The Watch Tower was quiet during much of 2011. Rest assured lack of time and not lack of motive explains the absence. Unfortunately the long layoff means a lot will go uncovered, but those are the breaks. The media has given us plenty to chew over, and the Watch Tower first shines its light on the Hines Ward situation.
Having It Out for Hines?
Steelers Nation knew the day would at some point, and the juncture was reached in 2011 when Hines Ward lost his starting job. It was a sobering moment to be sure, but one that came with a captivating back story.
Writing on PG Plus, Ed Bouchette was the first to note Ward’s demotion, commenting on Ward’s lack of play at Cincinnati, and discounting Mike Tomlin’s denial that Ward had dropped on the depth chart, reminding readers that Tomlin had spun the same line about Randel El a year earlier.
A few days later, Bouchette wrote an impassioned post on PG Plus strongly criticizing the Steelers coaches for not having the decency to inform Ward of his benching prior to the fact. Bouchette continued the full court press with the Ward story throughout the season, although he did appear to shift his tone when it suited him, observing on November 16th that:
It’s not wrong that he lost his starting status or has been dropped to No. 4 or even No. 5 on the depth chart. But someone owed him at least a heads-up that it was going to happen and maybe even an explanation as to why. [Emphasis added.]
The “Dean” of the Steelers press corps is pretty consistent here. However, writing on December 21st, Bouchette, discussing Ward’s quest to get break the 1,000 catch mark, flatly changed his tone charging “They’re not even giving him the chance.” It would appear that Bouchette, it was in fact wrong that Ward was now the 4th or 5th wide receiver.
It only took Bouchette another sentence, however, to drop a bigger bomb shell when he asserted:
It seems to me, someone has it out for him.
Going from not giving a player his due to actively trying to keep him from breaking milestones is a huge leap, and one which Bouchette made without offering any type of reporting or indirect reporting to support such a bold assertion.
The season’s final two games made it quite clear in fact, that the Steelers were going to try to do everything to give Hines Ward is 1000 catches, in fact if memory serve, Mike Tomlin even went into the finale having informed the TV broadcast team that this was his intention.
Bouchette’s bravado looked quite foolish, at this point.
Dale Lolley to the Rescue
However, in his post season write up, veteran Washington Observer scribe Dale Lolley scooped the competition with this:
There are some on the coaching staff who don’t want Ward back. In fact, one member of the staff didn’t want him back in 2010.
Lolley then went on to explain that management put its foot down and insisted that Ward be welcomed back, and predicted (as did Bouchette) that they will do so again in 2012.
This is a tremendous piece of reporting by Lolley (why he put this in his blog and not his paper is mind boggleing). If Lolley’s right, and there is every reason to suspect he is, someone on the Steelers coaching staff really does not like Hines Ward, because Number 86 caught 95 catches in 2009.
The said coach is also more than a little stupid, because Ward followed that up with 59 catch effort in 2010, scored a key touchdown in the playoffs vs. the Ravens, and would have been the Super Bowl MVP had the Steelers defeated the Packers.
Dale Lolley of course didn’t divulge who that coach is – he couldn’t lest he lose every friend he has in the locker room, but in responding to a reader’s comments he did offer that:
As for the coach who wanted to cut him, let’s just say it was somebody who had some say in those things, but not the final say.
If nothing else, Lolley is, most likely, telling his readers that Mike Tomlin is not the one who has it out with Ward. That would leave the other offensive coaches. It wasn’t Scotty Montgomery, who joined the staff as wide out’s coach in the spring of 2010 ,and likely would have no standing to make such a bold claim.
Randy Fichtner is also an unlikely candidate, if for no other reason than one of the enduring images from the horrid loss at Cleveland in 2009 was Fichtner comforting Ward on the sidelines. So I guess that leaves us with Bruce Arians, although that’s only a guess….
Bouchette Beats a Dead Slash
During the 2011 off season season the Watch Tower took exception with Ed Boucette’s insistence that Bill Cowher showed too little patience with Kordell Stewart (click here to read.)
Bouchette, apparently couldn’t let it go. But while the first case was a clash of opinions, Bouchette followed up with some statements that were flat out wrong.
Comparing Kordell Stewart to Tim Tebow, Bouchette offered this:
He [Kordell] would start the next five seasons at quarterback, off and on, even though Cowher and his offensive coordinators did everything they could to find someone else, such as that big walruss Kent Graham, a Kevin Gilbride favorite. [Emphasis added.]
Just how does Bouchette conclude that Cowher and his coaches “did everything they could to find someone else…?” Reality fails that statement. After his awful 1998 season, the Steelers, with Cowher’s assent, gave Kordell a new, lucrative long-term, contract.
In the 1999 draft the Steelers made attempt to move up to take one of the five quarterbacks taken before their first round pick. Kordell’s 1999 season was worse than his 1998 season, yet the Steelers passed on the chance to take Chad Pennington during the 2000 NFL draft.
And after a strong, but not spectacular 2000 season, the Steelers again opted to allow Drew Breees and Quincy Carter to remain on the board, taking Casey Hampton and Kendrell Bell instead during the 2001 NFL draft.
Ed Bouchette is entitled to his opinions about how the Steelers coaches mishandeled Kordell Stewart – he’s right to a certain extent and he’s got plenty of facts on his side – but he’s not entitled to ignore basic facts that happen to be inconvenient to his argument.
Did the Steelers Snub Russ Grimm?
Now that the Watch Tower has thrown Bouchette under a bus over Kordell Stewart, let’s give the man credit for some truly excellent reporting.
As most Steelers fans know, there was initially some confusion over who would succeed Bill Cowher, with conflicting reports that the job had been offered to Russ Grimm and Mike Tomlin.
Art Rooney II explained afterwards that he had gotten as far as discussing prelimary contract numbers with Grimm, but insists that no offer had been extended.
And that’s where the story stood for four years.
Russ Grimm was portrayed in the press as disappointed at not getting the job, but said all of the right things leading up to the Steelers game vs. Arizona in 2007 and again repeated all of the right things before Super Bowl XLIII.
However, prior to this year’s Cardinals game, Bouchette added something that was potentially explosive to the mix:
He [Russ Grimm] believes he was told by Art Rooney that the job was his after Bill Cowher quit. He even had a part to celebrate. Later, he was told that it wasn’t a done deal and then that Mike Tomlin was hired. Bitter doesn’t describe it. He is the Cardinals line coach and assistant head coach, just as he was in Pittsburgh.
Still pretty innocuous stuff, although the news of Grimm having held a party and his bitterness (in contrast to public statements) are new news.
Later on, responding to a fan’s question, Bouchette dived deeper:
Grimm believed all along the job was his because, in my opinion, they led him to believe it. Now it comes down to specifics. Those close to Grimm say Art Rooney told him “Congratulations, you are the new Steelers coach” and Grimm and his friends and family celebrated. However, the Rooneys insist that he was never told that and what he was told he misinterpreted.
The “’Congratulations’” quote amounts to an impressive, and unprecedented piece of reporting. Clearly it Bouchette’s sources are 3rd and 4th hand, but he takes the story farther than it’s ever been and in doing so he delivered the goods that make PG Plus worth the 17 Argentine pesos it costs monthly to subscribe.