The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason started early, and the team already began making changes on the coaching staff. After reviewing the head coach and General Manager, how did some of the coaches perform in their last season, and how will others fill in at new positions?
Offensive Coordinator: Todd Haley
Todd Haley was told by Mike Tomlin that he would not be retained. Ben Roethlisberger never liked Todd Haley from the day they met. He was never shy about calling him out in the media, and halfway through this season, Roethlisberger requested that quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner come to the sideline so that Roethlisberger had someone to talk things over with. It was pretty clear what was going with his contract looming.
Haley will get buried by many in Pittsburgh, but it is tough to find a better coordinator. He was very creative in schemes, but the creativity wound up hurting him as well. He failed to get Le’Veon Bell the ball enough in both losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and in a situation where smashmouth football was called for, he ran a more exotic play.
Bruce Arians, um, retired, because Ben Roethlisberger was getting sacked and hurt too much. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked the least amount over his span with Haley. 2017 was the most stable the oft-injured quarterback was. Given his circumstances, he did fine as a coordinator. He failed to go above expectations and came up short in big moments. However, his tenure was not a complete failure.
Defensive Coordinator: Keith Butler
A lot of people are going to bury Keith Butler for Sunday’s performance. The fact of the matter is that the cards were stacked against him. Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave missed practice all week and neither showed up during the game, Hargrave being limited to 24 snaps.
The defense was a top ten unit at the midway point of the season. Then, Joe Haden and Mike Mitchell got hurt. Mitchell came back, and Ryan Shazier got hurt. Shazier was a clear finishing blow to the team’s long-term chances. They tried to turn the narrative into playing for him, but the will to overcome his absence was not enough.
Shazier called the plays, called out the opponents plays pre-snap, and tried to blow plays up in the backfield to change games. The Steelers missed chances at turnovers, they were shuffling pre-snap, and on the first drive, the two linebackers had no idea where to go. The defense looked lost in the weeks leading up to the game, and it showed on a big stage.
Yes, Butler had over a month to figure something out. Yes, Sean Spence was a terrible decision. Still, Butler introduced a lot of new concepts and change in the defense this year. He is still drafting new talent to round out this defense, and as he enters year four of his defensive rebuild, he should have the pieces in place to do a variety of things with a lot of multi-positional players. 2018 will be a big year for Keith Butler.
Quarterbacks Coach: Randy Fichtner
You heard it, he is the offensive coordinator. The last time he called plays, he was the offensive coordinator at Memphis, when DeAngelo Williams led the nation in rushing. He was a wide receivers coach for three years in Pittsburgh and has been the right-hand man to Ben Roethlisberger ever since. This is clearly a call made by Ben Roethlisberger. A lot of people wanted him to call plays and run more no-huddle during the season. They are likely going to get their chance. The fact of the matter is that as weird as it sounds, when Fichtner was on the sidelines, Roethlisberger was not better. And not just better, the best quarterback in the NFL better.
This is not a clear indictment of Fichtner, but we should go into the new era with an open mind.
Running backs coach James Saxon
Saxon has been with the Steelers since 2013. He came from Minnesota and jumped from Adrian Peterson to Le’Veon Bell. Let’s just say no one is complaining about his job right now.
Wide Receivers coach: Richard Mann
Richard Mann retired after a strong legacy of producing Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Mann was a great coach and was a friend to Mike Tomlin. His career was excellent, and he will be remembered strongly in Pittsburgh.
Tight Ends coach: James Daniel
Daniel is entering his 14th season with the team. Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, and Jesse James are the big names coming from the school of Daniel. Vance McDonald was excellent and a great acquisition if he can stay healthy. That is a big if, and the team may be looking to draft tight end again this year. It will be another test point for Daniel.
Offensive Line: Mike Munchak
He is the offensive line coach and turning down head coaching offers from other teams. Life is good for Munch. He has all of the talents in the world in front of him. He is an amazing coach when it comes to the offensive line, and is clearly a master of his craft. So what if he is not a head coach? He does not care. He is the best at what he does and loves what he does and where he does it.
Defensive Line: John Mitchell
John Mitchell is entering year 25. Between the All-Pro of Cameron Heyward, finding Javon Hargrave from South Carolina State, signing Tyson Alualu and bringing L.T. Walton up from a sixth-round pick to a rotation player, you could say that Mitchell is doing alright. The team is happy to have him and what he brings.
Outside Linebackers: Joey Porter
Coming from someone who was one of his biggest fans as a player, if someone is getting fired, it has to be Porter. So far Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo have hardly shown progress. T.J. Watt makes a lot of effort plays but is not consistently winning or showing amazing progress. Jarvis Jones never developed at all. James Harrison and Porter clearly do not like each other. Harrison would purposefully snore in team meetings, and Porter had nothing to say about Harrison as he left. Maybe the Steelers should have listened to Harrison and not Porter? Time will tell but resources have been spent on this group, and it still feels like it needs more resources. Porter has to understand his job on the line here.
Inside Linebackers: Jerry Olsavsky
Olsavsky is in better standing than Porter, but this is a major offseason for him. Ryan Shazier is unlikely to come back, and the team will have to spend the offseason looking for multiple inside linebackers to revamp the position. Vince Williams in the sixth round was a hit. Having L.J. Fort and Tyler Matakevich on the roster while being solely special teams helpers unready to fill in is not. Having to sign Sean Spence and resort to him for a late-season run cost the team the season. If Matakevich is not big enough for real snaps on defense, fine. If Fort is solely a special teams player, fine. But that means that one of them has to go. You cannot resort to signing street players when your starter gets hurt because your depth is pure special teamers. That is inexcusable.
Secondary Coach: Carnell Lake
The secondary looked much improved over the early portion of the season but began to unravel. Injury has had a lot to do with it, but Carnell Lake has not had a run of success as the secondary coach. It feels like season three for Artie Burns will be a big one for the resume of Lake. They invested a first-round pick in a player deemed raw at the time. It was on Lake to develop him, and Sean Davis, who has switched positions multiple times in college.
Both looked solid as rookies and hit walls as sophomores. Year three is going to be telling.
Special Teams: Danny Smith
In a game where field position mattered, the Jaguars started the ball at the 35-yard line. Special teams have been a fiasco a few times for the Steelers over the past few seasons and 2017 was no different. He has a great find in Chris Boswell, but coverage of punts and kicks has been poor. On top of that, he has never found a kick returner yet. His seat is likely getting hotter as well.