Mike Tomlin Hires Brian Flores as Senior Defensive Assistant, Linebackers Coach

The Pittsburgh Steelers continued to complete their coaching roster this weekend when they announced that former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was joining Mike Tomlin’s staff as “senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach.”

When Keith Butler retired he created a vacancy as he had focused on outside linebackers since Joey Porter’s dismissal following the 2018 season, so the move was not totally unexpected.

  • The decision to bring in a former head coach like Flores is surprising, if not uncharacteristic.

Brian Flores is of course engaged in a lawsuit against the NFL and 3 NFL teams over racial discrimination. Launching lawsuits against former implores is usually treated as Kryptonite by future employers. But a little Kryptonite isn’t forcing Mike Tomlin to shy away:

I am excited about Brian Flores joining our coaching staff given his history of developing and teaching defensive players during his time in the NFL. Brian’s resume speaks for itself, and I look forward to him adding his expertise to help our team.

Suffice to say, neither Mike Tomlin nor Art Rooney II are concerned about the legal or other off the field ramifications of hiring Flores.

Brian Flores, Mike Tomlin, Steelers vs Dolphins

Mike Tomlin and Brian Flores shake in 2019. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images, vai The Phinsider

Hiring Flores Should Help, Just as Past Tomlin “Splash” Coaching Decisions Did

In football terms the decision to hire Flores equals a pure positive. While it is unusual for former head coaches to take jobs below coordinator level, it is completely characteristic for Tomlin to find places for those coaches on his staff.

  • And when Tomlin has done that, the Steelers have been successful.

Todd Haley will always be a lightning rod for Steelers fans and is apparently difficult to work with. But the blunt truth is that for all the friction between Haley and Ben Roethlisberger, Big Ben played his best ball under Todd Haley. Moreover, Haley allowed “Ben to be Ben” while ensuring a quicker release, thereby reducing sacks and adding years to his career.

From 2010 to 2012 the Steelers made serious draft capital investments in their offensive line. Yet, none of those investments began to pay dividends until Mike Munchak joined the Steelers in 2014.

And while the Steelers defense had been making under the radar progress by late 2018, Teryl Austin arrived after that, helped oversee the emergence of unit that dominated beginning with Minkah Fitzpatrick’s arrival until injuries and COVID-19 hollowed the unit in late 2020.

  • I have no idea if Flores’ tanking accusations are true or not.

But Miami’s personnel moves in early 2019 clearly signaled the franchise was in a build draft capital now, win later mode. But if you didn’t know that and tuned into the first 20 minutes of the Dolphins 2019 Sunday Night Football game against the Steelers, you’d have never guessed that Miami arrived at Heinz Field 0-7.

  • The Dolphins’ demeanor was that of a team that saw itself and played as a winner.
Minkah, Fitzpatrick, Minkah Fitzpatrick interception Dolphins, Steelers vs Dolphins MNF

Minkah Fitzpatrick 2nd interception against the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Sure, Minkah Fitzpatrick’s interceptions, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt’s sacks and Mason Rudolph’s overcoming his skittishness allowed the Steelers score 27 unanswered points, but it was no surprise that the Dolphins won their next two games.

  • Flores’ 2021 performance offers further evidence. Miami started 1-7 yet finished 9-8.

Those types of dramatic turnarounds are always fueled by good coaching. Flores is a coach who knows how to get the best out of his players, which is why Joe Haden and Cam Heyward have welcomed him to Pittsburgh with open arms.

What of Jerry Olsavsky?

On interesting, unasked question that comes with this news whether Flores’ hire impacts Jerry Olsavsky. Jerry Olsavsky has been the Steelers inside linebackers coach since 2015, when Mike Tomlin split the position responsibilities between inside and outside linebacker, with Joey Porter handling the later.

Butler reassumed those duties in 2019 (and Bud Dupree took off, just saying) and held them through 2021. The announcement about Flores mentions “linebackers” without a modifier.

While the assumption that Olsavsky will return is probably a safe one, Ike Hilliard was dismissed as wide receivers coach and no one knew about it until Frisman Jackson’s hire.

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Steelers Hire Ike Hilliard as Wide Receivers Coach as a Blogger Eats Crow with a Side of Humble Pie

Taken from the notebook of a blogger who is ordering a main course of crow, followed by a healthy slice of humble pie for dessert. But before he can settle down to his meal, he must first of course wipe the egg off of his face because….

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers announced yesterday that Mike Tomlin has hired former New York Giants wide receiver Ike Hilliard has his new wide receivers coach.
Ike Hilliard, James Farrior, Joey Porter

New Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard being tackled by James Farrior in 2004. Photo Credit: Twitter

About ten days ago Dale Lolley of DK Sports Pittsburgh and Joe Rutter of the Tribune-Review reported that the Steelers had hired South Carolina’s offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon as their wideouts coach. Steel Curtain Rising, along with numerous other outlets, took the bait and announced the news.

Gerry Dulac and Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette quickly cautioned that the hire had not been made, and that the Steelers were interviewing other candidates, including Jerricho Cotchery.

It turns out that Dulac was right, and this incident serves as a lesson that the quick and easy “content aggregation” path can just as easily lead you, and your readers, in the wrong direction.

Hilliard Follows Road Well-Traveled

The New York Giants made Ike Hilliard their first-round draft pick of the 1997 NFL Draft, and he spent eight seasons in the Big Apple followed by four more in Tampa Bay. He retired in 2008 and went into coaching.

He broke into coaching with the Dolphins, initiating a series of one year stints in Miami, Washington and Buffalo. In 2014 Jay Gruden asked him to return to the Redskins staff, where Hilliard has remained for the last 5 years.

While 2019 was a particularly brutal year for the Redskins, one undisputed bright spot was the emergence of rookie wide out Terry McLaurin. Under Hilliard’s tutelage, McLaurin led the Redskins with 58 catches for 919 yards and seven touchdowns.

  • This is a positive sign for a Steelers offense in desperate need of play makers.

Hilliard’s mentorship figures to be critical to the development of Diontae Johnson and James Washington. He could even help JuJu Smith-Schuster turn the corner and solidify his place as a true number 1 wide receiver, just as Richard Mann helped Antonio Brown cement that role following Mike Wallace’s departure.

Ike Hilliard replaces Ray Sherman, who stepped in as interim wide receivers coach last summer, following the death of Daryl Drake.

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