The Steelers might not be done making changes in their coaching staff, but the biggest development yesterday was the one they didn't make.
After a long and what was termed "productive" meeting with coach Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was told he will return as offensive coordinator in 2010, putting to rest his status after reports surfaced he would be fired.
Arians, who has one year remaining on his contract, was retained after a season in which the Steelers had a 4,000-yard quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger), two 1,000-yard receivers (Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Rashard Mendenhall) for the first time in franchise history.
However, for the first time since he became head coach in 2007, Tomlin fired one of his assistant coaches -- offensive line coach Larry Zierlein, whose unit might have performed better this season than it did during last year's Super Bowl season.
The Steelers had a better per-game rushing average (112.1 yards) than they did in 2008 (105.6, the lowest of any playoff team in franchise history), but they also allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked a personal-high 50 times. In three years under Zierlein, Roethlisberger was sacked 143 times, more than any other NFL quarterback.
But, even before Zierlein joined the Steelers, Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times in the 2006 season when the offensive line coach was Russ Grimm and the line featured two Pro Bowl performers -- guard Alan Faneca and center Jeff Hartings. A number of Roethlisberger's sacks occur because he holds the ball longer than most quarterbacks, trying to make a play.
Tomlin had individual meetings yesterday with some of his coaches, in addition to some of his players, and he might not be done making changes in his staff.
The decision to retain Arians, 57, should really come as no surprise because Tomlin has never publicly questioned the philosophy of the game plan or the performance and execution of the offense. Even when the Steelers attempted 42 pass plays in a Dec. 10 game in Cleveland when the wind-chill was minus-10 and wind gusts reached 45 mph, Tomlin did not blame Arians or criticize the strategy, even when he was asked and had the opportunity to do so.
When Tomlin was questioned why Roethlisberger was attempting a third-down pass with less than two minutes remaining against Baltimore Dec. 27 and the Ravens without any timeouts -- the pass was intercepted but wiped out by a Ravens penalty -- he quickly noted, "We wanted to move the chains. We wanted to control the ball."
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 7, 2010 5:00 AM