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Is the bigger key to the Steelers success the players or the coaches?

Obviously both groups working in tandem is what it takes to win a championship, but which one is the bigger contributor?

US-NEWS-NFL-CULTURE-WARS-POLL-TB Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

It seems like this question comes up fairly often among Steelers fans. Who is more responsible for the team success: the players or the coaches?

This debate came up again recently here at Behind The Steel Curtain when earlier this week I published an article about the Steelers biggest X-Factor going into the 2022 season.

First, the whole notion of what an X-Factor is was up for debate. While some look at an X-Factor as something you didn’t expect while others think of it as being the most important thing, I’ve always viewed X-Factors as the largest variable in a situation. Being a mathematical person, I’m obviously thinking of the variable X in an equation, so thinking about how a certain player, if they do poorly, really affects the team negatively and if they do fantastic it affects them positively was my mindset.

In the article, I gave five X-Factors for the season where three were on offense and two were on defense. As the discussion took off in the comments, several people were critical that I did not include any aspects dealing with the coaches as an option. While I believe the coaches are an important part of the equation, I felt the most important things that will determine if the Steelers are successful or not is going to be the players. Options like the quarterback position and the offensive line, or the Steelers ability to stop the run were the top choices from users who voted in the poll. How could the implementation of a coach be a more important factor than these things?

One of the aspects of coaching that was brought up was Matt Canada’s offensive scheme. It was an idea that if it worked great the Steelers would succeed, but if it didn’t work well they would struggle throughout the season. While I agree with this, I don’t believe it’s more important than the Steelers having quality play a quarterback, or have an ability to protect the quarterback and run the football because of the offensive line. As the discussion went on, I was wondering if I was in the minority.

I have to admit, I had a bit of a ‘mic drop’ moment in the comments when I asked the question of why Matt Canada‘s offense is so unknown when he’s already been the offensive coordinator for a year. The response that I received was that Canada didn’t get to really implement his system last year because of an aging quarterback, an ineffective offensive line, and some other personnel factors. I, of course, responded pointing out that if Matt Canada gets a pass for his system last year because the ability of the players was more important, then obviously the ability of the players is a bigger factor.

As the discussion progressed about the importance of players versus coaches, I came up with an example of comparing two teams which completed a huge trade with each other last offseason and finished on opposite ends of the spectrum in 2021. Looking at the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions, I raised the question of if the coaching staff were switched, would their success be switched as well? If the players on the Detroit Lions had the entire Los Angeles Rams coaching staff, are they instantly Super Bowl contenders? If the Los Angeles Rams had the Detroit Lions coaching staff, would they be towards the bottom of the standings in the NFL? While I feel both teams would not necessarily finish with the exact same results, I don’t believe their success following the coaching staff to be true because I feel the Los Angeles Rams simply have a stronger roster of players. I think the two teams would finish closer to where they finished with their current coaches rather than seeing a switch in the standings.

As I began compiling these ideas to present to the BTSC community, which was the suggestion of one of the users in the discussion, a new idea struck me. Is the order of importance a factor?

To explain this further, does having quality players versus quality coaches have an order of operations to it? In other words, is it important to build a quality roster first to have the opportunity for a good coaching staff to take the team to the promised land? Or does the coaching staff need to be in place first to build a successful roster?

The reason I ask this may be because I am coming from the perspective of someone who has coached football in the past. As a coach, the last thing I wanted to do was not put my players in the best situation to be successful. On the flip-side, there were times there were things we couldn’t do to be successful based on the ability of the players that we had. A coach could be the greatest coach in the world, but if the players can’t get the job done on the field, the most brilliant scheme isn’t going to make up for their inabilities.

I also admit that the inverse can be true, but I believe it is to a lesser degree. Yes, a fantastic roster could be held back by a coach who does not put players in a situation to be successful, makes unwise personnel decisions, and does crazy things in key spots throughout a game. Yes, those things can hold a team back for sure. But the more talented the roster, the less effect those coaching issues are likely to make.

I do believe that some Steelers fans can think higher of their own players than what they really are and therefore think it’s the coach’s fault that they’re not performing better. I don’t see it the other way around as much. Sure there are fans who think the coaches are doing a great job but the players just aren’t good enough to win more games, I just don’t know that they scream it as loudly. I will add that in my discussions with those who covered other NFL teams last season and are not Steelers fans, the overwhelming majority believed this was the case with the 2021 Steelers and the only reason they made the playoffs is because of their excellent coaches. Maybe the outside perspective has a better view of things and our Black & Gold goggles need cleaning.

I’ve presented my case on the issue for the most part, but I will still reserve to right to say more in the comments. Ultimately, I would like to have an extended discussion about the topic. I look forward to reading the responses to this article to see where fans really fall when it comes to the responsibility of the players versus the coaches in a team’s success.

Do fans truly believe that the coaches are a bigger factor in a team success than the players? Let the debate begin.