On the Steelers: The games never stop
It took Mike Tomlin awhile, but he finally answered the long-awaited question as to how Bruce Arians' exit came about and what led to Todd Haley's hiring.
Tomlin declared Tuesday at the NFL meetings that both were his decisions, and while Art Rooney also has declared he had nothing to do with the hiring of Haley, he did not say he had nothing to do with Arians' departure.
Yet Tomlin could be right on both accounts, semantically.
Start with Arians. Tomlin said Monday after the playoff loss that he anticipated both of his coordinators would return for the 2012 season. Art Rooney later said some coaches might "retire."
The Post-Gazette reported that not only did Arians want to come back but that Tomlin told him he wanted him back.
Then, the Steelers issued a statement that Arians had "retired" with a comment from Tomlin wishing him well in his retirement. A week later, Arians took a job as offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts.
Let's go back to what Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at the NFL meetings about Arians' departure. He did not mention anything about retirement. He DID say he thought it was time for a change and that it was his decision for Arians to leave.
So, that would make the Steelers' original declaration on Arians "retirement" and Tomlin's statement wishing him well in retirement a bit disingenuous.
As for why Tomlin would go from saying he thought both coordinators would return and telling Arians as much to firing him, that could very well be true. Tomlin may have made both statements, public to us and private to Arians, before he spoke to Art Rooney. When they did talk, Rooney may have impressed on Tomlin his feelings that Arians should no longer serve as offensive coordinator and with his contract up, it would be a good time to do it.
Rooney wanted Arians out two years ago, but Ben Roethlisberger reportedly saved his job by pleading for it with Tomlin.
So, maybe after listening to Rooney, Tomlin was faced with two choices: Keep Arians against Rooney's wishes for the second time in three years, or dump him and move on. Chuck Noll was faced with just such a decision 23 years ago. We can assume that Tomlin reluctantly signed off on Rooney's wishes and told Arians the Steelers would not offer him a contract.
Thus, it was Tomlin's ultimate "decision" but maybe not his preference.
As for Haley's hiring, after forcing him to shed Arians, Rooney let Tomlin do his thing in hiring his next coordinator. Tomlin has proved adept at hiring coaches.
Tomlin interviewed two men in Pittsburgh, Jim Caldwell and Haley, both former head coaches. Tomlin chose Haley.
Back to Noll. In 1988, after the Steelers slumped to 5-11, Dan Rooney -- Art's dad -- told Noll he wanted him to make changes on his staff. Noll resisted and nearly quit but relented and did so. Noll hired the replacements.
After the 1989 season in which the Steelers made the playoffs, offensive coordinator Tom Moore quit because he could not take the in-house griping about his offense and saw the handwriting on the wall. There were some thoughts in 1988 that Rooney also wanted Moore out but that Noll saved his job.
With Moore gone, Noll was given complete autonomy in hiring his next offensive coordinator and hired the first one he interviewed, Joe Walton, coincidentally another former NFL head coach. After two years of Walton's offense and two seasons missing the playoffs, Rooney was prepared to request more changes on the staff, including Walton's exit.
This time, Noll resisted and retired instead.
If it could happen to a Hall of Fame coach with four Lombardi notches on his belt, it certainly could happen to Tomlin. He resisted Art Rooney's urging to change his coordinator two years ago, and this time he did not. Who knows if it will happen again, and what choice the coach might make if it does?
It's not the rule, it's the emphasis
Often it's not the new rules the NFL adopts this time of year but the "points of emphasis" declared by the competition committee that can have a larger effect on the way football is played.
"Points of emphasis" are rules already on the books that those who run the game want officials to call closely. It could be anything from holding to overt touchdown celebrations.
Expect in 2012 to see the NFL crack down on the following rules already on the books because the competition committee suggested they be "points of emphasis."
• Blows to the head.
• Horse-collar tackles. (This is strange because the committee -- and ultimately the owners -- did not support the Steelers' proposal that they include the quarterback in the pocket.)
• Taunting and sportsmanship. Show up an opponent, expect a flag. (When the Steelers knocked out Jets wide receiver Al Toon years ago and Greg Lloyd slapped the ground three times calling him out, it drew no penalty. Today, Lloyd might be tossed from the game for it.)
• False starts. Yes, they will be calling them more often, which may be another reason the Steelers released Chris Kemoeatu.
• A runner who "calls himself down" will be down. In other words, if a player believes he was tackled, even though he may not have been touched and merely fell to the ground, he will be down at that point if he does not try to get up and run. (Think of the Plaxico Burress play in Jacksonville when he spiked the ball after he caught a pass and fell to the ground. The Jaguars recovered and possession was theirs. Under this "emphasis," Burress would have been declared down for calling himself down.)
• Illegal substitutions. Officials are to monitor more closely teams that may be trying to sneak personnel into the game to confuse opponents.
Who's right for left?
Keenan Lewis may be the next up on the depth chart to replace departed William Gay at left cornerback, but when we asked Mike Tomlin how he felt about that position and whether he needed to add anyone, Lewis was not the first name he mentioned.
He cited last year's two rookie draft picks first.
"There's a possibility that we could add some competition there, but we are excited about the prospects of these young men -- Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen," Tomlin said. "We drafted them a year ago with the potential of these things in mind. They've been a part of our program and have been given the opportunity to contribute in some ways, on special teams and even in some sub-package defense for Cortez."
Tomlin had to be prodded about whether or not Lewis was in the mix.
"Certainly he is. He played a lot last year. He is not an unknown commodity in my mind. We are talking about our third cornerback. The way he played sub-package football last year, he logged quite a few snaps.
"From defensive playing time, you have to give the nod to Lewis. He's been a part of our program longer than the others, but we are going to give all those men the opportunity to earn that position."
First Published April 1, 2012 12:01 am