The reasons behind the termination of Jack Bicknell aren't clear

Jared Wickerham

While that doesn't mean he should or should not have been removed, it's simply a decision made based on information the public will not know.

On the surface, the termination of Steelers offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. has been met with some surprise. A unit that allowed 31 sacks through its first eight games has an issue, but one that allowed only 12 over its last eight games appears to be performing at a high level. Such a turnaround could be credited to coaching.

On the other hand, some would point to a no-huddle approach on offense that allowed Ben Roethlisberger to dictate the game in a way he felt more comfortable on a play-by-play basis. He appeared to make decisions more quickly, thus not requiring the line to provide protection for an extended amount of time.

That brings the whole issue into chicken vs. the egg territory. Was the decision to attack offensively with almost entirely short passing due to the offensive line itself, or was the strength of the team simply in that philosophy the whole time?

Making the matter more complicated, the local fishwraps are reporting (presumably) different sources who say Bicknell either was relieved of day-to-day coaching before the onset of protection utopia, or his role wasn't altered at all in the second half of the year, when the Steelers finished 6-2 and just out of the AFC playoffs.

Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac leads the Role Reduced side, while Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic fronts the All Systems Were Normal position.

It's possible both are right. The idea of a coach's role being reduced is ultimately subjective. A simple managerial philosophy is "if you keep doing what you are doing, you'll continue getting the results you're getting."

It seems entirely plausible Bicknell's day-to-day duties changed a bit after such a rough start in the first half of the season. But that change could be something like "spending more time with Player A" while assistant offensive line coach Sean Sarrett worked more with the whole unit during practice.

That, in turn, can be construed as a role reduction, in the eyes of someone who noticed Bicknell was no longer the guy barking commands at offensive linemen in practice. Does that categorically mean his role was reduced? Not really. It took on a new form, but a reasonably minded person may view that as a reduction.

The overlying issue, though, is simply comprehending that which we have no way to know. Outside of a leak or a well-placed source, we won't know what the dynamic is behind the scenes. We don't know the inner political workings of the team. Clearly, there isn't a unified sense of animosity or excitement over Bicknell's firing, and that shouldn't be surprising. These decisions are not usually made based on general consensus, but rather, schematic and personality conflicts steer the retention/termination ship.

This is the kind of thing I was referring to last week when I wrote about the difficulty in predicting which coaches will stay or go.

My initial thought was whomever it is they hire next will give us more insight into the decision, but it seems fairly obvious it will be Sarrett. Maybe that is suggestive they feel Sarrett just beat out Bicknell, much like Jason Worilds eventually beat out Jarvis Jones for the starting right outside linebacker position.

Or maybe Bicknell just didn't get along with the players. Not every coach is fired due to performance issues. Personality is a huge part of teaching, and it's not necessarily the fault of anyone if two sides don't work well together. Unfortunately, though, someone has to go, and perhaps in this case it was Bicknell.

All we know for sure is the Steelers are in the market for a new offensive line coach. But we shouldn't assume that's the only change we'll see. As this proves, there's a lot we don't know about what goes on inside the team.

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