Post Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette pointed out the extension the Steelers gave offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and one could almost hear the sighs of resignation coming from the Steelers' organization.
Not that they wouldn't want to keep Haley around after a season in which the team broke the franchise mark for points scored, but because it will no doubt be linked to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and the future of leadership for a defense that has fallen well off its usual year-in-and-year-out dominance.
Dejan Kovacevic had a great bit in a recent column regarding the Steelers' defense, pointing to a conversation he had with Steelers' safety Troy Polamalu following the Steelers' Week 3 win over the Carolina Panthers.
"You know … there was a time when a performance like this would have been completely unacceptable for this defense," Polamalu told Kovacevic.
Kovacevic also noted in the column (a daily must-read, by the way), "Any decision on LeBeau will be made ultimately by Art Rooney II, no matter what the Steelers say in the aftermath. That’s how it’s always been in this category."
With news of Haley's extension having been broken Tuesday, the natural question is what of LeBeau's future? To be fair, we don't know whether LeBeau's contract was up, like Haley's was, so to say they signed Haley and not LeBeau isn't necessarily accurate. If LeBeau's contract is, in fact, expired, and the Steelers are mulling the possibility of pulling an Arians on LeBeau (not offering him an extension, which is tantamount to firing him, and announcing his retirement for him), things could get ugly.
Such is the nature of this business, and the Steelers are no more immune to it than any other franchise in the league. Perhaps it happens less often, but loyalty in the NFL is only held in slight regard, even from those franchises largely considered to be the tops in the league.
As Kovacevic points out, it will be Rooney's decision on whether LeBeau returns, and in his words, that's how it's always been. So Steelers coach Mike Tomlin apparently doesn't have direct say, although it's logical to assume his input is welcomed.
On the other side of it, the Steelers are said to be grooming linebackers coach Keith Butler for the defensive coordinator position, and have been for years. The 2014 season was Butler's 12th with the team, putting him on a level of education and training befitting only surgeons in the NFL.
If and when Dr. Butler ever does take over the team's defensive coordinator position, who would he report to? Why wouldn't Rooney oversee that decision as well? It's hard to believe Butler stuck around, amid multiple over defensive coordinator position offers in the past, if he didn't have a pretty strong feeling of job security, both as a linebackers coach and a defensive coordinator.
No wonder he's stuck around as long as he has.
Fault and praise are given exclusively to the coordinators, and rarely are either really given to position coaches. Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell is widely regarded as one of the best position coaches in all of football, and these men make up the majority of positions playing within LeBeau's defense. Assuming Mitchell isn't retiring (not a sure thing at this point), it wouldn't seem like much would change if LeBeau was to step aside.
Yes, that means there is no reason to expect the team to switch to a 3-4 defensive alignment - probably the top question asked every offseason. No, it doesn't mean the team is looking to radically shift the philosophy they've had on that side of the ball since Mean Joe Greene retired in 1981.
Most of all, his fate is not going to be decided based on what the team is doing on the offensive side of the ball, or the fact they gave Todd Haley, one of multiple offensive coordinators to come and go with the Steelers. Whenever LeBeau does relinquish his seat, his successor will have well over a decade of training under him. It's only logical to assume, outside of a few wrinkles he may implement, the defense, philosophically, will remain largely unchanged.
Knowing that, does it really make a difference whether it's LeBeau or Butler? That's the pertinent question. The Steelers may have a different man organizing the team's defense, but the only real change is the same constant change every team has every year; turnover.
Maybe figuring out personnel should weigh more heavily on Rooney's mind, and maybe that's exactly why there isn't been word on whether LeBeau will be back in 2015.