Since the minute Steelers WR Hines Ward retired, Steelers fans have been longing for a way to duplicate him.
Whether that's in drafting a version of him, or making him the next assistant coach of the Steelers, it's obvious those who follow the Steelers miss the physical presence Ward brought from his y and z receiver position.
Former Steelers wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery left the team to accept a co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach position at Duke University, his alma mater, and most recent employer before he came to Pittsburgh in 2010.
Some, like Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette choose to suggest Montgomery was forced out of Pittsburgh after a 2012 season that saw myriad fumbles and dropped passes from a receiving unit playing without Ward for the first time since the 1998 season.
What's odd about that theory is there's this entire term and concept behind removing an employee from the payroll without the cloak-and-dagger conspiracy theories; it's called termination. One would logically think if the Steelers wanted Montgomery out so badly, they would have simply fired him. He was still under contract.
Sure, accepting a "co-offensive coordinator" position with the fancy title of "passing game coordinator" while still maintaining duties of the team's wide receivers coach really does look like a drummed up position, but if Montgomery left a college job for the pros for two years, and went back to his old job with what has to be a raise from what he used to make, and at least a title giving his resume a sense of increased responsibility, why is it odd to think he'd accept it?
Then there's Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, who's quick to remind everyone we shouldn't trust anything the Steelers "are whispering" in relation to the reason a Steelers coach goes somewhere else.
Lest we forget, offensive line coach Sean Kugler accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater, UTEP, at the end of the 2012 season.
Writes Florio, "And that potentially becomes important because, with multiple offensive assistants leaving the team after offensive coordinator Todd Haley's first year on the job, the Steelers surely hope to avoid creating the impression that Haley's style has caused folks to give up assignments with the Pittsburgh Steelers for jobs at college football powerhouses like UTEP and Duke."
First, with all due respect to assistant coaches, you fire the worst ones, and the best ones leave you for better jobs. That's how it works. While Florio can sarcastically jab at the strength of programs in El Paso, Texas, and Durham, N.C., all he'd like, the fact is both of those jobs can easily be seen as increases in responsibility. Montgomery is in his mid-30s. Kugler isn't much older. Accepting an offensive coordinator position under David Cutcliffe, a guy who took that joke of a football program at Duke to a bowl game this year. It's their first bowl since 1994.
Yeah, sounds like a terrible coach to work for.
And this is crazy, I know, but maybe, just maybe, Kugler really wanted to return to his alma mater as the head coach. Perhaps that's more interesting and fulfilling of a challenge for him than being an offensive line coach.
Bouchette and Florio both seem to connect these seemingly unrelated and perfectly logical moves with an ulterior motive among Steelers' brass due to the termination/non-renewal of contract of former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians after the 2011 season.
This apparently is just semantics, but firing someone is not the same thing as choosing to not renew their contract. Regardless of the success Arians had after that - when he was named NFL Coach of the Year in Indianapolis and is now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals - he was not fired. That would entail his contract was terminated. He didn't have a contract to terminate. The Steelers chose not to sign him to a new one.
Instead of going out of their way to make him look bad, they chose to tell the public Arians was retiring, which is something Arians said he was doing (and he submitted retirement paperwork to the NFL to begin collecting his pension).
So if the Steelers are the bad guys for getting caught in a white lie trying to save the face of a coach who had been with the team for nearly a decade, then shame on them. Fortunately for us, the Mike Florios of the world are too smart to let such chicanery go unreported. And now since their radars are particularly sensitive, getting "Arians-ed" in Pittsburgh applies to any and all situations when a coach leaves, and because of it,
To boil it down, if we really want to get technical, Montgomery's receiving group did not perform well top to bottom this season. It's understandable if the team wanted to make a change to a coach who better fit the direction they felt the position needed to go. It happens all the time.
I've written about the idea of bringing in a coach who's more aligned with running strategy, which is a theory that would go in concert with the idea of running in more of a zone scheme this upcoming year. Training the technique of blocking within a zone scheme is not the simplest thing to do, and they very well just could have felt Montgomery wasn't the best guy who could do that for them.
But perhaps Montgomery really didn't want to coach that strategy, and talked to his old boss, who asked him to come back because he liked the way he coached. Perhaps the Steelers, Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley are not sitting around, twisting mustaches and plotting ways to get rid of their coaches in the most passive-aggressive way possible.
I know that's hard for some to accept, and the idea of it even being a jointly agreed upon situation is possible too. Maybe they're up front and honest with each other, and Montgomery approached Haley and Tomlin, as a man, and said, I've got this opportunity, they're going to pay me this and give me this title, I'd like to stay if you can give me the same thing. They tell him they aren't interested in doing that, shake his hand, wish him the best of luck, and they'll be in touch about prospects soon enough.
The shelf life of a position coach in one job isn't very long, especially when they're young. As long as we're hatching conspiracy theories of people getting "forced out" of their jobs instead of just being fired, maybe we shouldn't downplay their ability to progress their careers in a positive way.