Art Rooney II reflects on Steelers' 2012 season
Although not happy with the results from the team's worst record in the past six years, Steelers president Art Rooney II strongly endorsed his team's key coaches, Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
"I think Mike did a good job," Rooney said Wednesday to a few reporters. "I think he was accurate in his own assessment of himself. We were 8-8. We need to do better than that.
"I certainly still have a high level of confidence in Mike. I know he is working as hard as he can already, just to figure out how we can get back on the right track."
The Steelers were 6-3 and looking like a possible top seed in the playoffs before losing five of their final seven to experience their worst record since Bill Cowher's final team went 8-8 in 2006. They were 3-5 in games decided by three points.
"It was clearly a frustrating season," Rooney said. "I'd say it was mostly because we had so many opportunities that we didn't take advantage of. It was one of those seasons that a play here and play there would have made a difference in a lot of those games. You keep that running through your mind. That's what makes it frustrating, when you sit here and watch other teams that you think you might be as good as."
Haley, hired to replace Bruce Arians when his contract was not renewed, oversaw the league's 21st-ranked offense overall, 26th running the ball and 14th passing.
Nevertheless, Rooney thought that offense was on track before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured in the ninth game.
"Our offense was functioning at a pretty high level," Rooney said. "Ben was on track to have his best season of all time. He was taking less sacks. A lot of the things we were hoping for were happening.
"Obviously, after he got hurt, our offense seemed to lose its rhythm. Even when he came back, we never really regained that momentum. I think you have to look at, OK, when our quarterback was healthy, what did we have? I thought what we had was pretty good, not that there weren't things we wanted to improve on.
"You would think the second year of a new offense would be better than the first. You would think those kind of things would evolve in our favor."
Haley was interviewing in Arizona for the Cardinals head-coaching job Wednesday. If he does not get it, Rooney said the Steelers readily would welcome him back.
"I thought he did a good job ... He is a good, young coach."
Other matters addressed by Rooney in the interview:
• He cited the large turnover differential as one reason his team did no better than .500 and lost so many close games. The Steelers ranked tied for 24th in the NFL with a minus-10 in turnover differential, losing the ball 30 times and coming up with only 20 takeaways.
"If you look at the playoffs, teams that are on the negative side of the turnover ratio are not in the playoffs. Really, it is simple as that. ... I. think focus is probably part of it. But it is hard to say."
There is one thing he does know.
"We have to get more pressure on the quarterback," Rooney said. "Anybody will tell you that creates turnovers."
He also said "our defensive backs have to be more ball aware."
• The team is projected to be at least $10 million over the estimated $121 million salary cap.
"That's probably a little on the lower side of where we might be," Rooney said.
"We are tight, sort of similar to where we have been the last few years. We have work to do. That will be one of the challenges this offseason, trying to figure out how we are going to put this jigsaw puzzle back together. It will be a challenge."
A year ago, he warned some tough decisions could involve letting some venerable veterans go. He would not speculate on whether that will happen this time. Nor would he say if they can or will keep some of their own impending free agents such as wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis and running back Rashard Mendenhall.
"As it stands today, it doesn't all fit. We have work to do, whether that's players not being here or players restructuring contracts, we will see. We've got work to do. There's no doubt."
• The Steelers lost 78 starts alone to injuries in 2012 and, while Rooney noted that he believes they come in cycles, he said they will look into their training methods to try to determine if something needs to be changed.
"We will look at everything we are doing from a training and conditioning side of things and a practice side of things and see if there are things we can do to get better."
• There could be more changes in the coaching staff.
"It's that time of year. Coach Tomlin is going through his process with the staff. So, I don't want to make any predictions. I don't see us making a lot of changes. Obviously, we are going to be bringing in a new offensive line coach. Todd is obviously interviewing for a job. It remains to be seen if there are going to be any more changes."
• Dan Rooney had the "emeritus" removed from his title and is back again as Steelers chairman, a position he held before he became U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. He essentially will be involved in league matters and also advise his son on issues with their team.
• No decision yet, but the same throwback uniforms worn in 2012 for two games may be worn again in 2013.
"I think our fans had fun with it. It's something we will look at again, whether we wear it or not."
• The expansion of Heinz Field will not take place in 2013 because the issue is tied up in the courts.
• The New York Daily News reported the Jets will interview Steelers executive Omar Khan today for their open general manager's job.
First Published January 10, 2013 12:00 am