clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, is it really all about the coach?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going through some transition on their coaching staff, but at what point do the players have to shoulder the blame?

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen some turnover on their coaching staff, and the off-season is only one week old. In other words, more jobs could be in jeopardy as the off-season drags on.

Todd Haley is out as offensive coordinator, Richard Mann has hung up the whistle and Randy Fichtner reportedly is the frontrunner to take over the play-calling duties in the future. Mike Munchak is returning to the team, and it seems the defensive coaching staff will remain intact for 2018.

For only a week of Steelers news, that sure is a lot.

Fans are furious, and rightfully so. No one was happy with the performance at Heinz Field, as the defense surrendered 45 points to the Jacksonville Jaguars in their Divisional Round loss. Come to think of it, furious might be an understatement. Fans want to see heads roll over the most recent playoff defeat.

Mike Tomlin.

Keith Butler.

Joey Porter.

Carnell Lake.

Todd Haley.

All of them...GONE!

But, to me, this always begs the question — at what point does the onus turn from the coaches to the players?

I’m not suggesting change doesn’t need to happen, and I’m certainly not letting the coaching staff off of the hook but, at some point, the players have to go out and execute. Keith Butler didn’t install a defense to get trampled by Leonard Fournette rumbling into the end zone again, and again, and again.

The players have to execute their positions, and do their jobs.

I could go on, but I think you get the general theme of my mini-commentary here. At what point should fans be upset with the players, and not just the coaches? A fine line to tread, but one worth discussing after the Steelers’ most recent playoff loss.

Time to check in on the news surrounding the Black-and-gold outside the walls of BTSC:

Vance McDonald stood near his locker in a far corner of the Steelers’ locker room at Heinz Field late Sunday afternoon.

Though the Steelers’ season had just ended with a disheartening playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, McDonald had a career day with 10 catches for 112 yards.

That allowed the veteran tight end, perhaps more than most, to harbor eager anticipation for next season.

“You can only be optimistic,” McDonald said. “To have an entire year of working with and developing chemistry with Ben (Roethlisberger)? It would be a lot of fun.”

“I want to be back,” Spence said in the aftermath of the Steelers’ divisional-round playoff loss last weekend. “We will see. Hopefully things work out.”

Spence was signed, as he put it, “off the couch” Dec. 5, a day after Ryan Shazier suffered the serious spinal injury that his put his football future in doubt. Immediately, Spence was inserted into the starting lineup in Shazier’s former spot.

Counting Sunday’s postseason loss to Jacksonville, Spence played 219 of the Steelers’ 303 defensive snaps during their final five games of the season — all of which he started. Spence totaled 24 tackles (14 primary) and a sack.

“He (struggled) at first,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said before the regular-season finale, “but he’s getting better.”

Spence attributed the slow start to rust. He went more than two months between NFL practices (let alone games); the Indianapolis Colts had released him Oct. 3. Spence did not have a solo tackle during his 2017 Steelers debut Dec. 10 against Baltimore – remarkable for a starting inside linebacker.

But even after late-season improvement, Spence was rated as the worst linebacker in the NFL by Pro Football Focus for this season, a 26.3 rating it classifies as “poor” and 88th among the 88 linebackers it graded (and 8.6 behind No. 87, Darron Lee). Spence had the worst run-defense PFF rating among linebackers and the fifth-worst coverage grade. The Steelers replaced him in obvious passing downs with L.J. Fort.

On Tuesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said a whole lot of nothing regarding the future of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. (Apparently, reporters didn’t ask for non-coachspeak.) On Wednesday, the Steelers admitted that Haley’s future in Pittsburgh is nothing.

It’s not a surprise. Haley’s contract was expiring, and the Steelers had made no move to extend it. And Haley’s name had never come up as potentially being lured away by another team to serve as offensive coordinator.

Even without considering the bizarre Haley-fell-down-actually-he-was-shoved-to-the-ground-and-suffered-a-shattered-pelvis incident from New Year’s Eve, Haley doesn’t enjoy much positive buzz in NFL circles. He had the keys to one of the most potent offenses in football for the past six years, but his name rarely comes up as a potential candidate for a second head-coaching job.

Now that he’s free and clear to be hired by any other team, will he be? Chances are that the insular network of friendships and families that churns the same names through various NFL locker rooms will result in someone making a call to someone about doing someone a favor by giving a certain someone named Todd Haley another chance to coach.