Two days after firing Todd Haley, the Pittsburgh Steelers moved swiftly to promote quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner as offensive coordinator. The Steelers simply announced the new on their website, and did not make Fichtner available for questions. However, the Steelers new offensive coordinator did release this statement:
I want to thank Coach (Mike) Tomlin and Art Rooney II for giving me this opportunity to be the offensive coordinator for this organization. We have a tremendous roster, and it will be my charge to continue putting our offensive players in position to succeed and score points. We have the nucleus to be successful, and I am thrilled about the chance to lead the offense as we have already started preparing for the 2018 season.
Randy Fichtner joined the Steelers in 2007 as part of Mike Tomlin’s initial coaching staff, where he replaced Bruce Arians as wide receivers coach.
Randy Fichtner & Ben Roethlisberger prior to Steelers 2015 game vs 49ers. Photo Credit: AP Gene J. Puskar, via Yahoo.
At the time, commentators suggested that Tomlin was grooming Fitchner to replace Arians.
While Arians only lasted two more seasons as Steelers offensive coordinator, Randy Fitchner didn’t replace him. In fact, if reports are true, he wasn’t even Mike Tomlin’s first choice, which would have been running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who was unable to take the job due to burns suffered in a fire.
Randy Fichtner kept a low profile as Steelers quarterbacks coach, working in the booth on game day and rarely making statements to the press, save for the2013 NFL Draftwhen Fichtner spoke following the decision to draft Landry Jones.
However, in the middle of the 2017 season, new and strange face was seen talking to Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines during games. That was Randy Fichtner, who if reports are correct, had been brought down from the booth to serve as a “buffer” between Roethlisberger and Haley.
Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers Coaches Needed
By promoting Randy Fichtner, Mike Tomlin has created another vacancy on his staff as he now need a new quarterbacks coach and new receivers coach. Both Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch have been mentioned as possible quarterbacks coaches, while Hines Ward and Daniel M. Rooney, the son of Art Rooney II, have been suggested as wide receiving coaching candidates.
Futures Contracts and Free Agent Signings
Earlier this week the Steelers announced that cornerback Mike Hilton tight end Xavier Grimble and long-snapper Kameron Canaday, all exclusive rights free agents, have signed one year contracts to return to the team.
The Steelers also signed “futures contracts” with defensive end Lavon Hooks, linebackers Farrington Huguenin, Matt Galambos and Keith Kelsey, wide receivers Justin Thomas and Marcus Tucker, cornerback Dashaun Philips, Safety Jordan Dangerfield and tight end Jake McGee.
In a move that has been anticipated for at least two years, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann has announced his retirement. And while Richard Mann might not have the profile of other position coaches, make no mistake about it, his presence will be missed.
Former Steelers WR coach Richard Mann offers instruction. Photo Credit: Post-Gazette
Go back to 2012 and the days when “Young Money” aka Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were all the rage in Steelers Nation.
Together the threesome was supposed to form the most fearsome wide receiver trio the NFL has seen this side of Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed. It made for excellent copy during the off season and training camp.
Then the games that counted started.
While the Steelers offense had a fairly strong start to 2012, the unit fell off the rails during the second half of the season. While an injury to Ben Roethlisberger took its toll, the value of “Young Money” was measured in pennies rather than dollars. The whole was less than the sum of its parts.
After the season, Wide Receiver’s coach Scotty Montgomery, returned to coach at Duke, despite no position being associated with his hiring.
As The Watch Tower detailed at the time, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette issued dueling stories by Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac offering starkly contrasting interpretations of events. Dulac’s story suggested the move was Montgomery’s and one made only with great reluctance. Bouchette’s suggested Tomlin had pushed Montgomery out, and reported that, absent Hines Ward, chaos had enveloped wide receivers room.
Mike Tomlin responded by coaxing Aliquippa native Richard Mann out of retirement.
That’s all one blogger needs to accept Ed Bouchette’s interpretation of what transpired in 2012. The Steelers don’t allow assistant coaches much contact with the media, but when Richard Mann spoke about 3rd round pick Markus Wheaton during the 2013 NFL Draft, the man positively exuded an aura of “Been there, done that.”
And you’d expect that from a man whose been around long enough to coach for the Baltimore Colts, the original Cleveland Browns, and the Baltimore Ravens.
Mann also coached with the New York Jets, Washington Redskins, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he first met Mike Tomlin, and the two forged a bond evident in the words the Steelers head coached used to praise Mann upon his retirement:
I had the pleasure of working with him 15 years ago at a different capacity. My appreciation for him really kind of started there. I was a younger assistant position coach, defensive backs. He was a more senior veteran wide receiver coach. Obviously, by the nature of the positions, we worked cooperatively together in training camp. I learned a lot from watching him coach his guys on the grass and off the grass. I was appreciative of him allowing me to do that. Often times in training camp like settings, we would watch the same video of our guys together. I could hear him make coaching points to his guys about what was happening on the video. He could hear me make coaching points with my guys about what was happening on the same video. It was just a unique learning environment
He’s always been a teacher and not resistant to sharing that expertise with others and that is why I’ve always gravitated towards him. Very accomplished coach. Maybe a lot of opportunities were not afforded to him because of the generation in which he rose through the ranks. I’m cognizant of that. I am appreciative of that. I realize some of the opportunities I have been afforded in my career is because of efforts and accomplishments of men like Richard Mann. I am appreciative on a lot of levels. Probably can’t eloquently describe that level of appreciation, but he is a special man and a special coach. One that has impacted me in a lot of ways.
Richard Mann made an immediate impact when he joined the Steelers staff. People forget, but Antonio Brown’s play dropped off late in the season to the point where their were wispers about whether the Steelers had erred in giving him a long-term deal.
Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is a candidate to replace Richard Mann. Ward has coached with the Steelers during training camp, and returned for a few stints during the regular season, and was present on the sideline during a number of games.
Hines Ward is a fan favorite and a franchise legend, but it’s a fair question to ask whether he’s a wise choice to replace Mann.
Former players returning as assistants always arrive with a sentimental cheer and such was the case each time Jerry Olsavsky, Carnell Lake and Joey Porter joined Mike Tomlin’s staff. And so it was with Joe Greene’s return to Chuck Noll’s staff in 1987 and Mike Mularkey’s return to Bill Cowher’s staff in 1996 (well maybe not on Mularkey.)
But, a wise fan will remember that Gerald Williams was the best defensive lineman during Joe Greene’s tenure.
If you don’t remember Gerald Williams, you’ve certainly heard his name, right? Well, you probably haven’t. Gerald Williams was a good player, but not a great player for the Steelers. True, Greene didn’t have a lot to work with (remember Donald Evans and Kenny Davidson, no? you’re lucky then) but he reportedly did lobby hard for the Steelers to pick Aaron Jones, who never amount to much more than a marginal starter.
Its perhaps a little harsh to judge position coaches by the development of their players – remember, Chuck Noll’s “Don’t over coach the kid” admonition to Dick Hoak about Franco Harris. But if William Gay and Keenan Lewis did improve under Carnell Lake, Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas were clearly mistakes.
Dupree, after an OK start to the season, disappeared from the pass rush down the stretch, although were assured that he was “going into coverage a lot and doing well against the run.” Fair enough, but let’s remind everyone that “they” said the same thing about Jarvis Jones up until the day Mike Tomlin benched Jones in favor of Harrison.
Perhaps Hines Ward will serve as an exception, but thus far no other team is breaking down the door to offer Lake, Olsavsky or Porter opportunities to climb the coaching ladder.
So word to the wise about welcoming Hines Ward back.
In a move that will draw wild applause from large sectors of Steelers Nation, saw the Steelers fire Todd Haley, who has served as offensive coordinator since 2012. The NFL Network reported the news, and it has since been confirmed by the Tribune-Review and Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
No word exists on a replacement, although Randy Fichtner, the Steelers quarterbacks coach is generally regarded as the front runner to replace Haley.
News that Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak had withdrawn his name as a candidate to be the Arizona Cardinals head coach has led to speculation that Mike Munchak could be in line to be the offensive coordinator. However, Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette is insisting that Munchak very much remains in the running for the Arizona job:
Mike Munchak is a "serious" candidate to become head coach in Arizona, per NFL source.
At the very least, it seems that the sound and fury generated by Todd Haley’s departure from Pittsburgh will mirror his time in the Steel City.
Not as iconic as Terry Bradshaw & Chuck Noll, but Haley & Roethlisberger never saw eye to eye. Photo Credit: Karl Walter, Getty Images via BTSC
In the End, Its Almost Certainly about Haley and Ben
Todd Haley arrived in Pittsburgh after Art Rooney II pulled rank on Mike Tomlin, forcing him to fire Bruce Arians after the Steelers head coach had already announced Arians’ return. Although Arians had coached the Steelers to a title in Super Bowl XLIII, Arians refused to push Ben Roethlisberger to alter his game, and management was concerned for the signal caller’s health.
Indeed, if reports are correct, the Mike Tomlin moved quarterback’s coach Randy Fichtner to the sidelines in the middle of the season a Ben Roethlisberger’s request to provide a buffer between him and Haley, and Roethlisberger’s play improved accordingly.
Yet, for all the tension, numbers reveal that Todd Haley succeeded in designing an offense which allowed Ben Roethlisberger to be himself, while not getting himself killed.
Ben Roethlisberger’s performance under different offensive coordinators through 2015
The numbers above only go through the 2015 season, but the trends have largely sustained themselves since then.
Nonetheless, fancy statistics do not win football games let alone championships. Stories of Ben and Haley not being on the same page, of Roethlisberger needlessly burning time outs because he didn’t understand or agree with the play call, were staples of the Haley era.
It is indeed possible that this disconnect and on the field consequences and perhaps contributed to the confusion that doomed the final play from scrimmage against the Patriots.
Undoubtedly, keeping Ben Roethlisberger happy is also fueling this move. A year ago Roethlisberger openly mused about retirement, and Ed Bouchette reported that this talk was likely prompted by an acrimonious exchange with Todd Haley following the AFC Championship loss to New England.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s two most storied franchises. The latter defined winning and excellence in the 1960’s; the former defined the term “NFL Dynasty” in the 1970’s. Both franchises were fortunate to hit their respective peaks as the NFL was coming of age.
Yet, due to the conference and division realignment which followed the NFL-AFL merger, these two teams have seldom faced off of late.
The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs the Green Bay Packers is pretty one-sided affair, with the Cheeseheads holding a 22-15 edge as of 2017, but much of that lopsidedness is due the the Steelers pre-Immaculate Reception Record.
In fact, in the last 25 years, the teams have only met seven times, but those meetings have contributed much to the lore of both franchises. Either scroll down to click on the links below to relive your favorite moment in Steelers-Packers history.
Le’Veon Bell rushes for his 1st 100 yard game in the Steelers 2013 win over the Packers @ Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt, Getty Images via Zimbo
1992 – Bill Cowher Reveals His True Nature in 1st Loss
History will long remember this as Brett Favre’s first NFL start. Conversely, it was also Rod Woodson’s career worst and Bill Cowher’s first loss.
Although the words “Hall of Fame” and “Rod Woodson” were already being collocated in 1992, Woodson fell flat in almost every conceivable way possible on this day.
If you have a strong stomach for memories you’d rather forget, you can watch the game summary from NFL Prime Time.
For Steelers fans the significance of this game is in what Bill Cowher revealed about himself.
Near the end of the game Cowher approached Woodson. Rod turned away fearing a tongue lashing. Instead, Cowher consoled him, saying that “You’ve had a bad day at he office. When that happens, you don’t quit the job, you analyze what went wrong and bounce back.”
Steelers fans loved Cowher for his fire, brimstone and in your face bravado, but…
…in his first loss as a head coach, The Chin showed that he was a head coach who was smart enough to know when to kick a player in the a_s, and when to pat him on the back.
The Steelers playoff position was set, while the Packers still had something to play for. Bill Cowher benched many starters – Fred McAfee and Steve Avery were the Steelers starting backfield.
Yet this was a hard-fought, knock down drag out game. Kevin Greene hit Brett Favre so hard that he appeared to be coughing up his brains at one point. Jim McMahon did come in for a few snaps, but Favre refused to stay out long.
The Steelers second string almost pulled it off, as Yancey Thigpen dropped a sure touchdown pass as time expired.
Rookie Hines Ward on his 3rd NFL catch as LeRoy Butler closes in. Photo Credit: Rick Stewart, Getty Images via Bleacher Report
As the fourth quarter began, Pittsburgh appeared poised to make it 34-3, until Sherman decided to get cute on the goal line. Sherman thought it would be smart to revive Slash, and sent Mike Tomczak under center with Kordell lining up as a receiver. All went well, until the snap….
A bobbled exchange leads to a fumble, which Keith McKenzie returns 88 yards for a touchdown. The Packers score 17 unanswered points, but Pittsburgh holds on. Barley.
The moral of the story there is that trick plays can give an already efficient offense a lethal edge, but they can be just as lethal for a struggling unit.
2005 – Never Underestimate the Importance to Backups….
Bryant McFadden strip sacks Brett Favre, setting up a 77 yard Troy Polamalu touchdown return. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
But the star of the day is Duce Staley, who gets his first carry of the year that day, and adds a total of 14 more for 76 yards and including a long run of 17 and a touchdown. He also catches to passes for nine yards.
As Bill Cowher said the day Pittsburgh released Staley, “If we don’t have Duce, we don’t win that game. If we don’t win that game, we don’t make the playoffs, and never get to Super Bowl XL.”
The Steelers signed Duce Staley to a generous contract in 2004, and he only ended up playing 16 games over three season. But in the end, it was money well spent.
The Steelers and Packers combined for 936 yards and the lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter as Aaron Rodgers passed for 383 yards. Ben Roethlisberger did him better, however, passing for 503 yards and in doing so only becoming only the 10th NFL signal caller to break the half-century mark.
Hines Ward and Heath Miller both broke the 100 yard mark, but the star of the game was Steelers rookie of the year Mike Wallace. Wallace bookended his game with touchdown catches. Taking his first pass for 60 yards to the end zone, and he did it again with his last pass, hauling in a 19 yard grab with 0:03 seconds remaining.
2010 – Super Bowl XLV – Steelers Must Wait for Stairway to Seven…
And that brings us to Super Bowl XVL and the Steelers ill-fated quest for Lombardi Number Seven.
The Steelers made some early mistakes and, as Mike Tomlin, ever the class act, insisted, the Packers made some tremendous plays that put the Steelers deep in a hole.
The men in Black and Gold fought back furiously and were alive until the game’s final minute. But, when the final gun sounded, the Packers simply showed themselves to be the better team and, to their credit, the Steelers acknowledged as much.
2013 – Le’Veon Bell Finds His Rushing Feet in the Snows of Lambeau Field
Le’Veon Bell rushes against Lamari Lattimore in the snows at Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Phelps, AP via the Bleacher Report
Le’Veon Bell played as if he took it personally, ripping off runs for 11, 5, and 22 yards in his first four carries. By half time, Bell had 71 yards and was in route to his first 100 yard game. But Bell’s game was hardly blemish free.
The game also featured Bell’s first NFL fumble at Pittsburgh’s 2 yard line no less.
Eddie Lacy put Green Bay ahead, but Le’Veon Bell took his next carry and shot through the Packers defense for 25 yards. The fireworks were far from over at that point, as Cortez Allen intercepted Matt Flynn and took it to the house, only to see Green Bay return to tie the score after intercepting a failed Ben Roethlisberger pass to Heath Miller.
The Steelers however, regained the lead with 1:25 left to play on another Le’Veon Bell touchdown.
A monster return saw Green Bay return the ball all the way to the Pittsburgh’s 1, but penalties prevented the Packers from scoring as time ran out.
A hundred yard rusher, six changes in the lead, fumbles at the goal line and snow on Lambeau Field – as John Madden would say, “This is what the game of football is all about.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers end their bye week and commence the last half of their 2017 season today against the Indianapolis Colts. The Pittsburgh Steelers carry a 6-2 mark out of the season’s mid point, the same record they had in in 2008 and 2010, seasons which ended at Super Bowl XLIII and Super Bowl XLV respectively.
And the news gets better. As Mike Frazer of Behind the Steel Curtain points out, Mike Tomlin second half of the season winning percentage is .663.
Past performance doesn’t guarantee future returns, and Tomlin’s Steelers did see second half of the season implosions in 2009 and 2012. But Tomlin is only part of the equation. If there’s been one negative story line of 2017 it has been the sub-par play of Ben Roethlisberger.
That brings the focus firmly onto number 7, opening the question: How has Ben Roethlisberger typically performed during the second half of the season?
Is there hope for a Ben Roethlisberger rebound in the 2nd half of the season? Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images via SI.com
Overview of Ben Roethlisberger’s Performance in the 2nd Half of the Season
By any number of measures, Ben Roethlisberger’s play this year has been far below his best.
Forget the party line about Ben morphing into a steady “point guard” who’s having a stellar season “between the ears,” as he put it Wednesday. His numbers between the lines are pedestrian. He is missing more throws than usual.
Forget about Sports Illustrated’sPeter King ranking Ben 10th on his list of midseason MVP candidates, too. You can only be an MVP candidate if you’re having a great season. Ben is not.
Starkey goes on to argue that “I’m not sure I’d bet big on Ben returning to elite form, but there’s a decent chance…” justifying his faith in the fact that Ben Roethlisberger can still make all of the throws he needs to make.
Faith is one thing, but what do the number say? Let’s take a look:
Ben Roethlisberger has typically played better in the first half of the season
First, these numbers depict just how far below par Ben Roethlisberger has been this season. He key vitals are well below his career averages in ever category, save for sacks per drop backs and of course winning percentage.
And, at first glance, the Roethlisberger first half of the season, second half of the season splits are a downer.
Sure, his winning percentges is up and his sacks have historically dropped during the later 8 games of the season. But he’s thrown fewer touchdowns and his passer rating is down a full five points.
That seems like very discouraging news. And it is, until you take a deeper look.
A Deeper Look at Ben Roethlisberger’s Performance in the 2nd Half of the Season
Like any player, Ben has seen ups and downs as his career has progress, has seen shifts in his supporting cast, and has had to work in 3 systems directed by 3 different offensive coordinators.
When you look at the breakdown of Ben Roethlisberger’s performance in the 2nd half of the season vs. his performance in the 1st half of the season by offensive coordinator, things get interesting:
With Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger is playing better than ever in 2nd halves of seasons.
First, its important to acknowledge that no matter whether Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians or Todd Haley is calling the plays, the overall trend confirms itself, for the most part.
But there are important differences, differences that fuel hope for a 2nd half of the season Roethlisberger resurgence.
While playing under Ken Whisenhunt and with Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, Santonio Holmes and young Heath Miller , Roethlisberger saw his biggest drop between halves of seasons. His completion percentage dropped almost 5 points, the threw 20% fewer touchdowns while throwing more interceptions. He also took more sacks, and his passer rating dropped a full 10 points and change.
When you consider how young Rothlisberger was, the drop off under Ken Whisenhunt isn’t that surprising.
When Bruce Arians took over, the overall trend continued, with some indicators improving while others deteriorated. Ben Roethlisberger’s sack percentage stabilized over the course of the season, but defenders still sacked Ben Roethlisberger on 9.4% of his drop backs.
He threw fewer interceptions, fortunately, but his touchdown percentage dropped by a third. His winning percentage also dropped, but that is probably skewed a little bit by the 2009 Steelers notorious 5 game losing streak.
Overall, Ben Roethlisberger’s passer rating dropped a little over 5 points from one half of the season to next under Bruce Arians, which was half of the drop off he saw under Ken Whisenhunt.
The drop off in touchdowns is perhaps the most surprising, given that unlike Wisenhunt’s tenure, Roethlisberger only had Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to lead his running game which by any measure marks a sharp drop off from Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. So without the strong running game to lean on, one would figure Ben would be throwing for the end zone more under Arians.
But perhaps he did and failed, and perhaps that’s why the winning percentage took a hit.
Under Todd Haley, the differences between Ben Roethlsiberger’s first half of the season performance and his 2nd half encores get really interesting.
First, with Todd Haley Ben Roethlisberger’s second half season winning percentage improves above his career average. Second, Haley is the only Steelers offensive coordinator to get Ben Roethlsiberger to throw more touchdowns in the second half of the season as opposed to the first. Haley has also managed to reduce Ben Roethlisberger’s sacks in the second half of the season relative to the first.
And while Ben has thrown more interceptions in the second half of the season under Haley, his completion percentage and passer rating only drop by 2 points or less.
It would be interesting to see who Ben Roethlisberger 1st half vs. 2nd half season splits compare with other elite quarterbacks, and particularly those such as Tom Brady who play in cold weather, as a modest drop off is almost a given when you account for the wind, cold and snow of the AFC North in November and December.
The bottom line is, that while Ben Roethlisberger has seen his play decline through November and December throughout his career, he’s been better in the 2nd halves of season under Todd Haley than he was under Bruce Arians or Ken Wisenhunt.
So take heart Steelers Nation, the numbers suggest that Ben Roethlisberger is capable of a 2nd half of the season rebound.
Joe Haden will be covering Antonio Brown more frequently now that he’s a Pittsburgh Steeler. Photo Credit: Ken Blaze, WKYC
While Joe Haden might not have reached “Shut Down” corner status, he quickly established himself as one of the best corners in the league as he made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014. Injuries have taken their toll since then. A concussion kept Haden out of action for 10 games in 2015, and last season several groin injuries hobbled him, which required surgery in the off season.
During much of the 2017 both the press and the Steelers fan base made a lot of noise about Pittsburgh’s in ability to bolster their pass defense following the AFC Championship disaster.
The Steelers were rumored to be targeting Dre Kirkpatrick or some other big name corner in free agency, but no deal ever materialized. Instead, the franchise settled for Coty Sensabaugh, a mid-level cornerback at best.
The Steelers did of course draft Cam Sutton and Brian Allen in the 2017 NFL Draft, but both players have been injured for much of the summer. Likewise, this was to be the summer at St. Vincent’s when Senquez Golson finally emerged from the training room. But Sutton and Allen have been injured for most of the summer, and Senquez Golson only lasted a few practices before finding his way back to the injured cart.
During the preseason wins over the Falcons and losses the Colts the Steelers pass defense has struggled.
Mike Tomlin reacted by trading for Dashaun Phillips and giving Coty Sensabaugh at shot at Ross Cockrell’s starting job. Now both men will have to yield to Joe Haden, because the Steelers are paying Haden starter money.
Whether Haden can boost a struggling Steelers secondary remains an open question.
Steel City Insider’sJim Wexell quoted sources in Cleveland that described Haden as “tentative” and another who declared that Haden is no longer capable of covering number 1 NFL wide receivers. However, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’sJoe Starkey pointed out, the key isn’t whether Joe Haden can be the next Rod Woodson, Mel Blount or even Ike Taylor, its whether he’s better than Ross Cockrell and Coty Sensbaugh.
This is of course not the first time the Steelers have looked to a recycled Cleveland Browns cornerback to bolster their secondary late in the summer.
The Steelers signing of Joe Haden will certainly have ripped effects elsewhere on the roster. Artie Burns will switch sides, and one other cornerback will find himself on the wavier wire. Salary concerns could mean that person is Ross Cockrell, which would be quite unfortunate for the young man.
It could also impact the Steelers plans to extend the contract of Stephon Tuitt, but Bob Labriola’s comments seem to indicate that the Steelers have structured his deal so that this will not happen.
As the Steelers approach the mid-point in their 2017 preseason campaign, its time to check in on the results of our Steelers Summer Reading Poll.
We launched the poll back in June, with the aim of serving a precursor to a series of full-length book reviews a good chunk of the books mentioned in the poll. The idea was to fill the Dead Zone in Steelers coverage with in depth discussion of some of the better books written about the franchise we all love.
Biographies of Chucky Noll and Art Rooney Sr. bookend our Steelers Summe Reading Poll
A quick look at the results thus far reveals two observations – There’s a lot of love for Michael MacCambridge’s authorized biography of Chuck Noll; not so much for the work of Jim O’Brien.
Since first posting the poll, yours truly has had a chance to read MacCambridge’s His Life’s Work cover-to-cover, and this is one book that has truly earned every word of praise that has been heaped upon it. Was there ever a football coach less interested in promoting himself than Chuck Noll? Probably not. That didn’t make MacCambridge easy, but he tackled it with the effectiveness of Joe Greene participating in his first training camp Oklahoma Drill at St. Vincent’s.
While we’re at it, let’s add in a good word for Jim O’Brien. It’s true that his books aren’t as well known, and perhaps come across as collections of individual essays or profiles, but O’Brien clearly understand the Pittsburgh Steelers organization and culture, and he conveys that in his writing. And his books contain valuable insights into Rod Woodson’s departure from the team, Dan Rooney’s relationship with Al Davis, and much, much more.
Their Life’s Work, Gary Pomerantz is also finding a lot of love, not unsurprisingly, as are the books authored by Dan Rooney and Art Rooney Jr., as is Three Bricks Shy of a Load, which was a write in entry.
Myron Cope’sDouble Yoi, Jim Wexell’sSteeler Nation, and Steelers Take Aways, another write in, are showing respectably, but after that pickings get pretty slim.
To that end, we’ll had add a quick clarification. Our recap of Jim Wexell’sMen of Steel read like this:
Men of Steel by Jim Wexell contains capsule profiles of Pittsburgh Steelers from the Mike Tomlin era all the way back to portraits of men who played for the likes of Jock Sutherland and Walt Kiesling. While the book’s overall quality does take a hit due to some surprising factual errors, its individual portraits form veritable mosaic that depicts franchise as a whole.
Which isn’t to say that these are the only books worth investing the time to read. From Dawn of a New Steel Age, to the Ones that Hit the Hardest, to the other books mention, there’s something their for Steelers fans of any era to enjoy.
So take time out and vote for your favorites and do it quickly as we’ll be closing the poll before the sun sets on the summer, hopefully making way for a fall and winter that sees the Steel Curtain Rise once again!
James Harrison roars at practice while Lawrence Timmons looks on. Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports
Finding a starter-capable player at right outside linebacker was one critical question the Steelers needed to answer “Yes” two during training camp, and it appears they leave St. Vincents having done so. But they will also leave St. Vincent’s without James Harrison having practiced with the team, which isn’t all that out of the ordinary, given that Harrison doesn’t need the reps.
But before the Steelers preseason opener against the Giants, Steel City Insider’sJim Wexell identified 15 potential open slots on the Steelers roster and 38 locks, leave Harrison and William Gay as “almost locks.”
In Wexell’s view a combination of a numbers game with Harrison not showing enough speed could put him in jeopardy.
Regardless of whether Wexell was simply speculating or musing about something he’d heard off the record, Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter’s conversation with Joey Porter thickened the plot, as Porter declared:
We know what he can do. At the same time, you want to see a little bit to make sure he still has got it,” Everybody has to be tested to see if you still got it. We can assume something. But the NFL, sometimes you just wake up one day and that pop is gone. There will be a time when we take the wrapping off of him and let him go out there so we can see if it’s still that James from last year.
That, combined with James Harrison being held out of practice, was enough to get Dale Lolley to question whether the Steelers were preparing to move on from James Harrison.
While that’s certainly a possibility, such a move would be out of character for the Steelers. It’s well known that Chuck Noll held on to too many of his starters from the 70’s for too long, but institutional memory has largely kept the team from making the same mistake, as James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Hines Ward learned during the 2012 off season.
The Steelers not only brought Harrison back, but offered him a two year deal, with Harrison proclaiming his desire to play into his 40s. The Steelers cut plenty of players before their contracts expire – think Justin Hartwig or Willie Colon, but it’s rare for them to cut someone after signing them to a new contract (Greg Warren excepted, although word is the Steelers did it this way so that Warren would benefit financially.)
Are the Steelers Bettising James Harrison?
The other possibility is that the Steleers are “Bettising” James Harrison. “Bettising” of course refers to Steelers Hall of Fame Running back Jerome Bettis, who began hearing calls from the experts (Mike Prisuta, for example) as early as the 2002 season.
And while Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert and Dan Rooney didn’t pay much heed to those calls, outside criticism his ability still served to motivate Bettis late in his career.
Jerome Bettis and Ryan Clark at St. Vincents in 2015. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
Could the Steelers be doing something similar with James Harrison? It is possible but unlikely. James Harrison, who was in the weight room at 5:00 am the morning after the Steelers playoff win over the Chiefs, epitomes the concept of “self-starter.” He needs no motivation.
So on the one hand, you have the Steelers who don’t typically sign veterans and then cut them, on the other hand you have two veteran reporters who are not wont to suggest that someone of James Harrison’s stature is on the roster bubble as a matter of idle speculation.
To be clear, Jim Wexell has reiterated that he expects to see Harrison on the final roster. And even offered this after Harrion’s “mob interview” at St. Vincents:
James Harrison just endured a mob interview. The gist: He would rather make a play in February than September.
As someone who would love nothing more than to see James Harrison hosting Lombardi Number 7 alongside Ben Roethlisberger, the hope here is that Wexell’s instinct is right and Mike Tomlin and Joey Porter are in fact “Bettising” Deebo.
Time will tell. But until then, we’ll chalk this up as a case of 2+2 not quite equaling four.
Like most PittsburghSteelers fans who were teenagers in the mid-to-late 80’s, I wanted my very own jersey.
Of course, the problem with that time in Steelers history, is they were pretty awful. Less than a decade after guys like Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris were doing things on the turf of old Three Rivers Stadium that would forever make them immortals, Pittsburgh’s professional football roster was full of mere mortals, especially during a stretch from 1985-1988, when the Steelers went a combined 26-37 and didn’t make the playoffs once.
Still, though, I wanted my own jersey, which, as a 15-year old back in ’87, became my big Christmas present.
So, who did I pick?
Receiver Louis Lipps, the 1984 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and two-time Pro Bowler, was the obvious choice. Believe it or not, kicker Gary Anderson, by that point, also a two-time Pro Bowl player, would have been a pretty decent choice (told you the roster was filled with mere mortals in those days).
Mike Merriweather and Edmund Nelson close in on John Elway. Photo Credit: Pin Interest
But while Louis Lipps and Gary Anderson were certainly some of the very few stars for the Steelers of that era, perhaps the most shining one was outside linebacker Mike Merriweather.
A third round pick out of the University of Pacific in the 1982 NFL Draft, Mike Merriweather ascended to the top of the depth chart of Pittsburgh’s transitioning defense in 1983, starting 16 games, but only recording a half a sack.
The following season, however, Mike Merriweather would burst onto the NFL scene in a big way, as he totaled 15 sacks (a team record that stood for 24 years until fellow outside linebackerJames Harrison broke it by one in 2008 – although Kevin Greene did briefly tie the record in 1994 only to see the sack negated on a penalty) and made his first Pro Bowl.
Mike Merriweather couldn’t duplicate his ’84 sack barrage in subsequent years, recording a combined 15.5 between ’85-’87, but he still performed at a high enough level to make two more Pro Bowls. And in 1987, his first-team All Pro honor matched the ones he received in 1984 and 1985.
With those years as a backdrop, it was easy to see why I decided to go with MIke Merriweather’s No. 57 jersey for my Christmas present for the 1987 holiday season.
I enjoyed my jersey, wearing it to school once a week throughout the remainder of my freshman year.
Tenth grade was a different story. I still wore the jersey to school, but I received mocking comments such as, “Where’s your boy, Merriweather?”
Sadly, while the Steelers were enduring a 5-11 season in 1988 (their worst record since 1969), Mike Merriweather wasn’t around to help, as a contract dispute with the team led to a season-long holdout.
Since true free-agency didn’t exist in those days, Mike Merriweather didn’t have much leverage. It also didn’t help that Merriweather had a signed contract. The Steelers didn’t contract hold outs. Dan Rooney didn’t do it for Franco Harris in 1983, he didn’t do it for Hines Ward in 2005 and he wasn’t going to do it for Merriweather in 1988.
Like his counterparts of the 80’s, No. 57 Mike Merriweather’s chief sin was to merely good instead of great. Photo via: Ciudaddeacero.com
Unfortunately for players of that era like Merriweather, who was clearly capable of performing at an elite level, their only choice was to suck it up and play for whatever compensation their teams thought they deserved.
With neither side willing to budge from their position, the Steelers shipped Merriweather to the Vikings in the even of the 1989 NFL Draft in-exchange for their first round pick (24th, overall).
That pick became Tom Ricketts, an offensive tackle from the University of Pittsburgh, who only lasted three seasons with the Steelers.
Mike Merriweather never matched his prolific years in Pittsburgh, as he played a few seasons with the Vikings before finishing his career with both the Packers and Jets in 1993.Who knows what may have happened if Merriweather and the Steelers would have reached a financial agreement in ’88?
Maybe he would have stuck around long enough to be a part of Bill Cowher‘s early playoff teams of the 1990’s.
That’s a tantalizing possibility, but Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola once chided a fan who complained about the Steelers unwilingness to pay Merriweather by reminding them that his absence in 1988 allowed Chuck Noll and Tony Dungy to get Greg Lloyd on the field. And for as good as Merriweather was, Lloyd was beter.
As weird as it is to say, when you’re a fan of a very successful sports franchise, it comes with a bit of a burden.
Now, when I say “burden,” I don’t mean it’s a bad thing to watch your favorite team enjoy continued success and be judged by the number of championships it displays in its trophy case. It’s just that, well, your favorite team is judged by the number of titles it wins, which means, as a fan, you expect nothing less than achieving the ultimate victory.
As a Steelers fan, I can attest to this quite well, considering anything less than a championship became unacceptable the moment Chuck Noll led his team to a fourth Lombardi trophy in six years in January of 1980, capping off a decade of dominance in the 1970’s that is perhaps unmatched in professional sports history.
The 21 playoff appearances, 15 division titles, four Super Bowl trips and two Lombardi trophies the organization has achieved since have only reinforced the belief among Steelers fans that, again, anything less than ultimate victory is totally unacceptable.
Photo credit: Stamford Advocate
With their team going for its second-straight Stanley Cup, and fifth since 1991, PittsburghPenguins fans have certainly taken up residence in the same arena of high expectations as those who root for the Steelers. With their team employing some of the best hockey players on the planet–including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin–nothing but a Stanley Cup parade is acceptable around these parts (Mike Sullivan is the team’s fourth head coach since Crosby went to his first Stanley Cup Final back in 2008).
Yes, despite their team playing in its fourth Final in nine years and achieving the ultimate success just one year ago, the fans won’t be feeling anything but sorrow unless the Penguins (currently tied 2-2) win the Cup once again.
But you know whose fan base won’t be feeling anything but joy, regardless of how the Final turns out?
The one that belongs to Pittsburgh’s opponents, the Nashville Predators.
An expansion team who came into the NHL in 1998, the Predators had never won a division title nor advanced past the second round of the playoffs, before entering the 2016/2017 postseason as the last seed in the Western Conference (and, based on overall record, the last seed in the entire NHL playoffs).
When you think of great hockey towns, Nashville certainly never comes to mind. However, after almost doing so last year, the Predators sold out all of their home games at Bridgestone Arena for the 2016/2017 regular season.
Maybe that’s why the Predators, despite their nondescript history, rolled right through the Western Conference playoffs and advanced to their first ever Stanley Cup Final.
When hockey season is in full-swing, Nashville is unofficially dubbed “Smashville,” and it appears the Predators southern fans have embraced the image.
I know one thing for sure, the city is absolutely drunk off of hockey, as the fans are experiencing this kind of run for the very first time.
In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, played at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center on May 29, a Predators fan made news by throwing a catfish on the ice (a tradition at Predators home games) and was removed from the arena, before being arrested and charged with several crimes (all the charges have since been dropped).
Jake Guentzel celebrates goal by Evgeni Malkin. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar
Ah, but to be that innocent of a fan once more and enjoy something for the very first time.
That kind of feeling usually only happens once.
It did for me 22 years ago, when the Steelers defeated the underdog Colts in the AFC Championship Game and advanced to Super Bowl XXX to take on the heavily-favored Dallas Cowboys, winners of two of the previous three Super Bowls.
As a youngster in the 1980’s, the Steelers dominance of the previous decade seemed almost mythical after the legends began to retire one-by-one and were replaced by a far-less talented group of players.
However, as Noll gave way to Bill Cowher, and he rejuvenated the team and brought the magic back to the fan base, you could sense the passion and the hunger once more.
I know I was super-hungry for some form of championship-success. And when it finally happened after many years of depressing seasons and excruciating playoff exits, I was simply euphoric.
Neil O’Donnell in Super Bowl XXX. Photo Credit: McMillian & Wife
Again, Pittsburgh was a huge underdog, but I didn’t care. I soaked in every minute of the two-week build-up to the Super Bowl. I read every article I could get my hands on. I watched every news report and special dedicated to the Black and Gold.
Even though the Steelers infamously came up just short against Dallas thanks to too many Neil O’Donnell to Larry Brown connections, I had the time of my life.