Art Rooney II’s Forcing Bruce Arians Firing Benefited Both Arians and Steelers

An appropriate sub-headline for this blog could be “Blogger remembers when he got caught with his pants down.” Why, well, read on….

Shortly after the Steelers suffered their Tebowing in Denver ending their 2011 playoff hopes, Mike Tomlin declared that both Bruce Arians and Dick LeBeau would return as offensive and defensive coordinators. And that’s the way things stayed, for a while at least. Within a few weeks shocking news broke that Bruce Arians had “retired.”

  • And truth be told, as DK on Pittsburgh Sports writer Neal Coolong has pointed out, Arians did actually file retirement paperwork.

But the retirement didn’t last long. Within days Arians was headed to Chuck Pagano’s staff on the Indianapolis Colts and word leaked that “Arians retirement” had been brought about by Art Rooney II’s refusal to renew Arians contract.

Of course, Steel Curtain Rising was silent on the Bruce Arians firing at the time, because, as always happens when big Steelers News breaks, I was on vacation and unable to write (well, I did try to sneak in something, but I got “caught” by my wife.) Fortunately Pittsburgh West’s (aka the Arizona Cardinals) impending visit to Heinz Field provides plenty of opportunity to discuss this in depth.

Arians and Roethlisberger – Coach & Quarterback Too Close?

Steelers defensive coordinators might not win popularity contests with everyone in Steelers Nation, but they do generally command respect. The names Bud Carson, George Perles, Tony Dungy, Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau generally get discussed in reverential tones by Steelers fans.

  • Offensive coordinators aren’t so lucky.

To this day you can probably find Steelers bars fans will gleefully burn likenesses of Joe Walton, Chan Gailey, Kevin Gilbride, and most certainly Bruce Arians in effigy. That’s just the way it works.

But let the record reflect, that before Bruce Arians took the reigns of the Steelers offense, a large swath of the NFL wrote off Ben Roethlisberger is nothing more than a mere “game manager.” Super Bowl XLIII ended Arian’s second year as offensive coordinator and it was at about that point that the “Roethlisberger game manager” nonsense died.

  • Whereas Ken Whisenhunt kept Roethlisberger on a tight leash, Bruce Arians simply let Ben be Ben.

And it is hard to argue with the results. Under the guidance of dynamic duo of Roethlisberger and Bruce Arians Pittsburgh Steelers went 75-25 and appeared in two Super Bowls. Since Todd Haley arrived the Steelers are only 30-23. But Bruce Arians hands off philosophy had its cost. From 2007 through to 2011 Ben Roethlsiberger was sacked 215 times.

  • Arians adamantly refused to ask Roethlisberger to adjust his game.

Some of that came from simply not wanting to cover coach Ben, but part of it also came from the close, almost father and son relationship the two men shared. A December game between the Redskins and Patriots, Art Rooney II saw New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien berate Tom Brady on the sidelines. At that moment, according to Gerry Dulac, the idea of firing Arians was born.

Art Rooney Forces Bruce Arians Firing

Of course Rooney’s firing of Arians was awkward. Four games into his tenure as offensive coordinator of the Colts, Chuck Pagano got cancer and Arians found himself as interim head coach, where Arians promptly went 9-3 and won AP Coach of the year honors.

The Arizona Cardinals saw a good thing and hired Arians as their head coach and since arriving in Pittsburgh West Arians has gone 21-11, resurrected Carson Palmer’s career, and made it to the playoffs in 2014 despite having to start 3 quarterbacks.

Ever since Art Rooney II forced the Bruce Arians firing, the arrow has pointed up for Arians.

 

Of Haley and Roethlisberger….

If Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger had a father and son-like relationship, at first Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley were more like Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw. Of course, during Haley’s first season in Pittsburgh both Haley and Roethlisberger said all the right things. Every time any reporter tried to finger a bone of contention between the two, both men denied anything was wrong.

2013 got off to a rocky start, as you’d expect an 0-4 team to, but return of Heath Miller, the addition of Le’Veon Bell, the benching of Mike Adams and starting of Kelvin Beachum helped turn the Steelers offense around.

steelers, ravens, thanksgiving, ben roethlisberger, todd haley

Ben Roethlisberger struggles to direct Steelers comeback vs. Ravens on Thanksgiving Day 2013

But even as late as the Steelers 2013 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Ravens, reporters were sniffing out tension between Haley and Roethlisberger, as Dejan Kovacevic dissected the Steelers late game play calling and concluded:

But this offense still clearly lacks imagination, diversity and, yeah, let’s bring it up for the millionth time, a healthy vibe between quarterback and offensive coordinator.

The process was painful, but as Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review observed, under Haley Ben has evolved “from a quarterback who held the ball longer than anyone in the NFL to one who gets rid of it faster than all but a few.” Starkey backed up his opinion with hard numbers,

  • Per Pro Football Focus, Ben released the ball in 2.5 seconds in 2014, vs. 3 seconds in 2007
  • He also faced less pressure than all quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton

Early in his tenure, while no one had said the Steelers had become a “West Coast offense” there were complaints that Todd Haley’s offense was too horizontal. Yet again, Starkey’s statistics show how misfounded those arguments are:

  • In 2014 the Steelers attempted more “bombs” passes of 40 yards or more
  • Only Andrew Luck attempted more passes that traveled 20 yards or more
  • Roethlisberger was third in yards-per-pass attempt

The process has taken some zig zags and some twists and turns, but the Bruce Arians firing, while painful at times, also benefited Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers as well.

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