Watch Tower: Is Mike Tomlin’s Personnel Decision Making Authority Less than Thought?

Just how much authority does Mike Tomlin have on Pittsburgh Steelers personnel decisions?

  • Fans debate this question tooth and nail, but the irony is that, most in Steelers Nation lack any insight whatsoever into how much sway Tomlin holds in personnel decisions.

The Colbert-Tomlin drafts clearly have a different character than the Colbert-Cowher drafts. Mike Tomlin’s thumbprints were all over the arrivals of Sean Mahan and Allen Rossum in 2007 and Mewelde Moore in 2008. But beyond that, the public knows little of how big of a seat Tomlin holds in Pittsburgh’s personnel pow-wows.

Until now.

Behind the Steel Curtain’s Dani Bostic recently caught up with Isaac Redman, he of “Redzone Redman” fame and stumbled across a potentially earth shaking insight into Tomlin’s authority over personnel matters.

After detailing the nature of Redman’s injury, and the team’s seeming unwillingness to take it seriously, Redman dropped the following bombshell on Bostic:

Mike Tomlin caught up to him as the star running back was leaving for his appointment. “We’re going to release you. I tried fighting for you,” Tomlin said. Redman was stunned, even more so when he realized they were releasing him healthy instead of putting him on the injured reserve where he could have continued to receive a paycheck. [Emphasis added]

There are two ways to take Tomlin’s admission that he tried in vain to fight for Redman:

It it could be simple coach speak, and an attempt to soften the impact of bearing bad news by implying that responsibility lie elsewhere. That’s certainly plausible.

But it is equally possible that Tomlin really did wish to retain Redman, but got overruled. And there is precedent here. Shortly before the 2013 season the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mark Kaboly lobbed this grenade regarding Jonathan Dwyer’s getting cut:

Regardless, between Kaboly’s Tweet and Dani Bostic’s story on Redman, we now have two documented cases of players being released over the objections of coaches in 2013.

We also know that this is a sharp contrast from the days when Bill Cowher wore the headset. Shortly after Jerome Bettis published The Bus: My Life in and out of a Helmet, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola quickly debunked one of Bettis chief revelations – namely that Jon Witman had edged out Tim Lester at fullback because like Witman, Steelers running back’s coach Dick Hoak had gone to Penn State.

Bettis was wrong, as Labriola insisted, because Bill Cowher had say over those types of personnel matters and wasn’t shy about reminding people.

  • At the very least, it would seem that Mike Tomlin does not wield that kind of clout.

None of this suggests that Mike Tomlin is either a pushover or is powerless when it comes to personnel decisions. In fact, it is well documented that when the Patriots offered Emmanuel Sanders a restricted free agent tender, the front office was content to take the 3rd round draft pick and let Sanders walk, but the coaches pushed back and won the day.

  • But it underlines the reality that the dynamics behind the Steelers personnel decisions remain a mystery.

As the Watch Tower commends Dani Bostic on her scoop, it again encourages the credentialed members of the Steelers press corps to lift the lid on how Steelers personnel decisions are made.

Coolong Joins Kovacevic @ DK on Pittsburgh Sports

As the Steelers roster goes, so goes the press room? It certainly seems that way. The Steelers have experienced tremendous roster turnover over the past few seasons, and the press room appears to be catching up.

As the Watch Tower has noted, first Alan Robinson and then Scott Brown disappeared from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and ESPN.com beats. Moreover, both men’s disappearance was Stalin-like in passing, as no announcement was ever made – both men simply stopped contributing.

  • However, their seats will not get cold anytime soon.

Neal Coolong, formerly of Behind the Steel Curtain, and more recently USA Today’s Steelers Wire, has joined Dejan Kovacevic at DK on Pittsburgh Sports. This is Coolong’s second move in only the space of a few months, but this is a definite step up the professional ladder, as Coolong finally has credentials, and will cover the Steelers on a daily basis (full disclosure, yours truly is a friend of Coolong’s and who has been a strong supporter of Steel Curtain Rising in general and the Watch Tower specifically.)

On his website Dejan Kovacevic explained the decision to add Coolong to his team:

He’s a gifted, prolific and richly communicative writer, very much in the spirit we’re trying to establish at our site. And he’s got all the news sense and aggressiveness any reader would want in a beat writer.

The Watch Tower agrees and offers its congratulations to its friend Coolong and wishes him the best.

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Steelers To Cut Willie Colon in 2 Years

Steelers fans experiencing a feeling of euphoria over the signing of offensive lineman Willie Colon need look no further than La Toalla Terrible to burst their bubbles.

La Toalla Terrible, ever one to ferret out those hard to find news nuggets, uncovered a shocking revelation from the Steelers brass.

The Steelers plan to cut Willie Colon within two years.

Sound crazy.

Think about it:

  • The Steelers signed Sean Mahan in 2007 to a five year deal and then…

…Traded him back to Tampa Bay in 2008

  • They signed Kendall Simmons to a four year deal in 2007 and then…

…cut him in 2009

Notice a trend? Well keep your eyes peeled boys and girls because it gets better.

  • After signing Justin Hartwig to a 2 year deal in 2008, they extended his contract for four years in 2009, and then…

…cut him in 2010

  • After benching Max Starks in 2007 they made him their transition player in 2008 and then the franchise player in 2009 before finally signing him to a four year deal in 2009 with a ten million dollar bonus, only to, you guessed it…

… cut him in 2011.

What’s more, the Steelers really wanted to resign Marvel Smith before the 2008 season. After pouting at Pittsburgh’s proposal Smith “NO” opted to become a free agent and was promptly put on the after falling prey to injury against Jacksonville.

Steelers Football Operations Director Cevin Kolbert regrets that one to this very day, explaining to La Toalla Terrible:

You know we offered Marvel a multi-year contract with a nice bonus, it’s a shame he didn’t sign it. His refusal really wrought havoc with our plans.

‘Messed up your plans!’ La Toalla Terrible exclaimed! ‘How could that be, didn’t you dodge a bullet on a not giving a bunch of money to a guy forced into retirement less than a year later?’

“Relax,” cautioned Kolbert, “It’s a sane strategy.”

‘Strategy?’ ‘Strategy?’ ‘How is that a sane strategy?’ demanded La Toalla.

“Don’t you see?” countered Kolbert, “we wanted to lock down Marvel for the same reason we locked down Willie.”

“So why sign lineman to long term contracts only to cut them two years later,” La Toalla Terrible insisted, and then stared at his source through the slits of his eyes.

After holding out in silence Kolbert finally caved, offering in exasperation, “ as Kolbert revealed, “you see, it keeps the rest of the league guessing!”

La Toalla Terrible (Spanish for Terrible Towel) takes Steel Curtain Rising’s readers for walks along the bizzaro side of Steelers Nation. Click here to read more of La Toalla’s rumblings and mumblings. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

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Thoughts on Pouncey Starting, Sepulveda’s Kick Offs

If there is one thing (in fact there are many) that Steelers Nation can smile about with the regular season fast approaching, it is the rapid development of first round pick Maurkice Pouncey.

The Steelers had high hopes when they drafted him.

No team in the history of the NFL can match the Steelers distinguished the lineage at center.

For over 30 years Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, and Dermontti Dawson established the NFL’s Gold Standard for play at center. When they weren’t making Hall of Fame caliber performances, Mansfield, Webster and Dawson were merely excelling at the All-Pro Level.

Perhaps the Steelers slid just a notch with Jeff Hartings, but Hartings distinguished himself over seven seasons, earning a couple of Pro Bowls in the process.

Sean Mahan and Justin Hartwig have carried on since, and suffice to say, they have not met the Steelers standard.

Pouncey was supposed to do a one-year apprenticeship at guard and then graduate to center.

But the Steelers are set to pronounce Pouncey as qualified for early graduation. He has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Mike Tomlin has said as much. Post-Gazette beat writer Ed Bouchette thinks Pouncey can be the best center in the league.

The Steelers have been rotating Pouncey and Hartwig with the rest of the first unit, but everything indicates that it is only a matter of time before Pouncey is named the starting center.
Pouncey can only provide a shot in the arm to a line much in need of help.

Sepulveda Kickoff Experiment Apparently Over…

The warm glow generated by Pouncey’s rapid assent is perhaps dulled a little by the news, again from Ed Bouchette, that the Steelers experiment with letting punter Daniel Sepulveda kick off is ending.

Sepulveda kicked off against the Giants on Saturday night, but was not able to get his kicks appreciably deeper than Jeff Reed does.

Fair enough. But why limit the experiment to one game? This is preseason after all. It is not like Reed is going to forget how to kick off, but Sepulveda might improve with more experience.

There’s been talk that having your punter kick off can disrupt his punting rhythm…

…I’ll let experts debate that point, but I will simply note that in 1987 the Washington Redskins punter Steve Cox also handled kickoff duties (as well as kicking a few long field goals), although Joe Gibbs apparently relieved him of kickoff duty during the season. (That may have been due to the arrival of place kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh.)

A reader on PG Plus’ weekly chat sealed the argument, observing that even if their kickoffs are of the same distance, Sepulveda can tackle, which should break the tie.

The Steelers invested a fourth round pick in Sepulveda in 2007 and Sepulveda has not yielded good value. It is Mike Tomlin’s fault that they picked him so high and by the same token Tomlin should not be so quick to take away a chance for Sepulveda to redeem himself.

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Steelers Trade Mahan…. Freeing Up Cap Space?

In a mildly surprising move, the Steelers traded former starting center Sean Mahan to Tampa Bay for an undisclosed draft pick. Media outlets reported that the Steelers had shopped Mahan, Trai Essex, and Max Starks prior to making final cuts without any luck.

Mahan had been the Steelers center last year, but his performance was substandard, leading the Steelers to pick up Justin Hartwig as a replacement.

Steelers coaches are making a huge vote of confidence in favor of second year pro Daryl Stapelton who will take over duties of backup guard and back up center. Stapleton was on the Steelers practice squad in 2007 and was an undrafted rookie free agent.

One also has to wonder if the Steelers are not making this move to free up cap space so that they can make a last minute signing before the their self imposed blackout on contract negotiations.

In his on-line chat, Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette confirmed with the players themselves that neither Marvel Smith nor Chris Kemoeatu is in negotiations with the team. With that said, in the same chat Bouchette indicated that a trade involving Mahan was unlikely. In the same vein, the James Farrior signing also came as a surprise.

The idea that the motive of Mahan trade is to free up cap space is pure speculation on the Steel Curtain Rising’s part, but the Steelers would do well to make ensure some sort of stability on the offensive line, as five of the nine lineman on the roster will become free agents at season’s end.

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