up? No, but right now we're way behind," Roethlisberger said. "We're all asking each other what' going on. Coach Haley is not only coaching the players, he's coaching the coaches."
None of the coaches have been in Haley's system, including quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner.
"It's coming along," Roethlisberger said. "Sometimes it's frustrating. I'm just trying to plug away a little at a time. I tell coach Randy, don't throw the whole thing at me right away, take it parts at a time.
"I've been there two days this week, go back Wednesday. I feel a lot better today than yesterday, I'll tell you that much. I'm just going to take it in stride and learn it and help us be the best we can be to win games."
He's already shown what determination can do in the classroom, although his course study to finish up his work at Miami did not take place in a classroom. Much of it was done over the internet, which is a popular tool for colleges.
"I never actually went back to the school," Roethlisberger said. "They were very helpful. Professors would send me books to read, send me tests, do stuff through the internet."
Roethlisberger, who left Miami in 2004 with one year of eligibility left and was drafted by the Steelers in the first round, became interested in pursuing his education degree four or five years ago. He took a step toward doing so and completed two courses, but then let it languish again.
One of his former professors, Dr. Melissa Chase, who also is associate dean of undergraduate affairs at Miami, got in touch with him.
"She said that we can get this done this summer," Roethlisberger said. "She pushed me, kept me on track and kept it going, and I'm glad we got it done."
He joined fellow graduates for the Pomp and Circumstance March Saturday on Miami's campus in Oxford, Ohio, with his parents, his grandmother and his wife watching.
"Most people go nine years and come out a doctor. I didn't quite come out as that," Roethlisberger joked.
He could have just had the school send his degree, as with his homework, but, "I wanted to be there. I thought it was neat and important to be there and walk. I just feel like this is an awesome accomplishment. I'm incredibly proud of this.
"I've received a lot of letters and texts to my website, people saying it's an awesome example to their kids. That's the reason I did it, not only for my kids, but for others, too."
First Published May 9, 2012 8:15 PM