The Steelers 2015 Off Season is into its second month and a lot has happened. There are many things for the Watch Tower to shine its lights on, but it will begin by going back to January to news generated by Dick LeBeau’s departure and Mike Mitchell’s injury.
Deconstructing Lebeau’s Departure
Dick LeBeau’s departure from the Steelers was, is and doubtlessly will be the biggest off season story. You don’t create a legacy of excellence the way LeBeau did and not have your departure create waves.
- The pro’s and con’s of the move have been discussed here before, the Watch Tower’s interest is in media angle behind the story.
First, the Watch Tower sends kudos to Steve Stout of the Urbanan Daily Citizen for breaking the story. LeBeau is from Urbanan, Ohio and whether he had a relationship with Steve Stout or not, he chose to give his hometown paper the scoop.
- The news of course quickly spread like wild fire.
Credit Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for being the first Pittsburgh reporter to get an interview with LeBeau once the news broke. With that said, LeBeau’s own words did little to quell speculation as to the nature of his separation from the Steelers.
- Did LeBeau quit or was he fired?
LeBeau called the parting mutual, but that hardly convinced either the public or the press. Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell published a story titled, “Forced Out” although he later changed the headline to “Onward and Upward” Wexell explained the change to the Watch Tower:
@SteelCurtainRis Wanted to use it the first day but didn't want to minimize news impact since others were calling it mutual.
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) January 21, 2015
@SteelCurtainRis if you're wondering, I changed headline before tweet criticizing use of "Forced out"
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) January 21, 2015
Indeed, in the second paragraph of Wexell’s story published the morning after the story broke he stated plainly, “Yes, he was forced out,” and this was fairly typical of much of the reporting at the moment.
- But that was hardly the only angle being advanced, as indicated by an NFL Network story published only an hour and a half after Wexell’s.
Marc Sessler wrote an article citing Ian Rapport’s reporting that LeBeau’s resignation caught the Steelers by surprise. At a minimum, Sessler’s article added intrigue to the story, even if the NFL Network’s reporting regarding the Steelers should be taken with some skepticism.
- Of all the Pittsburgh-based reporters, it was perhaps Dale Lolley who kept his readers best informed.
Writing two days after the story broke, Lolley depicted events this way:
This is what I know. In the weeks leading up to the end of the season, the Steelers wanted LeBeau back and LeBeau wanted to continue coaching.
At some point, however, that changed.
It could have been a situation that happened while LeBeau was meeting with head coach Mike Tomlin. Both men could have had the intentions of staying together. But during the course of their conversation, that could have changed on the part of one or both.
Lolley however, clarified that his sources were telling him that the parting was in fact amicable.
Lolley expanded on the story after a sit down with Art Rooney II, where he presented this possible scenario:
Rooney did say that if LeBeau had stayed, he would have been in a different role. It sounds as if LeBeau was given the choice of staying and Keith Butler moving into the defensive coordinator role with LeBeau as an adviser, or leaving.
LeBeau chose to leave. You can call that forced out or whatever you’d like, but it sounds as if it was LeBeau’s choice.
Lolley then pointed out that had LeBeau stayed as say, Associate Head Coach Defense (Johnny Mitchell is already the Steelers Assistant Head Coach), Keith Butler would have remained in his shadow.
If a Reporter Reports on an Injury and Everyone Ignores is the Player Still Hurt?
As the Watch Tower has observed before, in many ways its a lot more interesting – and often times easier – to writer about the NFL during the off season than during the season.
Some of this has to do with the rote nature of the NFL news cycle (game coverage, post game coverage, press conference, conference call with opposition press etc…) Some of it has to do with team’s losing the ability to control access to players. And often times those changes begin as soon as the clock stops ticking.
- During Steelers 2014 season, perhaps no player in the secondary served as a bigger lighting rod for criticism than safety Michael Mitchell.
Mitchell, signed to so much fanfare last year, created far more “splash plays” off the field with his mouth than on the field with his playing ability. Understandably the following tweet generated a lot of interest:
Steelers S Mike Mitchell played all season w/ a torn groin. Surgery this week. Would knowing that stop bust label? Said: "Nobody cares."
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 4, 2015
Aditi Kinkhabwala of course the same NFL reporter who tried to claim that she anticipated Jack Bicknell’s firing, only to be called out by Dejan Kovacevic for it. Kinkhabwala ’s tweet ignighted a debate in Steelers Nation as to whether this breaking news should mitigate the criticism directed at Mitchell.
- The debate is understandable, however, Kinkhabwala wasn’t breaking news.
Alan Robinson had written about this months before.
For the record, I reported on 10/23/14 that Mike Mitchell chose not to have surgery on injured groin so he could keep playing. #Steelers
— Alan Robinson (@alanrobinson412) January 4, 2015
A quick review of the Tribune-Review’s archives reveals that on Robinson reported:
Mitchell’s stats line picked up the past two weeks, a sign he might be getting over the groin injury that sidelined him for the first 10 days of training camp. It is believed he avoided having surgery so that he wouldn’t miss a significant amount of playing time.
It is hard to say why Mitchell’s injury status didn’t get greater attention during the regular season. The Pittsburgh Steelers are, in a word, “stingy” when it comes to sharing injury information, and perhaps their PR staff discourage other members of the press from further reporting on Mitchell’s injury.
- Perhaps it just the news just fell off of everyone’s radar.
Isaac Redman suffered injuries during training camp in 2012, but those were quickly forgotten once the regular season started.
- Ironically enough, Robinson could have bolstered his own case tremendously by tweeting a link to his initial story, something which he inexplicably failed to do.
Regardless, it’s ironic that a 140 character tweet from an NFL Network reporter can create more waves than a feature length story written by a writer who has covered the Steelers for decades.
Where Did You Go Mr. Robinson Steelers Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You?
And now the Watch Tower turns its lights on Alan Robinson himself, asking specifically what happened to him. Robinson’s last byline with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review appeared on November 17th, just as the Steelers began their bye week after their win over the Titans.
- Since then, his work has not appeared in the paper.
Chris Adamski work began appearing and while Adamski has done a good job, it would be interesting to know where Robinson had gone to. No announcement can be found searching the paper’s archive, no does Robinson’s Twitter feed give any indication as to him either leaving the paper or taking a leave of absence.
He just disappeared.
ESPN’s Report on Harrison Reveals Interesting Tomlin Nugget
One of the biggest Steelers stories this season was the retirement-return of James Harrison. And so should it be. Few Steelers of either Super Bowl era are as storied as Harrison.
ESPN’s Ashlie Fox made Harrison’s return a focal point of a story before the playoff loss to the Ravens. In general, her story filled in a lot of specific details to general events that have long been common knowledge – Harrison still wanted to play, Steelers coaches wanted him, veterans such as Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel coaxed him back in.
- But Mike Tomlin already knew that.
Per Fox’s report, he knew that after seeing Harrison address Steelers rookies whom Tomlin took out to dinner before the season per a team tradition.
- In his 8 years as coach, the Watch Tower is unaware of any reporting on an annual Mike Tomlin rookie dinner.
That’s hardly a bombshell scoop, but its interesting that a national reporter would unearth such a nugget or, if the dinner is common knowledge, equally interesting if only a national reporter could get away with writing about it.