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The Steelers decisions regarding their offensive coordinator leave more questions than answers

How are the Steelers recent decisions regarding their offensive philosophy affected by their aging quarterback?

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

In his final press conference of the 2020 NFL season, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stated there would be changes made within the organization. Using a form of the quote of “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” it appeared the Steelers would be making some hard decisions in the coming weeks. Surprisingly, it was only the next day when three coach’s contracts were not renewed for the 2021 season along with one coach retiring. Most notably was the Steelers parting ways with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner after just three seasons in that particular role.

One thing we must remember is although we can look at how things appear based on peoples words and body language, there is often an awful lot going on behind the scenes which Steelers fans are unable to judge. Sometimes it’s after the fact that we find out the team’s top player is an absolute nightmare to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Other times, one thing which appears to be the problem might not be the cause of issues after all.

One presumption Steelers fans operated under for the last three seasons was Randy Fichtner was hand-picked to be the Steelers offensive coordinator by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His quarterback coach since 2010, when Steelers moved on from Todd Haley as the coordinator, it took no time to promote Fichtner to the job.

It appeared Ben Roethlisberger had the person he wanted to work with to lead the Steelers offense to greatness. Unfortunately, the 2019 season was thrown out after Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. But in three seasons, the Steelers offense struggled at times, even during their 11-game win streak to begin the 2020 season. Once certain things were figured out by opposing defenses, it appeared the Steelers didn’t have much to offer in the form of adjustments other than “just let Ben be Ben.”

The Steelers moving on from Fichtner posed several questions when it came to the future of the organization. Here are just a sample:

Did the relationship between Fichtner and Roethlisberger sour?

It was during the 2019 season where comments by Coach Fichtner and quarterback Mason Rudolph began to set off a red flag among some. It seems many times when the Steelers’ offense was sputtering, which was quite often in 2019, Coach Fichtner did not hesitate to throw his young quarterback under the bus. On the flip side, some of the comments made by Rudolph about things Coach Fichtner was pounding into his brain could give some pause in thinking Rudolph was suffering from “paralysis through analysis.”

If listening to Fichtner’s comments and press conferences in 2020, it appeared there were times when the Steelers offense did work, it was not Ben Roethlisberger drawing plays in the dirt according to Fichtner. But when the Steelers offense had an issue, it seemed as if Fichtner was going out of his way to point out it was Rothlisberger who was calling the plays. Perhaps the Steelers coordinator taking credit when there was credit to be given but passing blame when it came time for responsibility did not sit well with the Steelers’ future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Does moving on from Fichtner show the Steelers are willing to move on from Roethlisberger?

Another question would be if the Steelers are willing to make wholesale changes to the offense, especially when it comes to philosophy and scheme, is this something Ben Roethlisberger is interested in doing this late in his career? If Roethlisberger really intends to play one or more additional seasons with the Steelers, is a change in offensive system something he wants to do at this point in his career?

Perhaps this is something the Steelers discussed with Roethlisberger before making the decision. Perhaps it is not. If the Steelers are willing to make this change regardless of Roethlisberger‘s opinion, knowing he could choose to hang it up had to be something they were willing to live with.

Was there more to the Randy Fichtner situation than meets the eye?

As was mentioned in the first question of the section, Randy Fichtner seemed to often want to say face when it came to the success and failures of the Steelers offense. The fact the Steelers brought in a quarterbacks coach for the 2020 season, a position which had been held by 10 years by Fichtner even when he was the offensive coordinator, was the writing on the wall that the Steelers were going to make a change of coordinator really brought forward last offseason? Were the Steelers merely waiting until Fichtner’s contract expired to move on? Was Coach Fichtner really in charge of the offense this season, or was he gradually having his responsibilities removed? Was there a turning point in the season where the Steelers knew Fichtneer wasn’t able to handle the responsibility?

Knowing how the Pittsburgh Steelers operate, unless Randy Fichtner goes out of his way to make his side of the case known, don’t look for the Steelers to throw him under the bus and expose his shortcomings (much like he liked to do). That’s just not the way they do business.

Only 48 hours later, reports surfaced that the Steelers are planning to promote quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to the offensive coordinator role. Nothing has been officially offered, and any interviews the Steelers may have conducted yet have not been reported. The Steelers cannot simply promote Canada without conducting interviews as coordinator positions now also fall under the Rooney Rule. But with Coach Canada interviewing for the coordinators job in Miami, the report of the Steelers intentions appears to be a deliberate move in order to not lose their front runner.

The hiring of Canada raises additional questions as well. Once again, here is just a sample:

How much say did Canada have in the Steelers 2020 offense?

Some do not like an inside hire for the Steelers coordinator job. But how much of an insider was Canada in 2020? Did he have much say in the Steelers offense, or was he merely just there to throw out ideas and help to develop Mason Rudolph? While these are interesting questions, there is a chance some of this may be answered leading up to the 2021 season.

Was 2020 merely the Steelers getting to know Canada better for a position they knew they wanted to offer him?

Upon his arrival, much of Steelers’ Nation was saying Canada was coming in now to be in line for the Steelers offensive coordinator position once the opportunity presented itself. Did the Steelers know they were moving on from Fichtner after 2020 barring a major change? Was Canada there to “light the fire” or to but Fichtner on notice? Were the Steelers bringing in Canada simply to audition for the job and show what he could do in the NFL level before actually taking over?

Is Ben Roethlisberger willing to run Matt Canada‘s offense, or will Canada have to adapt to Roethlisberger should he stay?

As outlined here at BTSC on several occasions, there often appeared to be a disconnect between some of the philosophies the Steelers were implementing from a Matt Canada system and the ability of Ben Roethlisberger to run these concepts. A good outline of the situation can be seen here thanks to our own Geoffrey Benedict:

If Canada is the Steelers offensive coordinator next season as has been reported, does this mean the Steelers are moving on from Ben Roethlisberger? If Roethlisberger returns as was reported, will Roethlisberger adapt to Canada system, or will it be the other way around? Will Canada be handcuffed with what he really wants to do based on the Steelers aging quarterback?

It’s hard to say if and when these questions will be given definitive answers, but during the offseason these are the type of things Steelers’ fans often discuss. It’s hard to say how long it will be until there is an official announcement in regard to Ben Roethlisberger for the 2021 season, but reports are the Steelers want to move into next season with their Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

So what are your thoughts on the Fichtner-Roethlisberger-Canada triangle? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.