Stan Savran is the Voice of Pittsburgh, hosting SportsBeat, the longest running sports show in Pittsburgh television history. His show is on every night on Fox Sports Pittsburgh at 6:30 p.m. Stan was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with us regarding his thoughts on the current state of the Steelers. By the way, don't be at all surprised if Stan gets back on the radio on the heels of the Mark Madden firing; either in Madden's spot directly, or to replace Junker and Crowe in the morning who may move into Madden's spot.
BTSC: You came to Pittsburgh from Cleveland, of all places. That's like moving from Ann Arbor to Columbus. Did you ever have feelings for the Browns and how did those feelings sort out when you became attached to the Steelers?
SAVRAN: I had strong feelings for the Browns growing up. My dad had season tickets and took me to the games. When I moved to Pittsburgh in January of 1976, alot of people held that against me, but after I got to know the players I couldn't help but fall for the Steelers. That was right in the middle of the dynasty and the players were really great to me. I was never a big Art Modell fan and when he yanked the team out of town, that was the last straw. The Indians, on the other hand, is a team I still love. I am a huge Indians fan and that will never change.
BTSC: Savran on SportsBeat has been successful for a long time. To what do you attribute this success and how do you keep things fresh?
SAVRAN: The show started in March 1991 and Beano Cook hosted the first show. Guy Junker actually started it all with Myron Cope and I succeeded Myron. TV talk was brand new back then. Sports talk radio was really not a factor in the evenings, so we had a unique opportunity. Guy and I had great chemistry. As far as keeping it fresh, the news of the day itself keeps it fresh. Plus, we're on the air at a great time.
BTSC: Being in a situation where you get to know the players and coaches personally over time, do you find it difficult to be critical of people you want to continue cultivating relationships with?
SAVRAN: Yes, it really is a fine line. Players find out what is said about them and sometimes confront you. But my first responsibility is to the viewer. I have found that as long as I am honest about what I do and go about things professionally, the players will respect me. I've had players approach me and privately admit that what I said about them was true. I am not looking to be anyone's friend and that's important to understand. I do want to be fair and honest and let the chips fall where they may.
BTSC: Mike Tomlin has said all the right things from day one. He never makes excuses and never throws players or coaches under the bus. Yet, we saw our special teams collapse, our offensive line deteriorate and the defense could not come up with critical stops at the end of games. All that said, how much of a Mike Tomlin fan are you now and down the road?
SAVRAN: I am a huge Mike Tomlin fan. He's absolutely terrific and is just going to get better. You have to remember that success in the NFL is basically cyclical. It's set up that way. Tomlin inherited a team that was on the downturn after their Super Bowl win. Don't let last year's record fool you. The Steelers needed to get younger at just about every position and look how much they've done in his two drafts? They couldn't address everything, but what they did address they did extremely well. Mike Tomlin is doing a great job of improving a team that was aging more so than alot of people realize.
BTSC: Speaking of aging, were you surprised that they didn't address the lines more in the offseason?
SAVRAN: Their Draft philosophy was to stay true to their board and they did that. Maybe if a lineman was close thay would have taken him, but with each of their picks the guy they took was way ahead of anything else. They took guys they couldn't pass on. Sweed was the 25th best player available and they got him 53rd. Still, the defensive line is really getting old and has little depth. I am much more concerned about that than the offensive line, where they brought in a nice upgrade at center. Casey Hampton concerns me. Nose tackles can lose it in a real hurry due to the pounding their huge bodies take. Remember Joel Steed? He was very good and then fell off the table. Casey had a down year and his age isn't in his favor.
BTSC: Do you think the Steelers are too conservative as an organization, or do you think their style is the reason for their success?
SAVRAN: Both. They do limit themselves by playing it straight. They just don't overpay for players like some teams that are more aggressive do. However, their system is designed to be a contending team year after year, not just go gung-ho for a Super Bowl and then bottom out for 10 years. Pittsburgh fans prefer consistency and so does the Rooney family. They may not take gambles like other teams, but they also don't lose gambles like other teams.
BTSC: Speaking of not overpaying players, what can we make of the whole Max Starks ordeal? He gets beaten out at right tackle by a guy who seems more like a guard, then gets $6.9 million thrown at him for one season, making neither short-term or long-term sense.
SAVRAN: It is mystifying, but from the Steelers' perspective they had to pay any price to keep from losing both tackles within the next year. I'm guessing that a long-term deal with Max will get done. He's still young. Marvell is coming off back problems and will be an unrestricted free agent over 30 years of age in a year. They couldn't afford to lose two tackles. Max still has upside with this new regime working with him. The offensive line this year may not be as good as 2005, but it will be better than 2006 and 2007.
BTSC: How do you see the AFC North this year? The Browns seem to be the sexy pick nationally.
SAVRAN: The Browns need to prove they can win a big game before I am sold on them. They may, however, win the division by default. By that I mean 8-8. Pittsburgh may win the division with that record. The schedule this year is alot different than it was a year ago.
BTSC: What are your thoughts about the labor-management situation? Should the Steelers be concerned about the future.
SAVRAN: Nope. A deal is going to get done. They will renegotiate the percantage paid to the players. Gene Upshaw got the players a great deal last round, but it's too much and the players have too much to lose to be stubborn. It may cost Upshaw his job, but a deal will get done. Jerry Jones is not going to allow a work stoppage the year before his new stadium is to host the Super Bowl.
BTSC: In the recent past you have expressed concern about the depth of the receiving corp. The Steelers grabbed Sweed and seem to have alot of young, talented guys like Baker, Trannon, Rucker, Walker and then there's Willie Reid. How do you think the receiving corp will sift out?
SAVRAN: I'd love to see Sweed and Holmes split out with Ward in the slot, but Hines has an awfully big ego. I don't know how he'll accept Sweed, honestly. I can see Sweed eventually replace Hines in the slot, even though he's tall. If Hines buys into a three-receiver set with Sweed and Holmes that can be really potent. It depends on Hines' ego. Nate is just average, always has been and always will be. Those other guys are probably just bodies.
Agreed! Many thanks to Stan Savran for taking the time!