clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Giants Quarterbacks Coach Mike Sullivan Brings a Unique and Fresh Approach to Steelers Offensive Coordinator Search

Change can be good. A break from the routine can revitalize even the most stagnant process.

If "routine" is easily defined as "what you usually do," then "change" would be "doing something other than what you usually do.

Giants quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan is not what the Steelers usually do. Being an offensive coordinator is not what what he usually does.

But hiring an offensive coordinator outside the franchise isn't what the Steelers usually do (Kevin Gilbride was the last offensive coordinator hired outside the team in 1999). The only thing Sullivan "usually" does, though, is succeed.

Take his current star pupil, QB Eli Manning. He's a pocket passer in every sense of the term. Saying he has "heavy feet" is like saying Troy Polamalu is "good." In fact, looking at Manning throw the ball in 2009, the last year before Sullivan took over as his position coach, he looked like an unfrozen caveman pocket dweller; no mobility, no balance, and could not make a play when on the move if his life depended on it.

It may have taken Sullivan and Manning some time to get used to each other, but the results are startling. Manning threw 50 more passes in 2011 than in 2010, but nine fewer interceptions.

Manning's yards per completion went up nearly a yard per catch (7.43 in 2010 to 8.38 in 2011), while he threw for nearly 5,000 yards - a mark that had only been met two other times in NFL history before this season.

In other words, not even Eli's famous brother has thrown for that many yards.

And his 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions aren't bad either.

Much of his huge leap forward from an already good place is credited to his ability to move a bit more liberally while keeping his eyes down the field. It's reduced his turnovers and helped him make something out of broken plays.

Steelers fans should be familiar with that kind of quarterback. It also seems to be something Sullivan likes.

In a story by Mike Garafolo from the Star-Ledger, he quoted back-up QB David Carr talking about a drill Sullivan has them do. It involves the Giants' quarterbacks to move around a bit and make a throw.

Apparently, that's different than what Manning and Carr are used to.

"I won't say his drills are unconventional but, not being a quarterbacks coach before, he has some different drills where it's uncomfortable movements," Carr said. "You're not just dropping back, moving to the left and right, stepping up and throwing the ball, which never happens in the game.

"You move up, you sprint out, run away from someone and then try to throw off-balance. We do that drill every Wednesday and something every Thursday and Friday that's similar to that, where we move around and twirl.

"We always move around. It seems to make something happen."

Moving around and making things happen. Certainly sounds like a philosophy the Steelers are used to seeing in action, both from their quarterback and from their receivers.

Sullivan coached the Giants receivers for six seasons before taking over the quarterbacks. He obviously was the one who taught David Tyree to catch that impossible pass against New England the last time these teams played in a Super Bowl. Under his guidance though, Plaxico Burress had back-to-back 10 touchdown seasons, Steve Smith had 107 catches and became the first Giant to make the Pro Bowl in 41 years. He helped jump-start Hakeem Nicks to an elite level.

Everything he touches turns to success.

If a team needs more of a ringing endorsement, they can contact Fresno State. Per Garafalo, when their head coaching job opened up, Carr, an FSU product, contacted athletic director David Boeh to put in an unsolicited recommendation on Sullivan's behalf. In Carr's words, Sullivan is the best coach he's ever been around in terms of preparation.

Perhaps the reason he didn't get the job is the same he may not be considered a viable candidate for the Steelers offensive coordinator position; inexperience.

That same argument was made against a certain young defensive coordinator in 2007, right before he was named the third head coach in three decades of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That year, the Steelers chose to surround Mike Tomlin with an experienced staff. The Steelers could do the same thing again, keeping around QBs coach Randy Fichtner and WRs coach Scottie Montgomery, while hoping for a full recovery for RBs coach Kirby Wilson. The role Sullivan will be in is to help provide those position coaches carry out Tomlin's overall vision for the offense, and inject something new into a talented group of players led by an outstanding positional coaching staff.

In order to be successful, the players need to buy into what the coordinator and coaches are teaching them. He's got cred, both from his fellow coaches (Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride Sullivan is a guy who's clearly had success at each level he's had with the Giants, a team on the brink of its second Super Bowl title in five years.

He's fresh. He knows how to prepare. He teaches and communicates well. And while this may not factor into his credentials to lead an offense, he's a badass. A former Army Ranger, he has a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu. He even uses a simple triangle design - the same one used by the legendary mixed martial arts family, the Gracies - to highlight his three goals for his quarterbacks: Decision-making, accuracy and leadership.

Quarterbacks able to excel in those three areas win games. Receivers who can get open for a good quarterback to throw them the ball win games.

Coaches who bring fresh change, an excellent track record in preparation and education, not to mention are able to beat the tar out of any living thing with his bare hands, probably can win games.