On the Steelers: Tomlin claims responsibility for releasing, hiring new coordinator

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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Mike did it.

Long after Bruce Arians was pushed into "retirement" and the Steelers hired Todd Haley to replace him, coach Mike Tomlin stood up and claimed responsibility for both deeds.

It wasn't Art Rooney II with the broom in the boardroom, but the head coach who swept out Arians as his offensive coordinator and offered the job to Haley.

And those who doubt those stories don't have a clue, at least that's how Tomlin sees it.

"I thought that it was time for change," Tomlin said Tuesday, speaking about the subject publicly for the first time.

"We're moving into a situation here where we have an opportunity to grow and develop some young talent offensively. It's awesome to have an opportunity to maybe have the division of some common opponents -- people who are comfortable with how you play football -- get uncomfortable. That's what's going to happen to us this year. We're excited about that.

"More than anything, I'm not going to apologize for change. That's football. I think all of us in this industry understand that, and our intentions are that it changed for the better."

The Steelers announced Jan. 20 that Arians had "retired." They announced Haley's hiring Feb. 7. A story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Tomlin had told Arians he wanted him back and that Arians wanted to return but that Rooney put the brakes to that.

Tomlin stated emphatically that both decisions were his, that neither came at the behest of the Steelers president.

"He didn't," Tomlin said of Rooney having influence in Arians leaving. "I don't know where some of these perceptions come from. I don't break my neck to try to combat them in any way. I don't know where they come from.

"And I hired Todd Haley as well, which is your next question, which is another funny one to me. And don't get me wrong, of course, Art Rooney owns the football team, he can do what he wants to do, but those directives did not happen."

Tomlin held a news conference the day after the Steelers lost a playoff game Jan. 8 in Denver -- stating that day he thought both coordinators would return for 2012. He has been mostly silent since then in his public discourse. He made a few remarks when Haley was introduced at a news conference but took no questions. He also has been interviewed on Steelers.com, the team's website, about some matters.

During the nearly hour-long interview at an AFC coaches breakfast as part of the NFL meetings, Tomlin touched on a number of different topics, nearly all of them for the first time:

• He expects Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to have a good relationship. "I'm not worried ... I don't anticipate any issues. I anticipate both guys getting along great."

• Marcus Gilbert, who started at right tackle as a rookie, will definitely move to left tackle because of the return of Willie Colon.

"We fully expect him to ... I probably had more concerns about him being the right tackle than I did him being at left tackle, just because of his college experience."

• While he likes the "men" behind injured running back Rashard Mendenhall, "I'm sure we're going to get a running back in some form or fashion" in free agency or the draft.

• Haley's new playbook will include new terminology the players and coaches must learn and maybe a fullback, but there will be no overhaul in the blocking schemes.

"It's been fun. Todd is very flexible, he's very sound in his approach. We've had awesome discussions in terms of building it. ... We're going to build our attack around the strengths of our men.

"Obviously Ben is a talented guy, we've got some talented receivers, we've got an interesting group of running back prospects, we're putting together an offensive line. So we're laying down the fundamental basis of how we'll approach it, what's going to be us regardless of circumstance."

• The Steelers want to acquire "a young quarterback in some form or fashion" but they are not looking to groom someone for the day when Roethlisberger leaves.

• He was blunt regarding the history of injuries to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and Colon, and whether they can remain healthy for long periods. Colon has missed all but one game of the past two seasons with Achilles and arm injuries. Sanders has had several surgeries on his feet and a knee, including a postseason foot operation this year.

"You can't anticipate it's going to stop," he said of Sanders' injuries, although maintaining he is on track to recovery from his latest surgery. "The same could be said for Willie Colon."

• He equated Rooney's statement that Roethlisberger needs to "tweak" his game as merely for him to "evolve." He said he does not think Roethlisberger's ability to maneuver in and out of the pocket has been diminished because of his age (30).

"I don't think we are at that point. I think that point is somewhere in the future, you acknowledge that. He is probably one of the older guys we have on the offense, so there is something to be said for that. But I don't think we are to the point where he is diminishing physically to where we have to alter his game from that perspective."

• Three draft prospects, besides those from Pitt, have made official visits to the Steelers: Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams, Florida International wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Cincinnati defensive lineman Derek Wolfe.

• Formal workouts with players will begin April 16, as provided by in the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, which has reduced the number of spring practices (organized team activities) from 14 to 10, plus a three-day minicamp. OTAs will start May 22 and the spring practices will end with minicamp May 12-14.

• He has not thought about whether a team will sign Mike Wallace as a restricted free agent. They have until April 20 to do so and the Steelers have the right to match it and keep him.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it -- if we come to it."

• He continued to report upbeat progress on running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who was severely burned Jan. 6 in a kitchen fire. Wilson left the hospital more than a week ago and is "attacking rehab." Tomlin expects him to return to his staff this year.

• Nose tackle Casey Hampton could open the season on physically unable to perform list, and if that's the case, Tomlin said Steve McLendon is starter-capable and Ziggy Hood would be a possibility, as would someone else who might be signed or drafted. But he said they are approaching it as if Hampton will play.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.


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