When you look at certain statistics from the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 regular season, you knew change was inevitable. Whether it was a putrid offense, or a run defense which ranked dead last in the league, someone was going to be held accountable for the failures of the team.
However, you can’t fire all the players, so the vast majority of the time the people who pay the ultimate price of their jobs are the coaches. Outside of the already known vacancy at offensive line coach, the Steelers saw another vacancy open Saturday night when it was announced that long-time defensive coordinator Keith Butler was retiring.
At this point in time the next logical question is whether Butler will be the first, or the only, domino to fall on the Steelers’ coaching staff. Of course, the vast Steelers fan base wants another title to be on the vacancy list sooner, rather than later. That would obviously be the dismissal of Matt Canada as offensive coordinator.
While it looks like the Steelers might be taking this offseason as status quo, it will be telling for both head coach Mike Tomlin and team president Art Rooney II. It isn’t as if they haven’t had to replace a coordinator before, but you would be hard pressed to find a scenario where the coaching staff has felt this fragile during Mike Tomlin’s tenure with the team.
Consider all which has taken place this season. Adrian Klemm elected to leave the Steelers during the season to go take a lateral college job, Butler calls it a career and the organization now has to consider if replacing both coordinators in one offseason would be both wise or logical.
It is already being reported Teryl Austin has the inside track on the defensive coordinator position, and when you consider the outcome of this move it would be par for the course for the organization. First, it is an obvious, and expected, internal promotion. Second, Austin’s current role as Senior Defensive Assistant/Secondary Coach would likely go unfilled, saving the team money.
Before going too far down the rabbit hole of front office coaching hires, the team could shock us all and both dismiss Canada and look outside the organization to hire a defensive coordinator. While neither should be expected, it could happen, and if it did it would make a very clear statement that things might be different this time around.
But what if they don’t? What if the Steelers do what everyone is predicting/expecting them to do? What does that tell us about the future of the front office?
What that likely means is the process is the same, but the outcome will be determined more by the acquisition of talent than the acquisition or hiring of coaches. As stated earlier, the failure of the 2021 Steelers could be blamed equally on the players as much as the coaches, if not more. As any coach knows, even the best laid plans can backfire if you don’t have players to execute those plans. The hope is whoever the Steelers hire will be able to put together plans which will maximize the talents of the team taking the field in 2022.
So many fans want the organization to clean house, but hopefully those same fans are realistic enough to know that is highly unlikely to happen. There is a good chance the retirement of Butler is the biggest wave made by the organization, from a coaching perspective, this offseason. If so, all fans will have a front row seat to see if this will buck the trend of failed experiments, or go as expected.
Now if the team gets word of Kevin Colbert, current General Manager, retiring, that is an entirely new scenario which would need assessed.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for what could be a very chaotic offseason.