There has been endless discussion about whether the Steelers should take the moral high ground or whether they should strictly think about what positions them best to win football games. And of course we all have our opinions on the decisions they've made (see Holmes trade) and the one(s) they have yet to make (surely I don't need to elaborate.)
But one thing that is maybe more pertinent than either is, what makes for the strongest team? Obviously we all want the Steelers to go 20-0 next season, although most of us are reasonable enough to settle for 15-5 or so, as long as one of them is the SB. But one of the things that I've grown to admire about the organization is that they are smart enough to take the long view. Much as I'm sure they would like another Lombardi in 2010, I think they would give that up if they felt it wasn't best for the long term health of the organization.It is really easy to forget when discussing individual players that we must look not just at their abilities but how well those abilities serve the team. As those of you who have read my past posts probably grasped from the title, I'm going to look at this situation in terms of what I know - choirboys. Or, actually, choral singers of the adult persuasion. This may surprise some of you, given that the money and fame involved is practically non-existent, but choral singers demonstrate the same range of personalities as football players do, from the humble worker bee types (think Aaron Smith) to the self-absorbed divas (I won't point any fingers) and everything in between. You might think that the diva types were the best singers, and you would be wrong in many cases. The diva types tend to be the people that think they are the best singers. Sometimes they are, often they aren't. Generally, though, they are good enough to at least make their diva-ishness understandable, if not commendable. So what do you really need in a choir?
Just as in the NFL, there is more than one factor to take into consideration. There is naturally the basic quality of the voice (or the basic athleticism.) Then there is the talent, which is different than either just the voice or the athleticism. A singer can have a good voice and no talent for music, just as there are great athletes with no talent for football. The way I would express it is that there are things that can be taught and things that can't. You can teach someone to count, but it's almost impossible to teach rhythm. You can teach someone to sing the right notes, but it's very difficult to teach them to make music out of it when they haven't got a clue. Finally, there is the the desire/work ethic piece of the puzzle. If someone is just lazy, you may be able to motivate them to turn that around, but there has to be enough motivation for them to do so, and with some people you never find that motivator.
So how do those things stack up in a choir? First of all, you need a sufficient number of actually beautiful voices to give you a good basic sound. One really good voice can anchor a whole section (at least in a small group like mine.) And they need to be the right sort of voice as well - a huge operatic voice isn't made for teamwork, and a choir made up of that sort of voice generally doesn't sound very good - too many competing vibratos, and sometimes too many clashing egos. On the other hand, someone with a truly terrible voice may have all of the other attributes you need, but they don't work on your 'team' either, because their voice will stick out and be a distraction. Then there is the "fit" - a voice that isn't right for my group might be a fantastic addition to another choir, one that is a different size, or sings a different sort of music, or has a somewhat different purpose. All of which is to say that the 'best' voices in some larger sense aren't necessarily the best fit for my group.
You also need a basic level of of talent, or what you might call musical intelligence. A really good musician with a sufficiently strong voice can make everyone around them better. A person with a really strong sense of rhythm can help others to understand how to internalize the beat. A good musician with an awful voice can generally be developed into someone with an acceptable voice, if they are willing to admit that their voice isn't workable as is.
You need to have singers that clearly understand how much work they need to do individually. That of course varies greatly, according to the training and native ability each singer possesses. Somebody who isn't up to speed on their details can screw up a whole section. As a 'coach' you have to be willing to bench or even cut singers who have demonstrated a serious lack of preparation or lack of commitment, no matter how good their voice.
Finally, there are the intangibles. There is the person who can change the whole mood of a rehearsal that isn't going well with an apt witticism. There is the singer who isn't immensely gifted, but who inspires everyone with their work ethic and enthusiasm, or by how they lay aside their personal troubles and give 110% at each rehearsal. There is the singer who exhibits natural leadership - maybe they take their section aside after a less-than-stellar rehearsal and say "let's meet 20 minutes before rehearsal next week and work out this area that we are having problems." Conversely, there is the singer who sulks when they don't get assigned a solo that they thought they deserved, and whose surly attitude infects the rest of the group.
Naturally, one seldom comes across the 'perfect' singer, any more than you come across the 'perfect' CB, or whatever. Everyone has a ratio of advantages to disadvantages, and in the end you have to determine who is going to help you the most, and who has enough disadvantages that they are going to hurt you in the long run. I'll be the first to say that this is hardly cut and dried, and it's really easy to guess wrong. But the longer one is in the coaching business, the better one gets at sensing who might turn out to be problematic, or who has what it takes to elevate their game above what their native abilities would seem to suggest, and finally, who is going to fit in the best with the team you already have in place. And of course you have to be willing to cut ties with those who haven't worked out the way you thought they would, or have somehow changed for the worse.
So how does this apply to our current troubles? As I stated above, it's easy to look at the individual and forget the team thing, but football is a team sport, and no one player can ever be held above the good of the team, just as I can't keep a great singer who doesn't fit into or work well with my choir. It's easier to see this when discussing a player that is part of one of the lines. Thus we wouldn't draft even an amazing athlete like Ndamukong Suh, because he doesn't fit in our defensive scheme. Therefore, although he is, I gather, a remarkable player and according to most commentators the best overall player in this year's draft, he wouldn't be worth the money we would have to pay him, because he couldn't help our team as much as a lesser athlete who is more in line with our style of defense.
Then you have the case of someone like Santonio who is in more of a soloist role, and has performed well for us on the field. I gather that he is very self-focused and primarily concerned with getting his fifteen minutes of fame (not to mention his big payday.) This is scarcely surprising, but it doesn't contribute to the overall good of the team. He certainly wasn't thinking of the good of the team with his current rash of indiscretions. Perhaps that is too much to expect, but the Steelers didn't appear to think so, as they traded him for what most of us seemed to think was considerably under his market value. He is the sort of person that I might take as a singer because I was dazzled by his potential, but would eventually find was too high-maintenance to be worth dealing with. Thus I would either cut him or let him walk, because the abilities he brought were not worth the problems he caused. If I were the FO I would care a lot more about the locker room problems and run-ins with the coach than I would the substance abuse and VIP lounge incidents - the latter would just be some of the symptoms of his lack of concern for the good of the team and the organization.
And what about Ben? The problem is rather different here. As QB, and more importantly as a franchise quarterback he is more like, say, an assistant conductor than he is like a regular singer. The downside of losing him is far greater than it is with any other position on the team. Conversely, the downside of keeping him is potentially more damaging than any other person on the team. Therefore what you do is far more dependent on how you see the possibility for change and improvement than anything else. Obviously you would like damage control with your public image, but I suspect that the Rooneys are complete pragmatists. They figure that if Ben appears to be sufficiently disciplined by the organization, if he repairs his relationships with the rest of the team, and if he seems to be determined to turn his personal life around, most people won't care that much in a year. For one thing, he's going to be a better player if he works harder and puts the needs of the team ahead of his personal gratification. His team will work harder for him if they see that he is doing that. Ben seems rather like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde right now. I strongly suspect that what the Steelers do about Ben depends a great deal on which Ben they think will win the struggle. And that's a pretty hard thing to gauge. Stats are easy, people are difficult. I very much hope, for the good of the Steelers, that they get it right. And I very much hope, for Ben's sake, that he is capable of learning from his problems and turning things around. I certainly want to see him on the long road to earning back the trust of his coaches, his team, and his fans. Come on, Ben, you can do it!