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Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Omar Khan and Todd Haley appear to be staying. The big question remains who will be leaving.

Jared Wickerham

Moves are the top stories this week. Not so much moves made, at least not yet, but moves not made and those speculated upon. As we reach the penultimate weekend of the playoff period without Pittsburgh participation, we begin to move deeply into the pro football equivalent of the hot stove season. Attention is now being given to the reasons and remedies for an 8-8 season. What is the price that must be paid for this organization to return to playoff form?

Bruce Arians

In and of itself Arians appointment to become the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals is a sort of middle of the road story with a bit of above the line interest based upon his Steelers ties. I think it qualifies as one of the most important stories because of what it reveals about how fans and the media, particularly those associated with Steeler Nation either hit or miss when evaluating off season moves. Obviously, we all have our opinions concerning what constitutes wisdom as to players to be retained or released, the handling of contracts, training methods, changes in coaching philosophy and personnel. It will be weeks in some cases and months in others before it all plays out and the results are known. At that time we'll know what was sage, what was inconsequential and what was silly.

What the Arians saga can teach us, if we care to pay attention is how right and wrong we can be at the same time. I don't think there exists much in the way of a challenge to the general consensus that Arians was a bad fit for running the Steeler offense. Well, at least I don't back away from that position. But the thinking went well beyond that of a bad fit. Arians was viewed to be incompetent. When he and the Steelers parted ways last winter it was characterized as a retirement; a nice way of saying that he no longer had any value in this profession.

The fact that Arians is not only still around but, in every objective sense, prospering has value as a learning exercise. Some snickered when he was hired to serve as offensive coordinator by a Colts franchise struggling to make the transition from the Manning era. Then he was placed in the difficult position of serving as interim head coach as Chuck Pagano struggled with leukemia. In that role he led a lightly regarded Colts team into the playoffs and has now been named head coach of Pittsburgh West. Whatever Arians may or may not be those associated with the Colts organization, Cardinals management and fans and observers around the league would dispute the notion that the man is incompetent. And while the consensus generally remains that Arians' separation from the Steelers was both wise and necessary (though there has been some criticism over how management handled the process) the contempt and sarcastic tone and comments made about him have, thankfully and appropriately in my opinion, faded.

The important takeaway here (I'll spare you the moralizing on respect and manners) is that sometimes it is less a matter of competence or ability rather than a matter of 'fit'. Arians was viewed as an impediment to the Steelers, clearly an asset to the Colts and, who knows, maybe he'll be the answer for the Cardinals. A couple of years ago a number of fans wanted the Steelers to pick up cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency. It seemed to make a certain amount of sense. Asomugha was doing a bang up job with the Raiders, and the Steelers were having struggles with their secondary. Pittsburgh solved their problems in a manner more fitting their organizational style (any complaints?) and Asomugha and the Eagles have learned an important lesson about 'fit'. A cautionary tale for when we are in our deliberations about the direction of things and you start hearing terms such as 'absolutely worthless' being kicked around.

Omar Khan

Our own SteelCityRoller reports that Omar Khan is likely to stay with the Steelers. With all due respect to the career aspirations of Mr. Khan, this will probably be the most important positive off season development involving the Steelers organization. In a contest involving who would be the most valuable/least appreciated asset of the franchise, Omar Khan is the probable winner, at least among those voting outside the Southside facility. In a year which appears to be characterized by the necessity to make significant cuts and adjustments to the roster for both financial and competitive reasons, the continued presence of Khan makes it more likely that this will be more like surgery rather than a mutilation. It should also be noted that the selection of Arians by the Cardinals means the likely retention of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley was on the receiving end of some pretty heavy criticism in the wake of the offensive difficulties at the end of the season but received a vote of confidence from Art Rooney II last week. Regardless of how you may feel about Haley, it is encouraging to know that among all the questions in need of answers this off season the team won't be burdened by having to once again return to square one with the offense.

Kevin Colbert

Both PaVaSteeler and Neal Coolong weighed in on the Kevin Colbert news conference where the Pittsburgh GM laid down the law/threw down the gauntlet/read the riot act in response to the 2012 season. As described in an Associated Press account, what is interesting and a bit revealing about what makes the Steelers such a special and successful competitive organization is how they reacted to a circumstance that could have been spun in number of different ways. An 8-8 season would be considered a pretty good year by a lot of teams. These other teams might have made mention of the fact that it wasn't a losing season, that they only missed the playoffs by one game, that several losses were decided by a field goal or less, that there were a massive number of injuries and that the team was following a pattern consistent with their performance in the 21st Century where Pittsburgh has missed the playoffs on a three year cycle (2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012).

Instead, in keeping with The Standard is The Standard, we are treated to a description of the Battle of the Kasserine Pass with the Steelers in the role of the Americans. Paraphrasing General Patton, Pittsburgh loves a winner and hates a loser. They find the thought of losing repugnant. There was the rending of garments and the gnashing of teeth (could self disembowelment be far behind?). Ala Thomas Jefferson the tree of Lombardi has to occasionally be watered with the blood of Ravens, Patriots (of course) and selected trifling Steelers. Players, coaches, even front office personnel may have to be thrown under the wheels of the bus (or is that the treads of a tank?) in order to get back on track. Neal helpfully noted that

His message is fairly applicable to everyone.

Including himself.

Is it really that bad? Maybe. But I also think that much of the restiveness and unease being experienced by Steeler Nation has as much to do with how the season unfolded. Hombre de acero speaks of 'tease' games, such as that against the Giants when it looked like all the world that the Steelers were not just playoff bound, but would really be a force to be reckoned with. Regardless, while the attention of the world is largely elsewhere the Steelers are beating their kids (metaphorically speaking of course) reminding them that though the other children smoke cigarettes and blow off their homework, they are not like other children.

Position evaluations

The process continues with a lot of conversation concerning the state of positions whose problems we believed to be solved earlier in the year. Alan Robinson spoke about wide receivers and there have been a few takes on the status of the offensive line as speculation continues over decisions on roster moves.

Carnell Lake

One person in the organization who probably doesn't have to worry about his status going forward the defensive secondary coach who demonstrated that his work last year with that group was not a fluke. This is one area of the team where, with the exception of some age concerns at safety there are few questions about performance.

Maurkice Pouncey

The Steelers center was named to the second string All Pro team. He was the only member of the roster to be so honored.

Manti Te'o

An acquaintance who is a Steeler fan told me that another fan thought this whole affair was a good thing because Te'o might fall to us in the draft. There's got to be a better alternative to that. We've got enough drama.

AFC Championship Game

For the second consecutive year Steeler Nation is faced with the problem of who do they hate the least, and perhaps automatically rooting for whomever comes out of the NFC to win the Super Bowl. Here are the options.

Ravens. The arguments for are the AFC North, Ray Lewis, respect for their style of play and, uhh, not much else. The arguments against are Ray Lewis, John Harbaugh and they're the Ravens.

Patriots. Arguments for are over a decade of organizational excellence, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Arguments against are Tom Brady, Coach Hoodie and they cheat, and we're never gonna forget it.

Then there is the third option.

God sees this and decides He's had enough. He cleans things up, starting at Gillette Stadium this Sunday afternoon and then moves on to less important things like climate change, terrorism, etc. He wraps things up by declaring Dan Rooney World Emperor. There would be one little downside to all of this. Interest in the Super Bowl declines as the only drama will be which Steeler will win the car.