Minnesota Vikings running back coach James Saxon during a preseason game between the Vikings and the Houston Texans Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, in Minneapolis.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers wasted little time finding a replacement for running backs coach Kirby Wilson, hiring the person Wilson will replace with the Minnesota Vikings — James Saxon.
Saxon, who enters his 23rd season in the NFL as a player and coach, was the Vikings’ running backs coach the past three seasons. He was let go when head coach Leslie Frazier and his staff were fired after the 2013 season.
The Steelers, however, could lose another assistant on their coaching staff.
Defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky, who spent nine years as a linebacker with the Steelers, is scheduled to interview this week with the Buffalo Bills about becoming their linebackers coach. Olsavsky has been a defensive assistant the past four years with the Steelers.
The Steelers are seeking to improve their running game after going 22 games without a 100-yard rusher and averaging fewer than 4 yards per carry for the second year in a row. Their average last season — 3.5 yards, lowest in 10 years — does not, however, point out the impact rookie Le’Veon Bell had on the offense.
Bell set a franchise rookie record for single-season total offense with a combined 1,259 yards — 860 rushing, 399 receiving — despite playing in only 13 games.
The Steelers now have three offensive coaches who have worked with some of the league’s top running backs — Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (Saxon), Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (new offensive line coach Mike Munchak) and Kansas City’s Jamal Charles (offensive coordinator Todd Haley).
Wilson, hired as part of Mike Tomlin’s original staff in 2007, was looking to leave the Steelers, even though he had another year remaining on his contract. He was given permission after the season to talk to other NFL teams, an indication the Steelers were willing to let him leave if he found another job.
Wilson was one of 30 candidates who interviewed with the Baltimore Ravens about becoming their offensive coordinator, a position that eventually went to former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak.
Saxon was a fullback who played eight years with three NFL teams — Kansas City, Miami and Philadelphia. Before joining the Vikings’ coaching staff, he coached running backs for the Dolphins (2008-10), Chiefs (2001-07) and Bills (2000). He began his coaching career at Rutgers University (1997-98) then moved to Menlo College (1999).
NOTE — The team signed wide receiver Danny Coale to a reserve/future contract. Coale (6-foot,187 pounds) spent parts of the 2013 season on the practice squads of the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts. He spent part of the 2012 season on the Cowboys’ practice squad after Dallas drafted him in the fifth round out of Virginia Tech that year. Coale is the son-in-law of Steelers broadcaster and former tackle Tunch Ilkin.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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